David Andrews muses on where we are and where we’re going
Not long now.
Autumnal leaves will soon be falling. Another seasonal change, triggering, inevitably, introspection. How many more seasons do I have left? How many more winters? All the old cliches creep slowly yet firmly into the consciousness.
“We could,” said a friend from university days, “be in our last decade. Who knows?”
Like me, my old buddy, a recently retired professor of sociology, has seen many summers, and is a fully paid-up member of the grey hair tribe. The palette we both now share leans towards the pale, washed out. Like flicking through one of those Farrow & Ball colour taster cards.
On a recent trip to the Isle of Wight with my two kids (Hurrah!! A staycation!! An escape!! A breakout!!) I – literally – saw my life flashing before me, eerily seeing my 29-year-old son leaning against a railing I had leant against decades before, as a 10-year-old child on my family’s annual pilgrimage to Ventnor.
The shadows which crisscrossed the road, thrown by the venerable, ancient oaks, now a metaphor for my coming time. And of course, they will be there for my children’s children. As Cormac McCarthy wrote, ‘the plains, they do not change. We change and age and disappear and the plains and their long timeless shadows, they do not disappear. They stay.’
But hey! Let’s not get maudlin. Let’s get out and see ….see the world. If we can. While we can. The doom which has engulfed us all in the past 18 months is gradually beginning to lift, albeit a patchy recovery for an economy riddled with heavy machine gun fire.
Walking down my local Western Road en route to Waitrose – a hazardous journey on foot at the best of times, running the gauntlet of street sleepers and shuffling morning-after drunks – I was struck by the extraordinary number of closed shops. Not just closed. Boarded up. Like the owners had wind of a massive riot about to kick off.
It looked like a combat zone, shortly after the last grenades had been lobbed. Most of those names will not return. Debenhams, gone, New Look, gone, Gap, about to be vapourised, the list is long and deadening.
Yet at 9 am on a Saturday morning there was already a huge queue snaking around the block for Primark, standing now like the stoic Alamo fort surrounded by thousands of Mexican soldiers. Here, on this chill mid-summer’s morning, are dozens of expectant shoppers, mainly with very young children in tow, waiting to pounce. Maybe for school uniforms, I thought.
Am I, I reflected while stepping over a rogue guy rope anchoring a street-sleeper’s pop-up tent, witnessing the beginning of the end? It’s not coming back, is it?
The journey which, by stealth, began in the mid-90s with the advent of online services, is just a few nails away from the complete, ready to rock coffin.
We have all seen it coming.
Problem is, our local council services can barely cover the cost of bin collections, let alone plan for what must now replace these once bustling precincts.
Logically, what we once knew as ‘the shops’ will become the new high density housing zones. With any luck we may see a return of the kind of retailers we could actually use, as opposed to another Chunky Funky Chicken – but I am not optimistic.
The realist in me sees a drab, colour-drained landscape, where human interaction is pared down to a minimum.
The snaking Primark queues will also be gone before too long, as the retailer throws in the towel and joins former stablemates like Gap in dispatching its gear online.
Which means – what? – more DPD vans screaming around the corner just when you managed to dodge the guy in the low-slung black helmet on a souped up moped, making an urgent McDonald’s breakfast delivery to the flat where they have the full symphony fast-food app addiction.
Apart from the clear fact that our roads are overstuffed and drastically over polluted, is there anyone among us not driven crazy by the incessant demands by the likes of Deliveroo to utilise its food delivery services?
The over reliance on kamikaze youngsters urgently revving their leased motorcycles to invade every corner of our lives is whipping up a perfect storm of polluted obesity, sending us hurtling to an end of days scenario of toxic corpulence.
part from all the grievous harm we are inflicting on the planet, am I alone in wondering how can people afford to call on the Mad Max brigade to deliver a cheeseburger and fries? And this, when data suggesting that three in five of under 10 are technically obese.
For the most part those children are raised in poorer homes, yet data points to those on lower incomes being far more likely to be drawn to fast food services.
But no worries if you can’t afford it, as there are always the fast loan crew who will help you out if you find yourself a bit short.
Plus ca change.
‘Don’t look so glum, David,’ chirped Vinod, who has run my local newsagent/grocers/anything you might need corner shop for the past three decades.
Slowly pushing a heavily laden trolley, stacked precariously with towering rows of canned tomatoes and huge six-pint milk bottles, Vinod paused for breath.
‘The thing is, my friend,’ he beamed, now leaning gratefully against his shop doorway, and flashing a knowing grin,’ it’s the youngsters who are going to have to deal with it all. It is they who will inherit this mess.. Our time is gone now, vanished. Like our youth.’
And he was right. As EM Forster put it in Howards End, it is not the meek who will inherit the earth, but the destroyers. Like Forster’s Wilcox family. The hardened and faceless corporations who have constructed a vast cyber economy, silicon empires controlled, unseen, and without empathy.
But, as Samuel Beckett wrote “I go on. I can’t go on. But. I go on…”. And so we do, beating against the tide. We go on.