Cribbs Causeway is a sprawling Mecca of retail outlets on the edge of Bristol. As a collective it exerts a powerful magnetic force which sucks in consumers from all over the South West so that the individual shops can then go about the business of sucking the money from their wallets. If you’ve driven Devonwards down the M5 you’ll probably have seen the monstrous Asda at Junction 17 that marks Cribbs’s westernmost outpost, though the biggest draw is The Mall, which houses the clothes shops, restaurants and whatnot.
Between Asda and The Mall, in what presumably used to be fields, and before fields forests, lies a godawful confusion of ‘superstores’ joined together by a hellish system of roundabouts, one-way roads and lack of signage. No matter how many times you go there, it is impossible to drive through it without a rising sense of panic. At every turn you doubt yourself (it reminds you of when you first acquired your license and had to go out and about without the reassurance of an instructor; those nasty early steps on the driving road from almost total funk to almost total boredom).
This week I was obliged to fritter away a precious Saturday morning searching for a Halfords which I’ve visited numerous times before. I eventually found it in the gloom. It is always in the gloom because even the sunlight is smart enough to stay the hell away from the Halfords at Cribbs Causeway. Further errands then forced me to visit countless more outsized retailers. This went on for many hours, in panic and gloom. By the end of my tortuous shopping marathon I had lost all sense of time and scale and, driving home, realised that despite visiting a myriad of megastores I had nonetheless failed to buy the simplest Saturday essentials: The Times and something for lunch.
So heading home it was a quick stop at the cornershop for a paper, some bread and a pack of bacon. As I stood at the counter, busily transacting, the bacon slipped from my grasp and onto the floor. A scruffy builder queuing behind kindly stooped to pick it up.
“Ah thank you, you’ve saved my bacon,” I quipped with, I thought, remarkable rapier-like wit. I turned and waited for his peals of appreciative laughter. Alas, it was in vain. He gave me a toothless smile and uttered something in an accent so thick and impenetrable that I couldn’t tell if it was Bristolian or Polish. Not only that, but he had the nerve to look at me with an expectant smirk, as if I should laugh at his quip. Which of course I politely did, despite having no idea what it was.
As I left the shop I muttered darkly about pearls before swine, the idiocy of my fellow man, the isolation of the genius and the tragedy of wasted brilliance.
Later, as Mrs Brit and I strolled through Oldbury Court, I contemplated this terribly sad-looking tree. The Tree of Tristesse. It sits in the same gloom as Halfords at Cribbs Causeway, only here the sun stays away so as not to spoil the melancholy aesthetic.
And in a flash it struck me that, for all I knew, the builder might well have said something far funnier than “you’ve saved my bacon” and his wit was quite wasted on my ignorant ears.
Still, at least we were polite to each other. We soldier on, don't we?