Friday, 14 October 2011

Sean Paul and the homogeneity of the British high street

On the way to the tube this morning, I saw a man drinking from a Cafe Nero cup. It took me a second to twig why this surprised me so much: because where in hell would you find a Cafe Nero round here? Or a Starbucks/Costa/Pret/blahblahrubbishcoffeeblah? Nowhere, is where.

After work, I walked for half an hour down a busy, bustling, vibrant high street, and the only national chain represented was William Hill. No Boots - two independent chemists, though. No Tesco - but one butcher, two bakers, six greengrocers (though sadly no candlestick makers). No Supercuts, but four hair salons, one of which I have never seen closed at any time of the day or night in six years. (I'm trying to decide if it's a cover for gun-running, because who really needs a haircut at 4am?)

A colleague of mine is very concerned about The Increasing Homogeneity of the British High Street, and with good reason; it's always depressing visiting a new city to find it's full of exactly the same boring national chains as the place you just came from. Everywhere might look the same as everywhere else, with any individuality or local quirks stamped out, but at least you know you can always get the same tasteless sandwich from John O'Groats to Lands End. Thing is, though, she is also greatly exercised about The Perils of Immigration and the Politically Correct Multicultural Fantasy. (Her words.) Homogeneity, it is bad! Diversity, it is.. err.. bad, but for a different reason!

This contradiction is all part of the bizarre conservative love of the imagined golden past, where the butcher knew your name and hadn't heard of this 'halal' fad; where the grocer bagged you up half a pound of pears and would probably have you drowned as a witch if you asked him for a mango. Where the hairdresser was a dab hand at a blue rinse but wouldn't know what to do with African hair if her life depended on it.

You don't fix problems by going backwards. Love your country, and let it breathe.

As Sean Paul would say.


  1. Totes. I vouch that my high street is both one of the most genuinely multi-cultural, and least homogenised, in the country. I challenge your high street to be more multicultural than mine! Does yours have plural Vietnamese restaurants AND two pie and mash shops? We've probably got more chain bookies though and we do have a Tesco now :(

  2. Does yours have a shop called Reggae Jerk? (When I moved here I didn't know what jerk chicken was, so it was a lot funnier.)