Wednesday 29 April 2015

Urban Diary

The grey glass, like a telly that has been switched off, returns my reflection. The shop’s dark interior cries out emptiness and oblivion. My hands are shoved deep in my pockets. Perhaps it is the only position in which to be as I stand in silent contemplation of this landscape of urban desolation. The sign inviting would-be entrepreneurs to rent does not reveal the ugly truth: you are the next victim, not the next Bill Gates. Look around you, every two shops it is a similar scenario. Vacant lots waiting to swallow their unsuspecting and ever-so-optimistic prey.

Boarded-up Britain

My urban patch in London never pretended to be anything else. No fancy gentrification here, no, working-class to the core, it has always been deprived. But the small-business-friendly development I saw taking over ten or twelve years ago has halted somewhat in the last lustrum. Five years are a long time in the life of, say, a child. From crying your lungs out because your nappy is soiled to running in the local park, everything looks up. Five years can, however, be life-changing for a shop-keeper. And so they proved to be for the shoe shop in the recently-refurbished shopping centre. It closed down. I bought my children’s first shoes there. I even still wear a pair of boots I purchased at this shop in 2003. Yes, twelve years ago and they are still with me and I still wear them. The shoe shop run by the Asian couple (Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani? I never asked them but they were always so friendly to their loyal customers)

Now that shop is gone. And others. The in-shops went last year and in their place yet another branch of another impersonal, big bank stands. The walk around my area feels sometimes like a walk through a tunnel of mirrors. Grey mirror-like shop windows that return my reflection as their empty interiors keep crying out their oblivion.

© 2015

Next Post: Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On, to be posted on Saturday 2nd May at 6pm (GMT)


  1. Your authenticity is eloquent to me

    ALOHA from Honolulu,

  2. beautifully written and I really like the picture, classy abandonment

  3. Lovely photo and I really love the way you express yourself!!!

  4. In the words of my favorite historian, Will Durant: "Old regions grow arid, or suffer other change. Resilient man picks up his tools and his arts and moves on, taking his memories with him."

    What you describe is the result of free enterprise completion or, if you prefer, survival of the fittest. You have your memories, CiL, and have portrayed them well, but, in a practical sense, it might be time for you to pick up your tools ....

  5. The great and the good of leafy Wiltshire (where I live) have no idea what urban living is like. If they go to the cities they go to museums and theatres, eyes tight shut though the unpleasant bits - as if they might be contaminated by seeing people struggling. So then they can put their big blue posters up in the fields, demanding protection of their estates and their money and their privilege. My rebellious voice is pissing in the wind down here (though that doesn't stop me trying!)

  6. My small area of the Midlands once sported a shopping mall. Actually, it still does, but the changes are so great I find it hard to remember what was there before the empty shop syndrome hit us. It does have a penchant for closing down sales though, which give the place colour. To be fair, more business come in quickly and we're doing well for banks, but those closing down signs still keep the pace. It is most definitely survival of the fittest. Should we be thankful for internet shopping or not?

  7. My favorite book store closed down last week, the owners had the business for 15 years but could no longer make a go of it .. I visited them on their last day open ,it was like I
    was saying "goodbye' to an old friend.
    An eloquent write ...thank you!

  8. So many are in that state, as they close at a high rate. Seeing nothing within, where people used to always give it a spin

  9. Una nostalgia de barrio, de comercio, y una desolación de tiempo, a mi también me sucede muchas veces de comercios que adoro y que se pierden por las nuevas coyunturas económicas de las que no pueden hacer frente los comerciantes de barrio.
    Un abrazo.

  10. New York is like this, too. All the mom and pop stores are being run out of business to make run for big box retailers or bank branches. This city will look like suburbia in no time at all.

  11. Very sad. You give a very good picture of that sadness and desolation. Not sure what the answer is. People buying local would be a start I guess. Thanks. K.

  12. So sad to see this happening everywhere - local shops disappearing and faceless chains taking their place.

  13. Hi ACiL - yes so many lovely local shops run by willing and helpful, knowledgeable shopkeepers .. we're losing our feel for life ...

    Sad we can't keep our identity .. and uniqueness .. we don't want or need a homogenous land ... cheers Hilary

  14. you have so many thoughts about lots of things it amazes me :) You are a great writer.

  15. It is so similar here, CiL...shops closing, people moving away because they can no longer afford to keep up their mortgage payments.
    It seems to me that Britain is fast becoming an impersonal place. Few people live in a place long enough to make (or keep) friends. It feels so lonely and forlorn...:(

    A truly great post...and I know exactly how you feel.

    Have a great weekend.:)

  16. I do sometimes wonder how any small shopkeepers manage to keep going these days. In some places the councils are cutting the business rates to encourage them. They are what makes a place worth visiting.

  17. I understand about competition and survival of the fittest and yet that is what, in my view, has gone with modern capitalism. Investing in capital, reaping the profits, paying what you owe society through taxes, I'm with that. Allowing the big corporations to change the nature, rhythm and flair of a neighbourhood just for a few more bob, no, sorry, brother, count me out. There has to be a limit to greed. Greed destroys the soul of a "barrio".

    Greetings from London.



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