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Everything must Ev very ryt ything st go as High Street Stre reet et takes a hammering take kes es g amme.


IN darker moments, I ponder if any blame can be attached to yours truly for the demise of retail chain F.W. Woolworth. It haunts me, frankly.

Every day, from 1975 to 2009, I plundered the 'pick and mix' at my local branch, devouring handfuls of the sickly sweet treats as I browsed the aisles.

Only once was I confronted by an angry worker. "I'm sorry," I blushed, while trying to swallow a chocolate brazil, "I thought they were testers."

It's a ball park figure, but the petty pilfering may have cost the company in excess of PS5,000 - and that's not counting the 1980s: I still believe Maggie Thatcher would have endorsed my ruthless, entrepreneurial spirit and low cunning. On reflection, Woolies was going to fold, whether my hands were in the Tupperware tubs or not. It was the first of the big names on the high street to go. Ironically, metal thieves stole a big sign in our town centre with 'High Street' emblazoned on it.

The list of those giants that have fallen in the credit crunch includes Blockbuster, HMV, Comet, Jessops, Clinton Cards, Barratts, TJ Hughes, JJB Sports and Walmsley. My own high street is now home to five charity shops, three Indian restaurants, a chippie, newsagent and a Governmentfunded training centre dedicated to provide unemployed shopkeepers with fresh skills.

As charity shop workers and waiters, presumably.

The rest of the bleak landscape is littered with empty buildings, their modesty masked by chipboard. Ironically, last week I trawled the high street for chipboard and couldn't find anywhere flogging the stuff.

Hardware That's because Reg, a thoroughly miserable soul who opened his hardware store in 1967, packed up before Christmas.

We put up one hell of a fight for Reg, standing outside his shop with 'Save Our High Street' banners and informed the weekly paper of the photo opportunity.

"We are fighting for the little man," I ranted at an excited young reporter. "Who's next to be crushed by the global conglomerates? Mr Findlay's ferret grooming business?" "Actually, that went in 1982," corrected the reporter, scribbling frantically.

"Shows how often I visit this place," I shrugged, adding quickly: "Reg knew his customers. The courtesy and bonhomie they received will not be on offer at multinational chains only...."

At that moment, Reg flung open the upstairs window of his cramped shop and bawled: "Get off my bloody doorstep."

"And you were one of the loyal band of customers?" quizzed the hack.

"Hell, no," I laughed. "PS7.99 for a pack of screws! Do you think my name's Rothschild?" "The point is," I added, stabbing a finger at the reporter, "you won't get a friendly welcome on the internet, you won't get a website bending over backwards to pander to your every need, you won't..."

"Try googling 'horny housewives'," a placard-waving individual in a grubby mac shouted.

"Fantastic comments," gushed the newshound.

"I wonder, could we get some video of you for our online edition, maybe rummaging through the shelves of a nearby charity shop?" I rubbed my open palm across my unkempt hair and fixed the cameraman with a starched, uncomfortable smile.

"That's great," he gushed. "If you could look a little more like you've lost a vital village facility, and a little less like you've stepped off a Sunshine coach."

"Nice touch," I sneered while scanning the charity shop's untidy array of tat, "Royal Doulton next to a fetish mask.

"I mean, is this really want the public wants?" I stopped to grab a worn LP with trembling hands. "Jeez," I cried, "it's 'Smash And Grab' - the seminal 1979 album by Weston-super-Mare chart-toppers Racey. Got to get that."

The charity shop manager fixed the cameraman with a starched, uncomfortable smile.

"In Mediterranean countries, these donkeys are forced to endure unbearable heat and carry their own bodyweight in bricks. They face a life of pain and drudgery, followed by an early death. Thanks to outlets such as ours, many have been rescued..."

"But do you," interrupted the reporter, "feel any sympathy for tradesmen such as Reg, whose hardware business is yet another victim of the recession?" "Dunno," she grinned. "How many bricks can he carry?" I hate cavernous, impersonal supermarkets and their marketing techniques. There's a new one on the outskirts of our village with a battery of gadgets to lure consumers.

As you approach the milk aisle, the sound of mooing cows is activated and the air is filled with the scent of newly mown hay. Hens and ducks cackle as you reach for eggs. The vegetable counter is thick with the smell of fresh buttered corn. The aroma of cocoa beans hangs heavy at the confectionery counter.

I don't buy toilet paper there anymore.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Feb 3, 2013
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