Extreme Retail

It is six years since I lived and shopped in Britain. Returning for a summer soujourn I'm struck by the creeping and shifting presence of retail in people's lives. And it was poignantly illustrated by two experiences from my first week on English soil. Contrast? Let me tell more.
Nestled in what appears to be classic English country side (but is actually blue chip stockbroker belt to London) is the Cross Keys public house in Wheathampstead. A typically mixed crowd meets here on weekends to down more than the recommended number of daily units and share their stories of the week. Positioned in the large garden is a wooden hut with an array of recycled houshold treasures spilling from its doors. Rummage is a part-time shop that is opened by a local lass on weekends and holidays when pub trade is brisk. Stock is pre-loved, practical and individual. I'm straight in, of course, and soon emerge with a wonderful pair of 1950's green Wood's Ware serving dishes, casserole dish, a vintage china hen for storing eggs and a practical cotton pinny (all for under fifteen pounds). Soon to set up temporary home in Suffolk these items launch our nesting with their irrisistable charm.

The next day practicality reigns and we grit our teeth and prepare for 'proper shopping' to acquire school uniforms and other essentials. Nearby is London Colney where lies a vast retail precinct including a cavernous Marks and Spencer, directly beside a similarly guargantuan Sainsbury's. These British brands, for me, conjure characteristics of quality, personality, friendliness and heritage. Here, not so. Granted it is a bank holiday, but the place is heaving with robotic family units, bickering as they race to the checkouts with as much stuff as they can pile in their trollies. Shelves groan with multiple product lines in each retail category. The market drivers appear to be choice, choice and more choice. As we gratefully drive away we pass a rubbish tip for local residents to conventiently dump their unwanted household items, en route to their next leisure shopping experience.

Such experiences could not be more different, the first feeding the soul, the second, consumer addiction and landfill. Being a consumer in the 21st century means the latter is a necessary evil, for most of us (especially if a parent). But could a love of recycled and preloved goods ever manage to penetrade the mainstream consumer psyche - opon which these monster brands depend on for success? Er, unlikely.

Gotta confess though, very happy with a lovely tailored pair of grey school trousers purchased for a mere three pounds fifty. Now just how do they do that? Best not ask...

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