21 June 2008

21st JUNE 2008

Having said previously that parts of Barons Court seemed so dead, I suspect that some of the problem is that there aren’t enough of the useful businesses that help to define an area and make a community flourish: no banks/ building societies, no post office, no branches of chain stores like Boots or Woolworths. I don’t entirely agree with those who wring their hands over the sameness of our high streets: we need a balance of individual shops and the things you find everywhere. If you don’t have any of the latter, people tend to shop outside the area, which just sends it further into what my mother used to describe as ‘bankruptcy terrace’ syndrome – where no business tends to thrive, large numbers of shops stand empty and increasingly shabby, and anyone trying to open a new one is unlikely to succeed. The other thing I find over-simplistic in all of this is the idea that lots of independent shops must mean that the area is well provided for. Again, we need balance: if what you have is primarily ‘pound shops’ and general dealers, that’s just as bad as too many supermarkets and chain stores. And what many areas are now missing are the really useful independent shops which often provide a far better service than the supermarkets and chain stores anyway: bakers, butchers, chemists, greengrocers, shoe shops, and so on.

Still, it’s no good just blaming Tesco and Starbucks. If we want something different, I think something needs to be done about the costly bureaucracy independent retailers have to cope with. I grew up with my parents’ floristry business, and it was bad then, but it’s worse now: VAT returns, punitive bank charges, credit card fraud and the more insane bits of hygiene and health and safety legislation, to name but some of what faces the local shopkeeper.

Finally, on a more positive note, and to give credit where it’s due, there’s an absolutely cracking independent butcher’s shop close to Barons Court station: H G Walter, in Palliser Road (020 7385 6466). It cheered me up no end to walk in there and see the display of superb organic meat, ranging from the beautiful plain steaks and joints (like venison from Windsor Great Park) to the restaurant type fancied-up (stuffed noisettes of lamb etc). Not as cheap as the supermarket, of course, but handled with much more respect throughout – and I don’t think good meat should be cheap because that invariably means poorer quality rearing. Good value is more to the point: a small amount of their meat would satisfy even a hungry appetite far better than a large amount of the factory-reared stuff, and if necessary you accompany it with other filling things like bean salad or more veg.

09 June 2008

9 JUNE 2008

My, how time flies when you’re enjoying yourself! That’s right, work has just got in the way of normal life for some months. Though I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I have enjoyed some of it at least: rediscovering some skills I haven’t used for some time and actually finishing two major (book-related) projects, for instance. There was also the challenge of working for a month off-site and fitting into a different group of colleagues. Character-forming, eh?

But it was weird the way it ate into real life, cumulatively, sneakily. In the end I found myself with no time or energy to do a lot of the things I would normally do: go to the bank, get my hair cut, shop for anything other than essentials, go out at lunchtime to get something to eat and some fresh air. And the second project, the off-site one, left me with a deep loathing of the trek between Barons Court tube station and Blythe Road, which is odd, because I usually enjoy walking, and even took some photos of the area. I’ve been over there briefly before and remember I disliked it then, though not as much – but the area just seems so dead. As far as I know, practically the whole of Kensington was fields and market gardens until the mid 19th century, but undoubtedly Peter Ackroyd is right and areas of London have distinct atmospheres, some of which are easier to live with than others. This time it eventually made me explore a bit and find other routes I’m happier with.