Despite my stridently and tediously held views on free commerce and my general belief that the likes of Tesco are actually a positive force in the country (generally delivered with a blast of ill-considered, factually shaky bile directed at hippies, communists and The French) I actually have a pathetic and romantic attraction to the idea of independent traders and small towns and ruddy-cheeked yeomanry of all kinds.
So much so that I drag my sorry arse to the questionable charms of Dewsbury come rain or shine almost every Saturday morning, kids in tow.
I spend my money in a proper greengrocers, at the little coffee van in the square (£2.20 for two coffees, a danish pastry and 2 chocolate biscuits for the kids – eat my shorts, Starbucks!) at a real butchers, a proper cheese shop and a delicatessen that stocks various salamis and the world’s best pork crackling.
Despite my best efforts I’m obviously swimming against the tide. The bakers I used to go to went bust last year and Ainsleys followed recently – leaving me with the Chav’s choice of Greggs. The cake and ingredients stall in the market went next, followed by fast-food horror show ‘Swift Chick’ (a great loss to the local salmonella industry!) And then the card shop. And the travel agent. Tony’s Textiles seems to have gone west. The bed and furniture shop has long been whitewashed over and the row of fishmongers and butchers in the market place has been steadily decimated over the last 5 years.
There’s a whole street where one or two traders are clinging on by their fingernails amongst a swathe of empty shop fronts and To Let signs.
It’s little wonder why. If I went to ASDA like a normal person I’d be sheltered from the elements, be able to park for free and have a trolley at my convenience as opposed to a rucksack and a buggy that topples over as soon as I put my bag o’ spuds on it.
I can’t even kid myself that the places I like are much cheaper. I know sometimes they are, but I’m sure that most of the time I could get more or less the same goods for a bit less at some hypermarket or other. But, meh. I’m fighting a one-man rearguard action against every innovation since 1983. So sue me.
I’m rambling. The nub of my gist is this: why, other than ballwashing levels of incompetence and general nutsackery, do the council continue to levy parking charges? When the town is so clearly dying on its feet and shoppers are, one presumes, staying away in their droves why extract £2 here and there from those that do want to support the town?
It’s not just the £2. It’s the fact that the machines don’t give change. That they don’t take cards or notes. Before you set off to do your shopping you have a little rigmarole of going through pockets, purses and drawers trying to find the requisite change, or stop somewhere on the way to buy a bottle of pop you don’t want – just to get 2 pound coins. All with kids chattering in your ear and depositing shit in their pants. Hassle.
As Joel Spolsky pointed out, it’s the accumulation of minor gripes and niggles that is the difference between a bad day and a good day and therefore another weight in the balance against the survival of the town centre traders.
The council must recognise this, because they’ve been running a free parking scheme if you get some scratch cards from a participating shop. That ends in June. WHY?
To compound this the council – in common with all councils the world over – have loads of parking restrictions all over town. Stupidly I didn’t pay attention to a sign and ended up with a £35 fine. I’d gone down to buy a mattress and chanced my arm by leaving the car while I looked for a cash machine.
I wasn’t parked on a busy street. I wasn’t parked outside a school or a private drive. I was obstructing nobody. It was just a single yellow line where people with disabled badges could park but I couldn’t by fiat of the Council. On a steep hill. You go work the logic out on that. It’s true that the sign was there and that I didn’t see it. It’s my own fault etc etc. But 50 yards down the hill – on the flat – there is another parking area, pay and display, with just 2 disabled bays.
The upshot: I could have gone to Ikea, bought much the same mattress for much the same price, had a hot dog and been £35 better off. And maybe next time I will – because who needs the hassle?
And that £35 could have been spent in the shops of Dewsbury but instead was siphoned out of my pocket into a dismal, outsourced operation somewhere where it went to pay the wage of the cockbag who administered the fine and the painting of further lines and nothing of wider economic benefit.
To continue even further with this futile, small-minded rant, and to make the point more concrete: I recommended Dewsbury market to a friend. She went once, and also incurred a £35 fine – despite paying the right fee in the car park. Why? BECAUSE SHE HAD PAY AND DISPLAY TICKETS FROM OTHER CAR PARKS IN THE WINDOW TOO!! It contravened regulations! At the risk of sounding like right-wing nutjob and and comedy pub bore homophobe Richard Littlejohn… you couldn’t make it up!
Anyway, she’s never been back, so – great job, Dewsbury!
The next time you get a self congratulatory pamphlet extolling the virtues of your local burghers and aldermen and all the great things they’re doing to prop up your local town, think about those empty shop fronts and the fruitless search for pointless small change.
Because it’s the massive accumulation of such things that count. Every one of us has a story like this. We all hate it. Individually they sound petty and trivial things to make a deal about. But taken in aggregate across the entire country – in matters as diverse as tax and benefit forms, parking fines and restrictions, labelling regulations, sell-by dates, data protection, entertainment and licensing laws and a billion other things… it matters.