On the 8th May 2022 a BBC article ran with the headline:
“Shop owners to be forced to rent out empty premises, government says.”
It then went on to explain how “under the move, set to be unveiled in Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech that buildings left vacant for over a year would have to be entered into a ‘rental auction’”. Boris Johnson is quoted to have said that “boarded up premises were a blight on towns and cities and damaged local economies.” BBC.
And then much about nothing followed. I found this article interesting because it clearly refused to acknowledge the real reasons for the closures of town centre economies, that being the ‘superstores’. Part of my youth was spent in Hythe and Folkestone in the Southeast of England in Kent. When I left college, I trained as a baker in a local family business. We made everything from scratch in the early hours of the morning, nothing was frozen or pre-baked. Directly across the road was a greengrocer and further along a butcher amongst many other small businesses. They have now all disappeared. The High Street in Hythe is now mainly cafes and hairdressers interspersed with charity shops. Folkestone’s main high street is barely alive, half of the shops are boarded up and the rest are mainly the same ubiquitous dull monotonous characterless corporate logos until you hit the old high street which is tantamount to a replica of one street in Cornwall’s St Ives. But the crown jewel is the gargantuan ASDA plonked on the ring road in Folkestone towering above everything else in the town, a great metaphor to illustrate its dominancy over all other competing businesses as they strive to remain afloat. This is the problem, the big stores. How can anyone compete? It doesn’t take a professor of economy to see this. You need not study Adam Smith to recognise the issues.
Many years ago, when I was in my early 30s, I was approached by the Channel Chamber of Commerce to see if I would be interested to have dinner in the Houses of Parliament with Damian Collins, the Tory MP for Folkestone and Hythe. I have to be honest he wouldn’t have been my first choice to chow down with and consume my comestibles. If the other dinner guests had been Harold Shipman and Josef Fritzl, he would have just scraped through. But, alas, thankfully I wouldn’t be the only person there and so it relieved me of having to sit opposite him alone, me in my habiliments comprised of chinos and shirt, my poor attempt to be smart with Damian clothed head to foot in red, huge pitchfork in hand with two grand horns protruding from his skull. “And for desert Kai, we will be sacrificing two young virgins.” How could I refuse! Anyhow a trip to the Houses of Parliament in itself would be interesting enough, so I accepted.
3 weeks later in the early afternoon I stood looking at the houses of parliament from parliament square, admiring its gothic architecture by Sir Charles Barry and everything it represented. Here is a building where the rules are made, where MPs make rules for the plebs while living by their own rules under the guise of democracy. After the security checks I was ushered along through a beautiful huge barn type building into a room with a colossal table for about 50 people to sit at and dine. Damian approached me in a very convivial manner and shook my hand. I felt a burning sensation immediately, behind him he left singed footprints in the carpet and all I could smell was sulphur.
“Kai Motta, nice to put a face to a name.” Lucifer spoke.
“Yes, Damian, hello. What or who have you destroyed today?”
“Oh, very funny. You plebians have such humour. I simply love it!” The Tory devil incarnate guffawed so hard his wings opened, and a huge explosion of fire burst from his backside. And with this he removed himself to work the room.
The other attendees in their fawning manner crowded the Mephistopheles member of parliament until we were asked to sit down for dinner was about to be served. Before the banquet arrived, I was praying for the young virgin sacrifice but instead Beelzebub held centre stage and a discussion about how we could improve Folkestone ensued. Seated around the table all different businesses large and small were represented, each one with their own impuissant idea of what could transform the town and help smaller businesses flourish thus creating an attractable area for tourism. Now the previous evening I had decided to spend a little time researching and came to this meeting hosted by Satan and his sycophants fully armed. It was clear to me and well documented that the problem was the ‘superstore’. Like many towns dotted around the UK, on the outskirts you can find the concrete corporate consumer cathedrals sucking not only the cash out of small towns and villages but also the life, the community. I had brought with me printed documents about the problems of superstores in towns across the UK and the inherent damage to the small-town infrastructure and their economies. Needless to say, I was highly unpopular. The devil himself snatched back the court, explained to the room and yours truly the need for Tesco, Sainsburys, ASDA et al and how each one appealed to a different demographic, without uttering a word for the hardworking family run business that was regrettably disappearing from our high streets. The devil’s devotees all agreed, and I was immediately cast out of the conversation and sat quietly awaiting the food to be served while still trying to ignore the smell of sulphur. Five waiters eventually entered the room and in their dignified manner plated our food under our noses: roast beef, vegetables, and a well-represented Yorkshire pudding. I was famished and ready to tuck in, but our Prince of Darkness hadn’t finished orating to his merry band of capitalists each hanging on every word like a newborn on the delectable teat. In-between the counterfeit cachinnations and cringing kowtowing I touched my food as the minutes passed fully aware of how swiftly it would become inedible when cold. Could I ask the Dark Overlord to breathe fire over here quickly to reheat my meal? But it was then that he asked the room what they thought about ‘our boys’ currently in Iraq and remarked on how they were doing a ‘good job’. It was time for me to exit. I looked around the table at the devil himself and all the other business owners who had been invited and saw that they too were now beginning to look like devils. It was then on the wall in a frame I noticed spelt out in big letters “We are all devils, some of us are just more deviant than others.” I managed to find the door and leave behind me what I thought essentially was tantamount to hell, catch a train back to the coast under the blood red moon and stroll through the half boarded-up streets of Folkestone town. It was good to be home.
Image by Richard Thomas