As a medieval town Shrewsbury’s epicentre is a castle that sits atop a hill – Pride Hill, to be exact, also the namesake of one of Shrewsbury three shopping centres.

The Darwin Shopping Centre is nearest the castle and generally considered the best of the three. Pride Hill is next – a little worse for wear, and then the Riverside Mall. If the Darwin is “king of the castle”, then Riverside is something of a “dirty rascal”, home to stores such as BeWise, TJ Hughes and Wilkinson, and frankly some of the strangest most miserable of Shrewsbury’s inhabitants.

As the town’s bottom-most shopping centre, the Riverside Mall sits quite literally in the shadow of its competitors, its customers generally those unable to climb stairs or inclines. Hence, there are a lot of old people and prams in the Riverside Mall. There is also a terrible sense of doom. Yesterday there was even jazz, but it did little to lift the mood of mall staff.

“Ah, bet that’s lovely, getting to hear that jazz all day,” I said to the assistant, as live music from a ‘grand opening’ party drifted into the store.
“Well,” she sighed as she closed her eyes and clutched her head. “Don’t get me started on that.”
“Oh…okay,” I said.
Hang on, I thought. What does she mean? “What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, it’s not my cup of tea,” she said, still clutching. “That, out there.” With that she used her other hand to point to the black lady singing old standards.
“What?” I asked, intrigued.
“You don’t like music?
“Well,” she brought her hand down to her side. The clutching had left little white marks on her forehead. “In my own time I do – “
” – but I’m working.”
“Yeah…did you say you had this in another colour?”
“Only what’s on the shelf love,” she said abruptly. “If it’s not on the shelf we don’t have it in stock. OK?”

And so I smiled, bought it in red and stepped out into the mall to see that the jazz band were packing away. “Tough crowd, huh?” I said to the drummer. “Perhaps you ought to play the blues next time.”
He looked at me blankly.
“You know, give the people what they want?”