Yesterday I fell off my chair. Or, not so much “off” as “through”. The chair broke, you collect. With hindsight this was not terribly surprising, not so much because I was sitting on it (don’t be so damn rude) as because the chair is about seventy years old and has seated several generations of skimbly pre-and post-war Mortimer forebears before playing host to my much better-nourished posterior.
In the People’s Republic we have always been peasantishly bad at throwing things away (as you might gather from the provenance of the chair) if there is any chance that sufficient duct tape and a funny little wiggling motion every time you pick it up/switch it on/put weight on it in future will rectify the problem. Accordingly, since the basic joinery of the chair is perfectly sound, I have temporarily knocked its warring components back together with a hammer, and am now sitting on it again, taking great care to ensure I don’t work too hard nor get too exercised on Comment is Free. But it is still going to need some sort of metal bracket nailing across the bottom of the frame, to brace the seat against the assault it will suffer tomorrow night when seven other drunken women come over for dinner.
Simple, I think, I’ll nip up the road to, er… Following the closure of Bond & White, the local DIY store, to make way for Planet-fricking-Organic, where the hell do you go in Muswell Hill to buy a hap’orth of nails, or whatever it is, and funny shaped bits of metal? Woolworths? Not for long, it seems. I miss Bond & White. Going in there was like stepping into a seventies sitcom and playing the part of Woman Customer. It was the only shop anywhere on the broadway or for quite some distance around that sold anything remotely hardware-related, and it seemed, to my inexpert eye, to stock everything. The nearest comparable range must have been in one of the giant chain stores on the north circular, which is useless if you haven’t got a car.
This isn’t a precious selfish rant about the death of the small shop – those are alive and well in most of London – nope, it’s a precious selfish rant about the death of the shop that sells, well, useful stuff that ordinary people need to make way for yet more luxury wankfestery. It’s a perfect illustration of the fact that markets are blind. They’ll correct, but they’ll correct to the advantage of those with most input into the market. So in a rich area, you get rich people’s shops, in a poor area you get poor people’s shops, and in mixed areas… you get rich people’s shops.
In other words, there’s no problem with being a small shop on Muswell Hill Broadway, but there is a problem with being a small shop that sells a packet of nails every six months to a girl with a broken chair on Muswell Hill Broadway. All the people who form your main customer base, because they own their own homes and are allowed to do shit to them, are the kind of people who will also have cars and are able to make the trip out to the cheaper chain stores on the north circ. No one, except people like me, comes to the Broadway to buy nails any more.
No, most people come to the Broadway to pick up a few bits at M&S, grab the Guardian from WHSmiths, buy a chicken brick from The Scullery for Lottie to take back to university, take a fancy to an adorable little £150 dress from Leila (and that’s just the men), moon over the cheese counter in Feast and pretend they are some sort of Chaucerian goodwife throwback and now, presumably, feel up the pre-packed mixed seeds and nuts (so knobbly!) at Planet Organic. When they want a nail knocked in, they call up an Eastern European migrant in Tottenham and ask him to come over and bring a nail with him.
London, darling, it’s been wonderful, but I’m leaving you.