Phil Gillam: Yes, it really is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas
It’s a crisp November morning and I am sitting in one of Shrewsbury’s many coffee shops when two things happen at once.
Firstly, I notice that the chocolate powder on the top of my freshly served cappuccino has been prettily presented as a snowflake.
Secondly, The Pretenders’ classic Christmas single, 2000 Miles, has just started playing in the background.
Yes, yes, yes – I am aware that it is still only November. But suddenly I feel very Christmassy indeed.
I can’t help it.
I’m highly susceptible to moods evoked by the shapes in my coffee (or as Carly Simon would say: clouds in my coffee), and even more sensitive to the pop music playing around me at any given time.
It can take me back to my early childhood (and – sticking with Christmas hits – I’m therefore talking I Understand, by Freddie and the Dreamers) or later childhood (Softly Whispering I Love You, by The Congregation) or my teenage years (Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day) or when our sons started buying records themselves (Christmas Time, by The Darkness). You get the picture.
A short time later, I’m wandering around town when I notice a lovely little free booklet entitled: The Wonderful World of Shrewsbury at Christmas.
This pretty much puts me into full jingle bells territory.
Produced by Original Shrewsbury, the marketing arm of the Shrewsbury Business Improvement District (BID), the pocket (or handbag) sized booklet is delightful with pages devoted to different shopping areas of the town.
There are charming double-page spreads on The Square (including Princess Street, Swan Hill, Belmont and Market Street); then High Street and Milk Street; then the West End (defined here as Victoria Quay, Barker Street, Frankwell Quay, Hills Lane and Claremont); then Mardol (including Claremont Street, Shoplatch and Smithfield Road); then The Parade; The Market Hall; Castle Street; Dogpole, St Mary’s and Church Street; Bear Steps (including Butcher Row, Fish Street and St Alkmund’s Place); Wyle Cop (including St Julian’s Friars and Abbey Foregate); and finally Pride Hill and the shopping centres.
What makes the booklet such a delight is its whimsical design with its cartoon-like sketches mixed with photographs of Shrewsbury Past and Shrewsbury Present.
A meandering, never-ending Christmas scarf acts as a thread of continuity through the booklet, changing colour as you turn the pages.
The opening page invites us to “get wrapped up in Shrewsbury this Christmas”.
You can almost smell the Christmas pudding.
With its embarrassment of beautiful historic buildings, cobbled passages, quaint corners, cosy pubs and mysterious alleyways – not to mention its very real connections with the great Charles Dickens who performed at the Music Hall (where he read from A Christmas Carol) and stayed at the Lion Hotel – Shrewsbury is of course a perfect place to enjoy the festive season.
Walking home from the town centre one year, laden with bags of shopping – perhaps a week or so before Christmas – I was under the Abbey Foregate railway bridge as the Aberystwyth train rattled overhead. It was a cold, dark evening, and I was heading up Abbey Foregate, past the church. I recall thinking to myself: What a fantastic town this is!
The boys and girls at Original Shrewsbury are absolutely right to tap into all of this, using their little booklet to signpost us to great shops, boutiques and market stalls, delis brimming with fresh produce, restaurants and cafes, pubs and bars and so much else.
We’re encouraged to pamper ourselves at one of the town’s welcoming salons, explore a museum or gallery, or enjoy a show at the theatre.
For visitors to the town, hotels and B&Bs also get a mention.
Scattered throughout its pages, there are also little snippets of history.
These little insights into the town’s past help to give a real flavour of the town to natives and visitors alike.
So: Well done to Original Shrewsbury.
Maybe it’s not too early to feel Christmassy, after all!