I have visited the Woodlands Crematorium on several occasions. It is in Scunthorpe - an iron and steel town in north west Lincolnshire. The town is presently home to some 83000 souls.
We were there to say farewell to one of Shirley's relations - Auntie Joyce. She had died in an old people's home in Gainsborough having attained the ripe old age of eighty seven. Sadly, her last years were tainted with dementia.
After the ceremony at Woodlands, we decided to visit Scunthorpe town centre. Neither of us had been there in many years. Thirty years ago it was a white working class town with thriving foundries. People had money in their pockets and pride in their hearts.
Nowadays, many residents of Scunthorpe have their roots in faraway cultures from Asia to Africa and from eastern Europe to Turkey. In addition, the town seems a lot poorer than before.
You can see that poverty in the bargain shops and the boarded up store fronts. You can see it in the countless mobility scooters and in the drawn expressions of passers by. A tall thin man with bloodshot eyes and wild hair held a tatty purple quilt around his shoulders. He lurched towards me with his hand stretched out. And this was in the middle of High Street. You would not have seen that thirty years ago. There were no beggars in Scunthorpe back then.
We entered Cafe Jazz on Cole Street but there was no jazz music. No pianist in the corner. No saxophonist connecting with the stars. This was a humble cafe with a very inexpensive menu. A fat Chinese woman was bent over her "Christmas Dinner Special" (£3.90) shovelling in the sliced carrots and the roasted potatoes as if she hadn't eaten for many days.
A terribly obese woman in a grey overcoat waddled in with her grown up daughter and grown up son. They were also very overweight and their faces were similarly the colour of uncooked pastry. They ordered their calorific food as Shirley and I tucked into ours. She had vegetable soup with a roll while I enjoyed a bacon and egg bap with a latte. The bill was £5.80 and Shirley also had a mug of tea.
Afterwards we wandered down to the indoor market. Once bustling it is now almost empty - with just a handful of stalls holding on. Nearby - in Foundry Square - we noticed a brand new statue - unveiled as recently as this November. It is called The Scunthorpe Steelworkers Sculpture and it celebrates the town's proud steel-making heritage. Though I liked it, it appeared somehow discordant. After all, you can't heal deprivation with a statue.
England is a wealthy country. Recognising the poverty that has become a part of Scunthorpe's new character makes me sad and mad and frustrated. It doesn't have to be this way. There should be more equity and more hope and less blaming of the poor for the condition they find themselves in. Our visit provided but a snapshot on a sunny Monday afternoon in December - just a week before Christmas Eve. Lord knows what Brexit will do to the town. Nothing good - that's for sure.
Happy Christmas Scunthorpe! May Santa bring you everything you asked for!