Pursuing our Holy Grail of finding
four balloon back Victorian dining chairs
in good condition, we drove, to furthest
Cheshire – near where the motorway grows
and the villages have Anglo-Saxon names –
the second Saturday before Christmas
to an antique centre once a dairy farm.
In seven erstwhile milking sheds, covering
fifty thousand square feet, were displayed
a range of products of the industrial
revolution – A Hornby train set,
a tractor seat, a Singer sewing machine,
a framed, signed photo of Edwina Currie,
a Parker-Knoll chair, a room full of plastic
Disney figurines, etcetera,
etcetera. We ate an over priced
toasted sandwich each and left chairless.
Heading home, we stopped, on a whim, in Nantwich –
one of Cheshire’s three ancient salt towns –
where you had spent your early adolescence.
This was the pub your parents ran, there
was where the Girl Guides met, here where you
and your best friend Joan took each other’s snaps
with a Kodak Brownie. We entered
St Marys, the fourteenth century
parish church – grand as a cathedral – Joan
had ten years later been married in.
A choir was rehearsing a Christmas concert.
We sat in the loud stillness churches make.
As we drove to Chester on the A51,
twelfth century Beeston Castle was
silhouetted in ruined splendour
against a sunset of streamers of pink
tinged with grey. We talked of the singing
we had chanced upon and, almost wistfully,
of that long, eclectic tradition
seemingly transcending time and fashion
as if it were something substantial not
a trick of stone or shadow.