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Sunday, 31 May 2009

Big Yellow Taxi

A friend and I walked a couple of sections of the London Loop last Thursday. From Harold Wood to Rainham. I know, I always thought that Rainham was in Kent, but here we were in Essex.

The London Loop leaflet states “Once past the Tesco Petrol station the unexpectantly attractive village of Rainham comes into view.” Reading that I had visions of an idyllic village scene “Midsomer Murders” et al. Which might explain my shocked disappointment – my expectations were so pumped up.

What we found was a rather rundown, rather noisy, vehicle filled street. It was considerably quieter and more attractive than the main roads running past the Tesco Extra and petrol station, but that was not saying much. We were hungry and thirsty having walked for about 3 hours. At the top of the village just past the Tesco were two pubs one facing the other across the road. We went into the one on our side of the road, because it meant we didn’t have to dodge the traffic. It had only lager, and although the sign outside advertised hot food none was on offer. “No call for it this time of the year”; the same reply explaining the lack of beer and food. We ordered a quick pint and sat down with the other two punters. Then we noticed the ceiling –part of which was missing. We left as soon as we could. A look at the other pub across the road wasn’t encouraging. It was being held up at one corner by a couple of large jacks.

We walked into the village past the bus stop and the War Memorial leaving the old church on the right and into what we took as the main street. What a dismal sight! The street was populated with the usual signs of depressed activity – fast food and penny cheap shops. No grocers, green grocers or butchers. We shrugged our shoulders and sighed and turned round to head for the ancient church. In the small but pretty churchyard a young girl was sitting on a bench talking into her mobile phone. The entrance to the church was padlocked. And then we saw The Phoenix pub.

So well named; our spirits rose immediately. It was warm and lively, with a good choice of beers and food. We ordered two pints of Directors and fish and chips. Talking to a couple of the locals we found out that, in their view, the demise of the high street can be traced to the arrival of the Tesco Extra on the edge of the village. Although Tesco had said that rather than take away local business it would generate greater foot falls it’s turned out not to be the case. The numerous local butchers and greengrocers have closed and the results are there for all to see.

It’s not all Tesco's fault of course; we have a choice where to shop; people just don’t like shopping for the essentials on the high street. One stop shopping is the order of the day. Although we love to go to huge high streets - out of town malls - for non food items. Strange when food is so important. But we British just don’t seem to place such value on good food generally – unlike the French. Although they are having the same problems with their super marche. (Carrefour etc). Yet despite that the range in their supermarkets knocks ours into a square hat.

That said I think Tesco need to be reined in with local planning authorities having more clout, and more confidence in facing down the Tesco juggernaut. Otherwise we’ll end up with dead town centres and paradise paved and turned into a parking lot.

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