The High Street, a British institution. From the tiniest in Holsworthy, Devon with just three shops, to the other 5500 town trade routes throughout the UK, folks have flocked for about a thousand years to pinch a grape, test the metal, and nevermind-the-quality-feel the width. Merchants both honest and devious, set out their stalls to satisfy the needs of households and, more insidiously, to encourage greed over need.
Malled to Death
A few decades ago, a visit to my cousin in upstate New York included a trip to a shopping mall. She’s a delightful and generous person, and she honestly believed that not only would I be impressed by the vastness of the place but would share her definition of shopping as a leisure activity. I didn’t then and don’t now, although I was surprised that the mall engulfed a cinema, miniature golf course, various fast-food outlets, and countless other pit-stops to take your money. All over-priced, mostly tacky, unhealthy and mindless. Nothing fresh. Nothing crafted.
Who hasn’t at some point heeded that little demon whispering that you may not need the object of your desire, but you do, do, do want it. These are the tactics of the drug dealer, the sex abuser. Avarice is the expectation. Resistance is futile.
But she was right, my cousin. The mall as a destination venue has been replicated all over the world, servicing the wealthy and crooking the finger of temptation to beckon the covetous. Now we learn of the largest shopping attraction of all, still under construction in Dubai over the past four years, and rivalling any paltry attempt to compete by the west.
This is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s vision of nothing less than a completely climate controlled retail city, his grand plan for Saudi’s hosting Expo 2020. Customers will be wooed with over a hundred hotels, luxury eateries, waterfalls, art galleries, and an entire theme park while they browse more purchase palaces that can ever fit into their dreams, and, by the way, avail themselves of some very pricey medical treatment.
In case you were wondering why the UK has been so reluctant to condemn the UAE’s human rights record and its part in political skulduggery, Theresa May’s government not only has increased its arms trade with the Sheikh, but has publicly pledged the UK’s active participation in Expo 2020. Good to know she’ll have her pick of luxury suites when she turns
up for the inevitable photo op. Wanna bet that Saudi’s indigents are airbrushed out of that one!
Some etymologists conclude that the High Road was a Roman conceit, literally built atop the mounds of earth dug out of either side along military routes, called the agger. But the more modern concept evolved with the declaration of a road superior to the hodgepodge of others, until by Victorian times, the ubiquitous High Street became the primary place of purchase.
As years rolled on, those trading posts have become synonymous with the moral high ground. Positioning on such a prestigious street now implies a tacit endorsement, not just of the street, but the goods and services offered. Which is ironic considering the recent Old Bailey prosecutions of complicit corruption and billions of bribes paid by British heads of Saudi and Iraqi firms to procure oil and other contractual suppliers to the construction of the Dubai venue. But I digress…
For about a decade our print and broadcast media has been obsessed by pleas to Save Our High Street. For whom? From what? Such headline grabbers usually emanate from retailers themselves or those vested interests – such as tax-liberated inward investors – threatened by the decline and/or demise of any specific venue. The latter, generally allied to multi-nationals, seek to justify begging for more “free money” and perks by citing how many jobs for “ordinary people” are at stake. Which brings to mind that other related word origin – Highway Robbery.
Millionaire/Billionaire to Government Trade-Toady: Hand over your cash or the workers get it!
The recent commercial machinations of Patisserie Valerie and Debenhams reflect the in-out-shake-it-all-about whims of stock market watchers as opposed to stock taking toilers.
There’s not much wriggle room in this avowedly capitalist scenario for any threat to the status quo. We need to shift focus to a more class-based analysis. By assuming that real-time purchasers of High Street goods and services are at the mercy of merchants, our society is turning a blind eye to a fundamental change in acquisition.
It’s war, Jim! But not as we know it. Buckle on your armour… but wait. It’s too difficult to identify the protection required when one faction is virtual. Digital. Cyber-based. Uh-oh! And yet, those boarded-up shops along the nation’s High Streets prove the effects and consequences.
We’re aware of the widening gap between the richest and poorest. Bespoke and online offerings satisfy the desires of the former, while with less and less disposable income, the latter’s dwindling in store visits ensure the High Street closures. Inevitable. Predictable. And ignored by those who set them in train.
Though all shoppers are involved, it’s women who take the greater hit. Despite still being so poorly represented on corporate boards, according to consumer research by The Independent, The Daily Mail, and such corporate monitors as GenAnalytics, British women “make the decision or influence the purchase of 92% of holidays, 65% of cars, 93% of food, 91% of homes and 61% of PCs.”
Time for some more intelligent questions. Indulge me. What if all retail outlets disappeared? Seriously. No one to bail them out, deem them too big to fail. Just a High Street devoid of commerce. It couldn’t be clearer: the implosion of the capitalist edifice is not a factor of profit, but of class.
One of the saddest social residues for us common people, is the assumption that our class exists to serve our superiors and betters. We’ve been so force fed such nonsense that in the face of the demise of the High Street, we’re actually encouraged to sit around and wait for some upper-class knight in pinstripes to ride in and save the day. They arrive in many forms, some even cunningly disguised as PayDay Lenders, beckoning with metaphorical bright-red lippy and low-cut negligees over their suits, tossing wads of cash in the air. They’re backed up by rufty-tufty gangs wielding troglodyte clubs. Miss your payback deadline and you’d best watch out for your knees.
We need far more effective defence lines in this class war. First, tell it like it is. For centuries political rulers have made their illiterate, naive populations believe they were appointed by the god of the moment. Indeed, some were declared deities in their own right. The proper encounter could only be obeisance, knee-bending worship, eternal gratitude to be in such divine presence.
For those contemporary pretentious and ersatz aristos who champion Victorian values, we must expose their parlour game high jinks which rely on duplicitous social divisions. The whole shebang has been built on secrets and lies, and on the obscene sense of entitlement that justifies the mistreatment of most of the world by the very few. Quoting
Oxfam stats from the recent Davos gathering, The Guardian’s Economic Editor Larry Elliott stated on 16 January, “The world’s eight richest billionaires control the same wealth between them as the poorest half of the globe’s population.”
How about we use the rallying cry of Brexiteers [whether or not you voted for them] and take back control. Take back the ownership of venues that comprise the High Street Desert. No compensation for such companies which have been cheating us for decades. They own stuff because in a galaxy far, far away called History, they stole it. Simple as that! Defy the law which disadvantages us ordinary people. Time for us to own it!
Communal spaces are not just precious – they are the true legacy of British history. Common lands served disparate cultural values. No single ownership, but rather a shared heritage. Grazing for animals whose care and welfare was also shared, along with the meals they sourced. Woodlands were held in common providing firewood, fruits, nuts, and shelter for those who foraged both man and beast. Communal ovens to share out the bread made from communally milled flour ground from communally grown grains.
Our social bedrock principles are in flux. Yes, we can wrest the moral high ground from those whose only motive is to subjugate us for profit. Consider these half-dozen examples – and by the way, some of these or equivalents have already been successful in various UK communities:
1. Local trading posts or Swap Points, where communities offer unwanted goods – fashion, furnishings, et al – to swap for those of their neighbours. No money involved. Reduction of waste.
2. Trading services – a central point either digitally or in the meat-world, to calculate the value of services offered. Points are banked and adjusted when other services are required. Great for tutoring or mentoring, skills-based, and possibly allied with school or further education curriculae.
3. Renovating former High Street shops into community centres. Creches, staffed by unemployed parents looking after their own kids but in a socially stimulating atmosphere, reducing feelings of isolation and incompetence. Encouraging children to meet their peers in a safe environment. Providing opportunities for very early learning as well as how to adjust to leisure in later life.
4. Free, volunteer-based workshops and libraries, learning newlife-skills, such as cooking, either for themselves alone, as well as with a goal to forming partnerships as the basis for a career. No inward investment necessary from people whose primary purpose is to monetise the hard work of ordinary people with a vision. Own the vision.
5. Pre-school breakfast clubs and after-school problem-solving groups with complimentary cookery lessons and donated food that is perfectly edible but not perfectly shaped and otherwise destined for the bin. Create alliances with hydroponics experts.
6. With an undue emphasis on yet another cancer research study funded by Big Pharma, redress the balance of investigation of destructive particulates in the atmosphere. Challenge the assumed right of vehicles to continue polluting public spaces, whether rural or urban. Keep the High Street clean and clear. Just last week students from pre-school to post-graduate marched against climate change.
Those kids hold the key to a future whose very air is cleaner along with their collective consciousness. We mustn’t hold them back. Let’s Save their Streets!
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This post was written by outRageous!