Looking for a smile

Could you challenge yourself to take some brief notes when you are in public space - the shopping centre, the pub, the bookshop, the bus, the city streets - this month?  Who do you see, what do people say to you, what do you overhear? How does your body feel moving around your environment? Where do you hurry and where do you linger, and where do you feel belonging or ownership?

I live on the outskirts of a small town in Derbyshire.  I note that (at the beginning of May) that since the lockdown an increased number of people are present in the market and in the shops.

I always travel by bus but rarely speak to anyone because I do not know many people – the majority of my friends travel by car.

What I miss is people smiling.  The loss of smiles is partly due to wearing face masks but generally as I look around no-one looks happy.  I feel the sense of gloom which I feel is prevalent throughout the country with the future being so uncertain.

Sadly some shops have closed permanently.  We are about to lose Debenhams who are closing all their stores across the UK.

I do not have many conversations with people apart from visits to the Library where I am well known because I am a volunteer (and hopefully will be again in a few months time when restrictions are lifted).   Staff always greet me by name and with a smile and are extremely friendly.  

I went to another town to visit a library where I spoke to one of the Librarians about the resumption of volunteering.  She said that would be brilliant.

One of the customers overheard our conversation and said she will welcome help when it is available.

Today in another town, I spoke to a customer assistant in a well known store, sympathising with her about the closure of another of their stores which I used to visit.  She said that their shop is now the only one in about a thirty mile radius but they have reduced staff which she felt are an insufficient number for the shop to be able to deal with customers.  Their Head Office has said that their turnover is too low to engage more staff and so this is having an impact on the existing staff who worry about what will happen when they take a holiday.

On the return journey I spoke to a bus driver who was grumbling about not being able to complete his break and not allowing customers on the bus – this despite the fact that he was still taking a break when the bus was due to leave!!

I went into a shop in my local town today and the assistant on the cash desk was bemoaning the fact that she believes the UK will retain the wearing of masks until 2023.  I said I was unaware of any Government data confirming this fact to which she replied that she did not believe anything the Government said!  Sadly, I felt, she added that she was refusing to vote in the local elections today.  I remarked that in my view all women should remember the women who gave their lives in order that we should have the vote but this did not have any affect on the assistant’s opinion.  

Today I visited a larger town to borrow a book from their library.  Unfortunately unlike other libraries across the UK which are open for browsing since restrictions were lifted in April, this local authority has decided to remain on a book and borrow system which means you have to phone up to collect a book which you have previously booked online.  I asked the library assistant whether the library was going to reopen for public browsing in the week commencing May 10th, which is the information I had been given over the phone but she remarked that they had not been informed and therefore booking for browsing was not available.

I also went to a well known supermarket, renowned for the quality of its produce.  I did not have any conversations with anyone because I went to a self-serve cash desk, apart from thanking the assistant who was overseeing the area.

Moving through the environment I have no feeling when I am moving through the environment other than the fact I am glad I always have sufficient space because I do not like anyone being close to me in a public space.

Hurrying I hurry if I am going to catch a bus which I think might be departing before I arrive at the bus stop.

Belonging or ownership – I never have any feeling of belonging or ownership.  I am living in the Midlands but I come from the south and that is where I feel comfortable and where I really belong.  I do not enjoy living in the Midlands but am forced to do because of financial circumstances.