Saturday, 8 July 2017

Is vibrant a cipher for posh?

There was a report on the BBC about a week ago about the best and worst high streets in Britain. Normally it would have not stayed in my mind but for the fact that Marlborough was included in the list of the top ten most vibrant high streets in the land. Since this is where we are staying I became quite excited at the prospect of experiencing top notch retail vibrancy right on our retractable doorstep. So far as the least vibrant goes, then we have had recent experience of what that looks like. Having spent weeks in Tyneside earlier in the year it did not surprise me in the least that Shields Road, Byker was languishing at the bottom of the retail vibrancy charts. 

Before touching upon the retail delights of Marlborough, a word about the town itself. It is a remarkably handsome place with a lovely wide main street - a sign of its history as a wool town (room for livestock market). It has two magnificent churches, municipal buildings that look like they date from the Queen Anne​ era and the old buildings of Marlborough College dominate the west end of the town.

Not what I expected - why?

Handsome high street
Noble church and plethora of estate agents...

Saturday market
It should be lovely, but it's not really. For a start it is traffic choked and lacks pedestrian crossings so getting from one side of the main street to the other, or walking to Tesco's on the edge of town is stressful and hazardous. Clearly health and safety is not high on the 'vibrance scale'. 

Looking at the shops themselves, then they conform exactly to the somewhat 'tongue in cheek' posh-place bingo game I suggested a couple of posts ago. Indeed, Marlborough managed to out-posh Alderborough in the number of pretentious, over-branded casual clothes shops you can squeeze into a modest high street - Seasalt, Mintvine, Jack Wills, Fat Face - so, as far as I can tell, 'vibrant' is a euphemism for 'well-to-do'. Like much else in England it nigh impossible to escape the malign influence of social differentiation, as sociologists are wont to call it. Class consciousness is woven into our mindset.

Stripes are the new spots....

There's a Tom Lehrer somg about a Doctor who only specialised in 'diseases of the rich'

All our cartoon vegetables are grown in the UK - yet more neo-patriotic marketing...
So, I am proposing an alternative high street competition, a search for England's most ordinary shopping street - an award for being egalitarian. So far on this trip it has to be Folkestone, not just because it is spectacularly average, but the people there were welcoming, friendly and easy going. Other contenders could 'Curry Mile' in Rusholme, Manchester or Milton Keynes' intu Centre, both pretty vibrant places the last time visited. True, opportunities to purchase an overpriced hoody with pin-striped boaty styling are a tad limited, but sadly those may be sacrifices that must be made in the pursuit of inclusivity and social justice.

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