A City greater than its parts

Hampshire Chronicle: Photo; Graham Horn Photo; Graham Horn

There were five of us in the queue at first then two of them; a couple, peeled away to stand a few meters down the passage so they could shout at each other more forcefully yet at the same time avoid the danger of one of us having to ask them not to spit on the backs of our heads. Really, that was kind of them.

The gist of the argument was that each had been unfaithful as a result of drinking too much the night before and the other had found out. As we pretended not to listen to the gory details there came, from over the rooftops the sound of the lovely little cathedral hour bell striking nine of the clock am, but the language from the arguing couple floated up on the morning air to greet it and seemed to rob all that was fine and just about that little bell, and throw it to the ground, and stamp on its face for good measure.

A pretty bob-haired girl appeared from within the chemists and unlocked the door. We shuffled inside leaving the couple still at it hammer and tongs up the street. First up was the old buffer with his walking stick and his “Prescription for the usual, my Dear”, this last word delivered with the cordial long low gravelly emphasis that only that class can deliver without risk of backlash from the recipient. In his corduroy trousers, striped shirt and cravat; yes; cravat and his bloated red face couldn’t help but mark him as classic Winchester Old Money. The girl returned with a prescription bag the size of an overnight case. As I watched him leave with a cheery “Thank you my dear” I found myself hoping that his complaint wasn’t too serious. That class seems to be immune to the ailments that afflict the rest of us, still, they did build the empire didn’t they? So we cut slack where slack should be cut.

Next up was the intense looking woman in her thirties, with a Hampshire County Council Pass on the lapel of her jacket. With quick nervous little jerks of her hand she pointed at three products on the shelves behind the counter which she asked for by name and which, being presented were immediately banished to her voluminous handbag. The transaction was over in a flash. She darted out of the chemists and made herself air, into which she vanished, no doubt in the general direction of the Castle and a computer logon screen.

Then it was me and with a heavy heart I approached the counter and trying for a smile I asked for the codeine based pain relief that is the only thing that works on my backache. The girl looked at me with an exact 50:50 mix of suspicion and sympathy which made for a complicated expression on her pretty face. She decided I wasn’t an abuser of over-the-counter medicines and turned to get the stuff at which point our lovely couple of earlier crashed though the door and put their large fists on the counter. “Come on then, sort us out will you” It wasn’t a request. It ran rough shod over my delicate transaction and demanded the attention of the dispensary staff in no uncertain terms. I looked at the huge tattooed arms and decided against a confrontation for queue jumping. At that moment a man in a white coat appeared from the back of the chemists and with a murmured; "I’ll take this one Claire, Thank you." beckoned the man with an understanding smile to a screened area at the end of the shop.

An unhappy pause ensued between me and the pretty girl. I thought about curiosity and I thought about cats and thought; Hey, I'm a dog man anyway. "Sorry, what was that all about?" I asked her. She said nothing, just raised her eyebrows enough to signal a multitude of information, chief of which was; don’t ask. I played the Englishman and didn’t.

Then Old Money crashed back into this intimate little scene; He opened up at Brigadier General volume level; “I say, My Dear, this is the wrong stuff. Can’t you read. Damn lucky the wife can” and turning to me gave a sort of guttural sounding “eh?”; a monosyllabic acknowledgement that he had interrupted my transaction.

Then our arguing man reappeared from the screened area of the shop and his partner followed suite. I guessed they were getting Methadone or something. The chemist called over his shoulder to Old Money; “Be with you in a second, Sir.”

The girl reappeared from the same direction as her partner and together they exited, docile, meek, assuaged, then the old buffer got his correct medication and also went off with the typical bon homie and finally the pretty girl turned her attention to me and inquired; ‘What was it you wanted again?’ And this my friends is Winchester.

A queue of five; two methadone addicts, one girl trying to skip the consequences of a rashly spent night, one old buffer with his goodness knows what and finally, Winchester Bloke; trying to get his back to stop complaining at the slightest foot-fall.

Around the corner the couple were swearing and shouting but happily now, about whether it should be vodka or lager from Sainsburys and the old buffer was explaining to his wife that he would only have asparagus from M and S if it wasn’t stringy.

As I walked up the High Street in the pouring rain I pondered this diversity and marveled at the many strains of life that are contained within these city walls. Sometimes, living in Winchester one feels that one is simply a part of some ghastly experiment, the outcome of which has slowly been playing out over its exceedingly long history.

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