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On old-fashioned High Streets.

Right, that\’s enough about #cats for the moment. I\’ve been reading the #FTWeekend again.
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There\’s a lovely article by #EdwinHeathcote in this week\’s House & Home section (Window Pains 26 November 2011). It\’s about the joys of old Christmas high streets and the miseries of the modern chainstore clonestreet of today. He talks poetically about how \”streets need to allow us to dream again, to become places to provoke desire…\”
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I read it in exactly two minds. One mind was saying, yes, Edwin, you\’re so right, it\’s such a pity the high street is pretty much dying in most places outside London and isn\’t too healthy even in the heartlands of commerce. I too miss the pretty Christmas displays and tinsel and the smell of roasting chestnuts.
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The other mind was going, you overpaid chromosomally-challenged wuss, you\’ve obviously never tried the old-fashioned kind of high street shopping I used to do in Tooting High Street and, yes, Streatham. The real kind. The kind you had to do on a Saturday (because you were working) with a pushchair loaded with one screaming toddler, another whinging pre-schooler trailing along, the handles and underneath of the pushchair stuffed with shopping in bags that split, with your list and your purse in the folded hood of the buggy. The only thing that kept me even vaguely sane was doing the weekly shop with my lovely friend Melanie, who was tougher, smarter and better at keeping to a budget.
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And at every single shop, the supermarket, the butcher\’s, the greengrocer\’s, the chemists, at EVERY SINGLE SHOP you had to back through the swing doors with your buggy, do a three-point turn, battle round the shelves or queue up to get served, queue up again to pay, while watching out for sharp-elbowed tutting old ladies and thieving teens who all hated you because you had just barked their shins with your babybuggy. Then you had to swing round and back out through the doors again. Into the rain. Where the cars would swish by and drench you. And then, at the end of all that, you had to trudge home, uphill, both toddler and child screaming in counterpoint, child occasionally flinging itself into the traffic in despair, toddler turning purple because his nappy\’s wet and he\’s finished his milk and heaving himself up in the fearsome concrete-banana pose.
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Our joy when the superstore opened in Mitcham was unconfined. We felt a bit guilty because we knew the high street would die and we only went every couple of months (and it did die a bit). But it was such bliss to get the whole boring thing done in one go, queue up only once, travel by car so you didn\’t have to wonder which would give first on the way home, the handles of the plastic bags, the handles of the babybuggy or the sinews of your fingers. For a while they even had a creche. And you didn\’t get rained on or splattered with filthy water by someone like Edwin Heathcote in his BMW.
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That\’s why most high streets died. Because, for most of the year, they were shit.

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