My study plans over these two days suffered a double thwarting. One was expected and the other was not. The first thwarting was that before I arrived in Sherborne in Dorset I knew that the library closed at lunchtimes on the Tuesdays for the afternoon and all day on the Wednesday. Every plan is only a good plan if it has a back up. My backup plan was, after leaving my wife at her work for the day, was to drive the very short distance to Yeovil in Somerset and use the main library there on the 11th and the 12th.
The distance between Sherborne and Yeovil is about five miles depending on which road signs the motorist is relying on. I am sure that there are some fabulous views from the road as you drive this short distance but all I could see was the countryside disappearing into the clouds that enveloped the hills it was on in a grey mass.
Here in the UK crossing the county borders is not as big a deal as crossing provincial borders in Canada or state borders in America. From memory these are marked by big welcoming signs showing the name of the province or state you are crossing into and the latest population figures. Over here in the UK county borders are marked by seriously understated pieces of roadside signage just stating the name of the county being crossed into. There is never a sign to say that you have just left a county.
I had short drive around Yeovil trying to find some central parking on the assumption the library would be fairly close. My first attempt at getting into a car park ended up with me reaching the goods inwards entrance for the shopping centre. Luckily I was not followed by any trucks so I was able to make a discrete reverse out and pretend nothing had gone wrong. My second attempt was successful at the correct entrance.
Next to me in the car park was a couple just returning to their car. I asked them if the library was close by to which they answered ‘Yes’. Through their strong Somerset accent I could pick up that there was going to be a ‘but’ soon to complete the answer. Sure enough, there was ‘But it is closed until July for refurbishment’. There was a mobile library but it was not going to be big enough to sit in for a few hours.
Study plans now completely thwarted so I set off to explore Yeovil.
Despite having a history dating back to the Bronze Age, Roman times, Normans and Anglo Saxons there was not much in the way of preserved architecture apart from the churches. The streets I explored were legacies from the 1970’s, 1980’ and 1990’s. They were utilitarian and uninteresting with very little to distinguish them from any other urban town centre around the UK. Out of respect for the current economic times quite few shops were empty. There were the generic national and international names that would appear in any town. What struck me even more was the number of mobile telephone shops. There must have been four at least within one confined mall. Also, the number of betting shops and one slot machine arcade. There were very few independent retailers and just a few independent eateries competing with the likes of Starbucks and Costa Coffee.
The one retailer missing was a Big Issue vendor. For those not familiar with this magazine, it is published and sold to homeless people in the UK and Ireland who then go and sell it on the streets for a profit. It is part of the Big Issue Foundation started by John Bird several years ago. Does the absence of a Big Issue vendor mean there is no homeless problem in Yeovil?
I settled for lunch in The Mermaid pub at the top of the town. I bought a carvery ticket and a beer. I went into where the carvery was being served at mid-day and was confronted by a queue of about twenty elderly people. When they were at school they lined up for their lunch and now they are retired they do the same as if by leaving it any later there may not be any left. The meat was served by the counter staff but it was help your self to the vegetables. The plates I saw carried back to the tables were so stacked that their contents were almost overflowing on to the floor but not a green bean or roast potato hit the floor.
The history, for lovers of English history, of Yeovil is typical of many towns in southern England. Their have been finds of artifacts from the Bronze Age and the Roman era. The Anglo Saxons built a church that was completed by 950. Yeovil is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. Its population was badly affected by the Black Death in the 14th Century and accounted for three vicars in four months. The town had a brief encounter with the Civil War in the mid 17th Century. Yet with all of this history the town does not have a central easily accessible museum. I was told that there was a collection of artifacts at a location outside the main area of the town but no one in the Tourist Information office was sure if it was open or not. I even got an unsolicited apology from one the tourist people about the lack of this sort of facility.
It may have been a combination of negative factors that have put me off Yeovil like the wet weather, the closed library and the lack of a museum. Perhaps, if only one of those three had been negative then I might have a different view on the place. I spoke to someone the next day that lives in Bristol and drove down to our area through Yeovil. In his broad West Country accent that resonated with folk music and cider he said ‘Yeovil, it’s a right bottleneck there during the holiday season. Seems to me the only people who stop in Yeovil are thems that are stuck in the traafic’.
Sadly to me, happiness is Yeovil in the rear view mirror.