Caught short in Lockdown 3

So now there’s another national lockdown.

Not the best of days to have your car serviced an hour’s drive away in Exeter, especially when the Fiat dealer doesn’t let me have a courtesy car but instead gives us two free bus tickets to the city centre.

Which is nice, but after a freezing cold fifteen-minute walk to the park and ride facility and watching all the Stagecoach bus staff get on the bus without masks (to be fair, they do put them on once the engine is running, but that’s not the point) both Mr Grigg and I are busting for a wee.

By the time we get into the town centre, groaning over every bump in the road, the hunt is on. But, of course, it being the start of a new lockdown, everything is shut. Coffee shops and cafes are doing takeaway service only and we can see from the doorways that the ‘rest rooms’ inside are roped off.

No chance of the loos in John Lewis or even Wetherspoons being open. I’m not a Tim Martin fan but a toilet’s a toilet, wherever it is.

Full bladders don’t respect lockdown. I’m not sure how long I can last.

‘How about my brother’s shop?’ Mr Grigg says.

So we pootle up Gandy Street, which is said to have been J K Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books. We don’t expect Mr Grigg’s brother to be there but someone might be, even if it’s only to put the shop to bed for its enforced slumber.

But the shutters are already down. Tumbleweed rolls up the narrow street.

‘What about the station?’ I suggest, hopping from one foot to the other.

So we walk briskly to Exeter Central only to find the loos are on the other platform, which we can access if we buy a train ticket.

I decide to ask Siri to find ‘public toilets near me’.

She does and we follow our little blue pulsating circle on my phone as it makes its way in a circle of its own, beyond the cathedral and the shopping arcade. We turn the corner. The loos are shut.

Up through another empty arcade, dodging the ‘wet floor’ notice (which doesn’t sound very promising – you can guess what I think might have caused it) and in and around Sainsburys, peering into corners marked ‘staff only’ and getting odd looks from the store detective.

‘Fancy a coffee?’ Mr Grigg says as we walk up through the arcade like a pair of masked gunslingers.

Coffee? The very thought of it makes me thank God for pelvic floor exercises.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. I picture myself on the local BBC Spotlight news later this evening as the mysterious woman caught with her drawers down on Cathedral Green.

And then a very nice lady comes to our aid. I won’t say who she is because she probably isn’t allowed to help us out. What I will say is that I would thoroughly recommend the delicious carrot and orange soup with focaccia and the joyous polenta cake from Eat On The Green. We will definitely go back, once lockdown is over.

We eat lunch sitting on a bench overlooking the cathedral’s west front where we are promptly accosted by a drunk clutching a full bottle of red wine.

In formation, Mr Grigg and I whip on our masks while I shriek something about being vulnerable. The drunk is visibly shaken by the encounter. He makes his apologies and leaves.

‘Let’s go to Wilko,’ Mr Grigg says, knowing how to treat a girl, especially a low maintenance one like me.

So we go a bit mad and buy a couple of cut-price Toilet Ducks, a scrubbing brush and four roll-on deodorants.

Back on the bus and then a brisk stroll back to the garage, Mr Grigg jaywalks across the roundabouts of the trading estate to accompanying beeps of horns and outstretched middle fingers from the drivers.

It feels like crossing Times Square. (It doesn’t, but I’ve always had a vivid imagination.)

Back at the Fiat franchise I am delighted to find my car has been cleaned inside and out. But then at £350 for servicing a two-year-old car, it is the least they can do. It’s a shame they didn’t open the boot and clean that out as well.

As we exit the bright lights of Exeter to the tune of Bob Marley’s Exodus, an idea pops into my head. Never mind crossing Times Square or the roundabouts of Marsh Barton, I’ve crossed the Rubicon.

I’m going to give up the car completely.

Well, it’s not as if I’m going to be going anywhere for the next few months.

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie x

By Maddie Grigg

Maddie Grigg is the pen name of former local newspaper editor Margery Hookings. Expect reflections on rural life, community, landscape, underdogs, heritage and folklore. And fun.

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