Thursday, 1 March 2012

High Street

Yesterday was an additional day, an extra day tacked on to the year. Happy birthday to leaplings, well done to employees raising money for charity, and congrats to women who got down on bended knee. I too made a leap and tried a new activity. My 24hrs were given away to an imaginary game called High Street. I devised it myself as a rival to Monopoly. It has no board, cute counters, or money. This game is visionary.

The player is handed an imaginary card, You own the High Street for the day, it says. Printed on the back: What shops will you have? My mind immediately returned this reply: Butcher, baker, candlestick maker? “Damn you!” I spoke aloud to myself, “Why must you always think in riddles and rhymes?!” I was too quick to dismiss this thought, my mind was being truthful. Forget the butcher, but a candlestick maker and a baker would be on my list. What else? A grocer, a chippy, a post office, a florist, and a pharmacy. It reads just like the card game, Happy Families. The penny dropped, I'd recreated the seaside village where my grandparents lived – Middleton-On-Sea. To this I'd add a bookshop and natural health store.

I was content with my selection, but puzzled. Why did my mind so easily recall Middleton-On-Sea? Was it only because of happy memories? In part, yes that's true. Childhood is often viewed with nostalgia. I'm guilty of that, but I don't believe this explains it. Service was and still is the definitive factor. The greeting, the welcome as you walk through the door. The close-knit community. Everybody knew everybody. Neighbours and traders stopped to have a chat. A face-to-face social network of contacts.

Perhaps this is just one of my old-fashioned hankerings, but look around... What's on your High Street today? Mine is disappearing. Its profits swallowed up by recession. A line of empty premises, replaced by charity shops. Second hand clothing and bric-a-brac. I like the odd charity shop, but this is getting ridiculous. The diversity has gone. Shops and services vanishing. A ghost town. Some retailers now offer no service at all. Cashiers supplanted by machine. The constant badgering to do-it-yourself. Try it. No smile, no discourse as products are scanned. Instead it barks unhelpful commands at you. If a shop manager asks in these shops, “Are you being served?”, I bite back, “No, I'm not!”