I suppose it was bound to happen wasn’t it? These things catch up on you and before you know it - wham, there you are with a pensioners bus pass in your wallet. I have to thank Gloucestershire County Council for this latest humiliation as it was flagged up at our UK base that I may well have aged beyond that number whereupon a bus pass is de-rigeur in these parts. In truth, I applied for it in August and now I have it with my impossibly young looking visage embossed on a piece of plastic for all to see. Just before Christmas we took a bus ride to Gloucester Cathedral and in the 30 minutes it took to get us there, I sat upstairs in the front seats, bouncing along like a schoolboy on his way to - well, you know…!

Funnily enough, I haven’t ridden in one of those upstairs front seats since that time and I know now why the term ‘second childhood’ was invented. When we jumped (more like limped!) aboard the bus the driver of the vehicle was a worryingly attractive woman who I really wanted to say - “Surely not” when she absent-mindedly ‘swiped’ my pass, but she didn’t did she? No, she did not. It’s the same when I’m out-and-about and the subject of ‘concessions’ arise. Naturally enough, I like to know what services I can claim on the cheap - but at the same time don’t really like the fact that in doing so - everyone will know that I am really old. So you can imagine the agonies I go through when going to the cinema or theatre; part of me - the vain part, doesn’t want to draw attention to my age - whilst the other part, the tight-fisted part, is having a complete fit because unless I confess to being an old codger, my seat is going to cost me the best part of 10 quid as opposed to about £2.50. Talk about being on the horns of a dilemma!

Meanwhile, as we like to rent a car for all, or part of our trip to the UK, I have to negotiate myself around a keen-as-mustard young management trainee, called Mason. Mason talks really fast and mostly I don’t have a clue what he’s going on about, but eventually I grasped most of the important facts, such as whether it was a petrol or a diesel car or where the lights and indicators switches are - yet, like most other people I know, my back window wiper still manages to dry-screech across itself every 20 seconds for the whole period of my rental - ‘cos I don’t know how to switch it off.

Indeed, while I’m on the subject, does anyone anywhere, actually know what all those mysterious switches and buttons are actually for - you know, the ones arrayed on the steering wheel? I’m sure Mason must have told me all of the above, but it all got a bit boring after a while, so I just fiddled with the knobs on the cars wireless until he’d finished.

As I seem to be concentrating on the mundane and the everyday in my column today, I’d like to tell you about the women who serve me in my local Cooperative store. As I have been given the job as ‘shopper in chief’ this Christmas holiday I’m visiting the Co-op almost everyday for something or another. Unhappily, the lady assistants seem to have taken a shine to me and quiz me about all manner of subjects and like to point out various ‘offers’ available to me and like to call me “my lovely” with their rich Gloucestershire accents. Naturally, Julie thinks this is hilarious and calls these assorted women my ‘girlfriends’ and never fails to remind me that at my age I could well be going through a “strange phase.” Anyway, on Christmas Eve I became an even bigger hero to these ladies as I foiled a shoplifter. There I was minding my own business scanning the wine offers when I noticed a young chap surreptitiously place a bottle of indifferent Chardonnay in his coat pocket whilst glancing around guiltily. With this one of my girlfriends walked past and I exclaimed boldly - “He’s just nicked a bottle of Chardonnay.” With this she ‘patted-him-down’ and discovered the bottle - just as he made a run-for-it. Suffice it to say that every time I visit the Co-op I get a ripple of applause from the ‘Co-opettes’ and I have to raise a hand in suitable modesty whilst acknowledging this round of applause - alas, Julie finds the whole business hysterically funny and I have had to warn her about her behaviour. As yet however, I haven’t managed to get any reduction in our shopping bills, which is a pity I reckon.

I mentioned a little earlier that we visited Gloucester Cathedral one day before Christmas and it was both surprising and amazing. The serious bit first. I really couldn’t believe just how old the place was. A notice said that this place had been a place of worship since the 7th century, which has to be quite old don’t you think? Then, as children sang Christmas carols I snooped around the back of the place, discovering religious graves, statues and alcoves going back many millennia. However, the one thing that made me think hard, that is apart from the feeling of centuries of religious sentiment that was all pervading - was the vast size of the place. Even to a modern man, I thought - how the hell did 11th century stonemasons and workmen ever build such an enormous and complex building. How could they - how did they? Two streets away from the cathedral was an all pervading and ubiquitous 1970’s shopping centre, complete with an ugly concrete facade and witless ambition. I know I’m not being fair at all - but, without a doubt the ecclesiastical architects of more than a thousand years ago, had more a concept of beauty and godliness than almost any modern equivalent. To go and visit such a place as Gloucester Cathedral is both uplifting and depressing at the same time - but still worth the effort.


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