Much has been said in recent years about the ‘death of the High Street’. We can all see the once-bustling commercial areas, slowly being turned into wastelands because of out-of-town and online shopping. It’s usually assumed that it’s all down to cheaper online prices and convenience. You can pretty much order anything online from the comfort of your chair and get it delivered pronto but are price and convenience the only factors at work here?
I’ve never been much of a town shopper and like a lot of men, I don’t do browsing very well. If I need something I usually have a plan of where to buy it or which shops to compare and the task is treated like a SAS raid. That said, for occasions such as Xmas, I have in the past, found myself wandering around the shops looking for gift ideas and the experience wasn’t that toxic. In other words, I survived without resorting to the use of weaponry. Recently I had the opportunity to take a wander around Exeter, with the rather vague aim of getting a new coat. It had been years since I had been ‘into Town’ on such a mission so I took the chance to see what had become of Exeter’s shopping experience.
I soon realised that price and convenience weren’t the only factors involved in the increased use of online shopping.
Something in human nature had changed since my last shopping trip and it wasn’t for the better. To begin with, there were many more people than I remembered seeing previously. The expansion of Exeter’s suburbs and the University’s goal of turning the city centre into an extension of their campus had swelled the street population considerably. The population increase wasn’t the only thing. People were moving quicker than they used to – maybe that’s down to all that bloody coffee they carry around with them in those stupid cups.
Moving around shops had become severely restricted due to young mothers working in teams. Trying to make my way along narrow aisles when pitted against two women with two pushchairs who were attempting to herd a swarm of older offspring, was impossible. These people also seemed to have lost all sense of their own volume. Loud conversations between each other and barked orders at their sprogs quickly became annoying, as did being trodden on and barged in the shins by badly driven pushchairs.
In days gone by, there was a simple rule and it was that you rode a bicycle on the road and you dismounted at the pavement. Somewhere in time, this rule had been dispensed with. On several occasions, I had to dodge ignorant cyclists as they trundled their way down the pavements and through the shopping centres without a care in the bloody world. Ditto with little scrotes on skateboards. Walking down the High Street shouldn’t be like attempting a Commando training course. Now, I know that they have to be used and I’m not having a pop at people less fortunate than myself but the increased use of those buggies for disabled people needs sorting out. What with cyclists, skateboarders and buggies steaming all over the walkways, it felt like I was in some sort of 80s video game, trying to get to my destination without getting squashed flat in the process.
A shopping trip used to involve shopping. It was the core aim, the main purpose for the excursion. You would have a list of things to shop for, you’d go into town, visit shops, buy things and go home for a cuppa. Simple. This had all changed. Judging by the sheer number of outlets, the aim of a shopping trip nowadays is to drink coffee like it’s going out of fashion and shove as many different types of food in your face as you can. I lost count of the number of coffee shops and eateries I saw that afternoon. Bloody ridiculous. When did people get so preoccupied and addicted to that stuff? When did it become normal to pay way over the odds for a cup of some ultra-concentrated, frothed-up mulch and a bit of pastry with a foreign name? ‘Eee, in my day you went to the cafeteria above Woolworths and felt lucky if you got a tea you could actually drink and a sticky bun, made post-WWII.
As for those people I mentioned earlier, who think it’s cool to walk around with big plastic gob buckets of whatever-the-feck-they-are-drinking, I’m afraid that I have some bad news for them. You don’t look cool, trendy, important or businesslike – you look like pillocks.
Back to my quest for a simple padded Winter coat. The shop prices were more than online prices but I expected that – no surprises there. No matter what special offers and discounts were plastered all over the shops, they were still expensive. Although I’ve recently lost a fair amount of weight (hurrah!) I am still around the XXL size when it comes to coats. People in the UK are generally larger these days so there are a lot of us about. If people continue to do little else but shove food in their faces when in town, there will be a lot more. So why is it that anything above Large is either non-existent or shoved right at the very back of the clothing rails? Why must I be forced into doing ‘The Search of Shame’ by clawing my way to the back of the rail in search of a garment that might suit? Who are these people who wear Small? I mean, just who the hell are they? Some of the shops I went into seemed to be geared towards hobbits, judging by their sizing policy.
As you can probably tell, my shopping trip ended in utter failure but the delightful experience was still not over. In the past, you had more personal space when shopping but as the population had grown (in all senses of the word) and the centre of Exeter hadn’t, my personal space was bound to be invaded more than it used to be. This is usually accidental but some people do it on purpose by jumping right in front of you armed with a clipboard and pen. Charitable direct debits, changes in your energy supplier or just a battery of questions for some survey-or-other – all are a sodding nuisance when you just want to get back to your car and go home. If it’s not them then it’s ‘dubious’ beggars constantly asking you for change. I am happy to give to charity and help people out but I draw the line when some glassy-eyed person puts a hand in front of me and slurs ‘Gotneechange?’
The odd thing is that pesky clipboard people and beggars could see me perfectly well but to everyone else, I appeared to be wearing some kind of stealth cloaking device that the Ministry of Defence would be very interested in. It’s the same device that seems to trigger when I’m at a crowded bar trying to get served. So with clipboard interrogators and beggars avoided, I still had to run the gauntlet of people simply walking into me and ignorant knobs who were too stupid to look up from their mobile phones. There was a story in the News recently that some city overseas was going to paint warning signs on the floor at pedestrian crossings so that phone zombies engrossed in whatever-the-feck-they-do, wouldn’t walk out into traffic. I wouldn’t bother – it’s called ‘Natural Selection’ and I would go a step further by dotting a few mantraps around the place too.
I finally got back to my car and paid nearly £5 to Exeter City Council for them graciously allowing me to use a parking space for the 90 minutes-or-so of fun and entertainment I had experienced. There was a beggar strategically positioned right by the paying machines. She was barely conscious and had a puppy tucked into her coat. I put what little change the Council had left me with, into her hand. She didn’t stir.
So, from my experience, it isn’t just laziness and cheaper prices that will keep me ordering goods online. High Street shopping is simply a nuisance these days and in general, people have become ignorant and less considerate. If you add in the depressing sight of every empty shop’s doorway containing a makeshift abode for some poor bugger, the city centre simply isn’t a very nice place to be these days.