I walked down the street again today. Even though I swore I never would again. I couldn't stop myself. I needed to see it just one last time.
The building looks a lot different now. The flaky framed windows replaced by full length double glazed picture windows, the corner entrance door which I remember hesitantly stepping through with Paul and Dave when we were just 17 years old is bricked up and there is a large automatic sliding door which faces onto the main road instead. The external brickwork is now a gleaming white, and the sign above the door that used to fill us with such excitement every weekend now simply reads "Local Shop Stop".
I didn't go in, couldn't bear to. I just stood far enough back from the door so it wouldn't open and stared in, trying to fit my memories into the physical spaces in front of me. I could see where the bar used to be, just by the Newspaper Stand. That's where I bought my first ever pint of lager from Stan The Barman, who was only in his late 40's at the time even though to us he looked impossibly ancient. He had pulled pints in The Ploughman's Arms since leaving school but during the 20 years that we frequented the establishment, he never seemed to age a day. In that time he became our father, best friend, confidant and occasionally, the voice of our conscience and our moral guardian when our youthful bonhomie became a bit too much for him or the other regulars to tolerate. Stan died just 6 months after it closed down.
We became men in that pub. It was our second home and the regulars in there were our extended family, helping to shape us into the adults that we became. Peering through the door, I struggled to see the corner booth where I first sat opposite the beautiful dark haired girl with the heart shaped face. I'd been waiting for Clive to turn up and he was running late as usual. She asked if I had cigarette and so being too embarrassed to admit I'd never smoked, I claimed to have just given up and pointed her in the direction of the cigarette machine and then told her my favourite joke. She laughed, and she still laughs at my stupid jokes to this day. As do our three children. But the booth is gone now, along with the wall it was up against and the other internal walls, removed to increase the floor space. I think the booth was where the freezer section is now.
The doors opened and a large, red-faced lady charged out. She was laden with shopping bags and almost crashed into me. She glared at me, obviously wondering what reason anyone could possibly have for standing outside a busy, but plain, ordinary and uninteresting supermarket. I apologised to her, turned up my collar against the chill wind, and headed home.