A debut visit to Bean and Cole coffee on Frodsham street was the planned opening visit on this overcast day. Sadly I notice on Instagram that the business is closed today. The street is “back in the news” with more pointless debate about how safe the traffic system is, after one year of dull incident free operation. Even the benches which people attacked are constantly in use as the traffic crawls by. The biggest problem is dodging triple file slow walkers.
I head back towards Brook street to try an alternative coffee shop, in this case the hipster vibes of Moss Coffee. Passing the Mecca Bingo roundabout I feel optimistic about the “Super Trees” project coming to fruition and reviving an abandoned part of the city. Unlike some of the madder projects of recent years, rebuild the Amphitheatre, military statues along city road, pedestrianised Northgate street, it actually has a chance of happening, so all credit to those involved.
In the cafe, sparse white walls contrast with the warm welcome of the host as I sit down with a “long black” and a reasonably priced pastry. From the outside the venue looks tiny but the seating area at the side is large enough to accommodate a travel sized board game. I am the only customer although two people come in to takeaway. The drink is pleasantly warming and bittersweet and service is fast and friendly. A black ceramic sugar container shaped like a baby’s head is an interesting feature but its colour makes it impossible to photograph decently.
My thoughts turn to forthcoming events in Chester including Pride at the weekend, as well as thinking up some questions for a forthcoming blog about a sex shop. The quietness troubles me after a while, ironic in a city that supposedly craves independents, there is always a queue in the Costa. The cafe in the bus station seems to be equally poorly used and I wonder what it means to the next generation of coffee vendors- with at least 2 more opening up in the city centre. But here, yes I would visit again. Before leaving I pause to tweet the location of a pigeon corpse at the bus station to the Cwac social media team.
Back into the city centre, and I pass the amphitheatre. A group of German tourists flow into the rear area, with Dee House’s broken windows looming overhead. They don’t seem to notice the ruined Georgian monstrosity/listed building and instead gather around the model of what the complete arena would have looked like. Nearly 2 years ago since the council announced a pub chain was taking over Dee House but nothing has happened and everyone seems apathetic about it again. Just one of them things now…
The second visit of the day is the Grosvenor Park, also recently slagged off for being a ruined mess. (At least this year no one has complained about the Theatre in the Park). To be sure, there aren’t as many flowers as there used to be and some parts look overgrown but it remains a lovely oasis, enjoyed by so many. My target is the fairground wheel set up near the children’s train. £2.50 it costs to ride and I’m hoping for some nice views but in reality the wheel is too fast paced to be enjoyable .
The sun has gone but as I walk back to the other end of the city, I note some of the positive changes made in recent years. King Charles’ Tower gardens was a great bit of regeneration. Also the Cathedral’s Falconry centre is something extra for families and tourists to enjoy. Two hits there, alongside the Cathedral itself, which has become a real hub of Chester activity in the last few years. From last years ARK exhibition to the recent mystery plays, every time there is something new to discover. Even as an atheist I enjoy the quiet contemplation offered by the space and the possibility of some kind of spiritual consolation in a world gone mad. On today’s visit I discover 2 memorials to Napoleonic war heroes (one killed at Waterloo) and a memorial stone commemorating the free Czechoslovakian forces who assembled in Cheshire after the fall of France. And its free to get in unlike many similar venues- £11 to get into York Minster guys!
To burn some more of the day away I spend a half hour in Storyhouse. The building seems quieter than usual despite the summer holidays, but no way can ignore how the place has transformed the cultural offering and enhanced the sense of community. All the clichés about how good the place is are true. Plenty of good shows coming up in the autumn season and plenty of press nights to enjoy ahead. After consulting the music section of the library (sadly much smaller than the corresponding section in the old library) I settle down with a book of Nick Cave lyrics to lighten the mood. I look ahead at the empty space once more.. the void.. and wish you were in it. But does the emptiness matter when you get 500 or so likes for a photo on the twitter? Continuing to dance on the edge of the introspective cliff, I remember the empty seat at the press night and wish I had the memory of you being there. The unused ticket still in its envelope, and the other event invites delegated to others. One day all these moments will be lost in the jumble sale of time and memory… But now… just concentrate on the essentials they say. One day…
Wraps and Records is another new venue, and next on the list. Passing along a sad looking Northgate street, looking at the empty units filled with pop up art galleries I wonder why all the extra Storyhut footfall doesn’t seemed to have helped any of the neighbouring businesses. It’s a mystery to me, and a problem for the city’s leaders to tackle. One thing that still needs sorting is the walls repair at the Northgate, now approaching SEVEN years of scaffolding! The most recent update claims autumn of this year is the latest target for completion but this seems impossible given the lack of updates or apparent progress. A new archaeological discovery has slowed down the repair work, but for the businesses on the walls nearby it must be a nightmare. The slow communication from the council only adds to the fog of war, and people’s frustration.
In the dessert shop on the walls, a young family are enjoying the new bubble waffle sensation, the mother eyes glazed over as she reads the new issue of Tortoise magazine. Some sorrowful jazz/blues is on the record player, the vinyl crackling reassuringly. A lot of work has been done on the venue, splitting the old Tea on the walls unit into two smaller ones. There is a nice view of Alexanders half beer garden/half nature reserve. The waffle is nice enough but the cold ice cream makes my teeth hurt and the cold wind is blowing in through the door.
Off the Wall is the last venue on today’s list. The “A” is missing from the sign again- in the absence of the cone headed statue, now not seen since December 2016, I take it as my spiritual mascot. Inside the bar is not too busy and food service is fast and friendly. I order the Chicken Kiev “this will save your day” proclaims the menu. Looking at the cocktail menu, I am told that Buy One Get One Free only applies to cocktails of the same type so I am forced to take Two Sex on the Beach.
After the meal and now very weary, I look back at the shattered ruin of Dee House.
I think that sometimes no matter how hard you try you can’t make things right.