Time was running out for us at Silver Helm and on a dank and dismal late November morning, the vultures descended. They came to begin the process of dismantling the happy little office that had been my home for almost eighteen months. Of all the things that happened in those last week’s this felt like the most traumatic.
28 November 2013
Maybe the dull, leaden sky had my subconscious looking for some colour and warmth, maybe it was just a whim, either way I decided to walk through St Mary’s this morning for a change. St Mary’s is an area to the east of the medieval city walls, bisected by the dual carriageway leading into the city at Six Dials. The north side of the road is the War Zone I used to walk through to get to the Mad House, this morning I was walking through the southern side, less war zone, more vibrant multicultural hubbub.
Even at eight o’clock in the morning it’s bustling, but in a good way. Long before Southampton’s city walls were even thought of there was a town here. Built by the Saxon king, Ine in about 690 AD it was called Hamwick or Hamtun. By Saxon standards it was a large town, having around five thousand inhabitants, with wooden buildings laid out in a grid. Craftsmen lived in Hamtun, carpenters, blacksmiths, thatchers and leather workers there was even a royal mint. Back then it was probably a pretty busy place too.
The river made it a popular port, with wool being the main export but, in the ninth and tenth centuries, it was raided regularly by the Danes. Eventually, because of all the raids, the the town went into a decline and a new settlement was built a little further west. This was also called Hamtun and became the town within the medieval walls. Today both areas are part of the city of Southampton.
None of this even entered my head as I strolled down St Mary’s Street this morning. Mainly I was thinking about food. It wasn’t that I was hungry, I’d only just had my granola, but everywhere I looked there seemed to be food of some kind. First the was the wonderful bakers, with a very lifelike and mouthwatering frieze of filled rolls in the window. Despite the early hour it was filled with customers and I love the vinrant colours and the bright stained glass sign above the door.
A little further on the market was setting up. An untidy mess of boxes and sacks filled the little square and stall holders were bustling about setting up their wares. Huge sacks of onions, potatoes, carrots and garlic were piled up and the stalls were filled with colourful oranges, apples, grapes, tomatoes, grapefruit and goodness knows what else. When the boys were little I used to love walking over the bridge and piling the pushchair up with fruit and veg every week.
Along the road the greengrocer had a stunning display of oranges, apples, lemons, melons and tomatoes outside. With the market so close by I wonder if they will sell much today. This end of the street is crowded with students on the way to their university every morning. I played the normal game of dodging them as I passed the Uni and the church and then it was round the corner and into the office.
There were people down from the Frozen North again today. These ones came to take inventory of everything we have in the office in preparation for packing it all up. It felt like the vultures had descended. They rooted through the cupboards, clambered under desks to note the serial numbers on our computers and looked speculatively at our desks and chairs. They brought huge flat pack boxes with them to start packing up the things they could. We felt as if we should be keeping an eye on our coats and handbags just in case they tried to pack them up too. It was horrible.
For me today was mostly about contracts. I got in early and spent almost all day drawing up contracts, checking them, ticking them off the spreadsheet, franking them or emailing them. It’s easy to lose yourself in a job like that, all sense of time and the world around disappears. Somehow I couldn’t quite make the vultures disappear though, they were there all the time in my peripheral vision.
This afternoon I finally got the last of the contracts finished, checked and into envelopes ready for the postie. It was a bitter sweet moment. These are the last contracts I’ll be sending out, I won’t even be around to see the signed ones come back in. My desk looked like a bomb had hit it by the time I’d finished, piles of paper everywhere and my super complicated spreadsheet open on my screen with all the contracts neatly ticked off.
The whole day was dull, damp and cloud filled. I don’t think I was warm at any point, even in the office. The sunset was a non event. The sun must have been up there somewhere I suppose, behind all the grey clouds, but we never saw even the faintest glimpse of it and the darkness fell with no hint of pink, no fanfare whatsoever. First it was grey, then, slowly, it was black.
By the time I got home I was feeling shattered, a combination of contracts and the reality of the office closure being thrust in my face all day.
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