Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.
In this issue
- This week: Shopping
- On the website
- Virtual Snacks
- Bizarre Searches
- Joke and quotation
Shopping in the UK has changed dramatically since I first lived overseas more than 15 years ago. Back then, although the supermarkets were beginning to establish their dominance, there was a far wider choice of places to buy your groceries, even if you occasionally had to go to a number of different shops – perhaps to a greengrocer and a butcher or fishmonger as well as a general grocery – to get everything you wanted. The supermarkets didn’t offer as wide a choice, either – most of them were just food, drink and the odd kitchen utensil.
Now, of course, there’s a lot more technology involved. Even in the mid-Nineties, I remember, I was shocked when a cashier at Tesco’s grabbed the cheque out of my hand before I’d even written it. I was just about to protest that I hadn’t filled it in when I realised she’d put it into a little gizmo to print the amount, payee and date. These days, you don’t even have to sign anything – as long as you’ve got one of the “new” chip-and-PIN cards I mentioned a couple of months back. And you can meet pretty much all of your day-to-day needs under one roof – or not even bother venturing out of doors at all if you’re within delivery range of one of the superstores offering Internet sales and home delivery.
At the same time, things have become far more uniform. Both Sutton and Croydon – our two closest shopping centres – are dominated by the familiar UK names, with independent retailers scarcely getting a look-in. (We particularly miss the wonderful deli which used to be at the end of the arcade in Allder’s in Croydon.) Great if you’re a newcomer to a town and want to find something particular in a hurry, but a bit of a downer if you’re after any kind of personal service. We were hugely disappointed on our return to London in June to find that the butcher in Wallington’s main street had disappeared. Now we’re faced with the choice of a long trek to the meat market in Croydon’s Surrey Street, or the selection on offer in the various supermarket chains. Good as these may be, buying meat under cling film in a styrofoam tray doesn’t really match up to the stuff that’s been slapped onto the scales in front of your eyes.
A few months ago the New Economics Foundation carried out a survey of High Streets to find Britain’s top “clone towns”. Exeter topped the list, with just one independent shop out of a total of fifty in its main shopping street. Four out of ten UK towns were classed as “clone towns”, and another quarter on the verge of joining them; only one in three retained their distinctiveness. (Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire topped the list of these “home towns”.)
Even the range of supermarkets seems to be decreasing. Asda, of course, is now part of the worldwide WalMart empire, and Safeway in the UK has become part of Morrisons. And the smaller convenience chains seem to be disappearing too. To name but three, remember FineFare (now part of Somerfield), Lipton’s (taken over by Safeway and redubbed Lo-Cost, then divested to the Co-op) and Mace (still trading as Mace, but taken over by Somerfield)? Small wonder that so many High Streets seem to look exactly the same. (Apparently the Allder’s department store I mentioned above is now owned by Debenham’s, which also has a branch just across the pedestrianised street. Where will it end?)
Perhaps this homogenisation isn’t unique to the UK either. In Thailand, for instance, at least in the tourist areas the 24-hour convenience stores are mushrooming – over 80 branches of 7-Eleven in the Pattaya area (resident population: about 60,000) alone! More and more of the independent grocers appear to be aping the convenience stores’ offerings as far as they’re able. And a slew of Thai-foreign joint ventures mean that you can now shop for groceries in Carrefour and Tesco-Lotus, or get your medicaments and chemists’ supplies at Boots. Of course, the bulk of Thais still do most of their shopping at the markets – and wonderful markets they are too, with a huge variety of fruit, vegetables and fish all year round – but an increasing number are turning to the convenience (and, perhaps, the prestige) of shopping at the hypermarkets.
Having said that, I would have killed for a decent supermarket in Delhi. As it was, the city government had a policy discouraging big businesses and protecting small traders, so the nearest supermarket was in Gurgaon, across the state border in Haryana. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t justify the 45-minute-plus journey there and back along the busy airport road. Still, at least we had some decent markets to choose from – even if they got a bit smelly in the hotter times of year!
Do you have anything to say about this topic, or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us?
The music of Flanders and Swann came up in conversation recently so I searched for some information about this duo. Have a look at this site about them, which includes many of their song lyrics as well as a biography, photos, and various other interesting things. I like the song “Madeira M’Dear”.
Flanders & Swann
I recently found this (not very recent) Telegraph article about British chefs and food hygiene. It’s a bit scary, particularly the bit where Nigella Lawson describes having her mother’s hair in the food. And when she goes on to say that she always makes a point of washing her hands BEFORE touching chicken, that really does give cause for concern. (One of the most simple rules of basic food hygiene is to wash your hands AFTER touching raw meat.) This article is quite a good read for anyone interested in food and/or British chefs. It’s quite funny to see what “luvvies” they’ve become. Not that it’s relevant, but I’ve actually met several of the British celeb chefs, eg Phil Vickery, AWT, and any I’ve met seemed to be really nice down-to-earth, friendly people, so don’t believe everything you read. Not even if it’s on BE! 😉
Daily Telegraph: Food hygiene survey dishes the dirt on British TV chefs
Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:
- cambodia style decorating
- unclaimed money for stephanie beeks
- thunderpants movie scenes
- whippersnapper young derogatory
- picture woman in the man in the bed
- haggis birthday e-cards
- the blasphemy swearing song
- women humiliating men penises
- webbed toes scotland park family
- chastity belt spike erection dildo
- blackberry heaven
Till next time…
British Expat Magazine
“Writing a novel is not merely going on a shopping expedition across the border to an unreal land: it is hours and years spent in the factories, the streets, the cathedrals of the imagination.”
– Janet Frame, New Zealand novelist, short-story writer, poet (1924-), in The Envoy from Mirror City
A husband and wife are having dinner at a posh restaurant when an absolutely stunning young woman comes over to their table, gives the husband a big kiss, tells him she’ll see him later, and walks away.
His wife glares at him and says, “Who was that??!!”
“Oh,” replies the husband, “that was my mistress.”
“That’s it,” says the wife, “I want a divorce!”
“OK,” replies her husband, “but remember, if you get a divorce there will be no more shopping trips to Paris, no more winter holidays to Spain, no Jaguar in the garage, and no more spa retreats. But the decision is yours.”
Just then the wife notices a mutual friend entering the restaurant with a gorgeous woman. “Who is that woman with Jim?” she asks.
“That’s his mistress,” replies her husband.
“Ours is much better looking,” says the wife.