A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Tesco-isation Of The Land

I've written recently about global warming and climate change. Other environmental concerns which are never far from my mind are the gradual disappearance of our small-scale retailers (and the corresponding rise of out-of-town shopping malls and retail parks), and the shrinking of natural habitats and the homogenisation of the countryside. Earlier this year The Guardian's Nicholas Lezard highlighted a newly published book on the changing face of England, Paul Kingsnorth's The Battle Against The Bland. Here are some disturbing statistics from this book:

The UK has lost nearly 30,000 independent food, beverage and tobacco retailers over the past decade ... 13,000 independent newsagents closed ... between 1995 and 2004. Fifty specialist shops closed every week between 1997 and 2002 ...  The number of second-hand bookshops halved from 1,200 to 600 in the three years between 2002 and 2005. Meanwhile, the number of out-of-town shopping areas increased four-fold between 1986 and 1997 ... Since the end of the second world war we have lost - no, not lost, destroyed - 95 per cent of our wildflower meadows, 50 per cent of our chalk grasslands, half of our ancient lowland woodlands, half of our wetlands, 94 per cent of our lowland raised bog and 186,000 miles of ancient hedgerow.

Apparently the French term for the corporate takeover of city high streets is 'La Londonisation'.

Two of my radical socio-political literary heroes, William Cobbett and George Orwell, are probably turning in their graves at what's happening in England right now - though, on reflection, they're probably not too surprised that so many things they feared and predicted are coming to pass. Lezard states that Kingsnorth is following in the tradition of Cobbett (who first identified the crushing of the spirit of place by the impersonal and often corrupt rapaciousness of the profit motive as 'the Thing') and Orwell, united by a love of ordinary humanity.    


George said...

An interesting report, Robert, but a sad, sad story. One of the truly great aspects of my coast to coast walk was spending the lion's share of the time in places where things have not changed a great deal since the 16th or 17th century. God forbid that Walmart would take over your wonderful countrysides and villages, as they have done in this country, leaving tens of thousands of displaced shop owners in their wake.

The Weaver of Grass said...

It is a big subject Robert and in many cases a vicious circle. As far as independent traders are concerned, we still have quite a few in our area but the ones who have succeeded are the ones who have specialised - e.g. our local grocer who has gone very, very upmarket and has thus got himself a clientele who want caviar and smoked salmon and expensive game etc.
But I have to say that for essentials I find it convenient to shop at Tesco - we have a large one as befits a large army case - and the quality of fruit and vegetables is superb because the turn over is so rapid.
Small shops, small supplies of fruit, less customers, less fresh the fruit and so it goes on. And our farmers' market fares little better. I don't have the answer and I do see your point.

Trevor Woodford said...

I made a posting on my 'Aura of Past Shadows' photo blog on 15th November showing a shot of how Tesco had taken over a beautiful church here in Bournemouth.The Church was gutted but the outside was left intact - looks most bizarre..! They seem to get in everywhere- nothing is sacred nowadays.

The Solitary Walker said...

The report paints the black picture, George - and, of course, there are huge areas of diverse and outstanding beauty throughout the UK, where things seem unchanged - though there are lots of more subtle changes going on (decline of insects and birds, for example). Your walk took in two National Parks, where things are skilfully and sensitively managed for the good of people, nature and the environment. Some other areas of Britain have much more cause for concern.

Again, Pat, as I say, the report is one-sided - and I know there are small businesses starting up and thriving, and ones which are adapting and successfully specialising, like your grocer and many others. However, the gradual trend in the UK to follow the Walmart model is worrying, I think.

The Solitary Walker said...

Trevor - just had a look at your photo - how bizarre! Of course, supermarket concourses have always been called 'aisles', haven't they? I like this photo, and find it significant and emblematic of our times. Do you mind if I use it on my blog - with a credit and link to you, naturally?

Grizz………… said...

I've long hated the homogenization of our cites, towns, and villages. When I used to spend nearly 300 days per year on the road, I sometimes found it near impossible to find anything different from place to place. You could eat the same cheeseburger in Key West or Cincinnati, sleep in identical motel rooms in New York or L.A., shop in exactly the same store—isle layout and products on the shelves—in Dallas or Boston. The only difference in a small Florida village and one of equal size in northern Michigan was that Florida came with palm trees and Michigan with canoe birches…both had mosquitoes.

Nowadays, as I go about my Christmas shopping, it's very hard to find gifts that are any different from one store to the next. And I hate having to walk into a "big box" hardware/lawn & garden/and occasionally groceries store when all I want is a couple of bolts to fix my mailbox mount.

Alas, vive la différence is a bygone concept. We've become such a nation of cookie-cutter milquetoasts that it's a wonder uniforms aren't mandatory.

I find it increasingly difficult to swim upstream…though the water is far less crowded.

Trevor Woodford said...

Feel free to use the picture on your blog - it does seem to say a lot about the way our society is heading...!!

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, Grizz, where America goes we are sure to follow. Other European countries may continue to resist - but for how long?

Tramp said...

I'm a bit late here but just wanted to add an experience from last week during a generally bad day during which I found myself at the hospital for physiotherapy. I hadn't bought a single present and not being in the mood for dashing round a superstore throwing random items into a trolley hoping to save face for another year the dread of the season was building up to almost Scrooge proportions.
At the hospital I found a small gift shop with wonderful chatty staff and I spent a very enjoyable half hour selecting and buying gifts for my nearest and dearest in the spirit in which that activity should be undertaken.
At the way home listening to the radio in my car I was subjected to an advert by a large electronics chain promising that if I visit them I could fulfill my dreams, I quickly changed stations.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for this, Tramp. Glad you had a relatively stress-free shopping experience. Hopefully you'll be seeing less of hospitals next year.