The Plight of the British High Street

A walk through my local High Street tells an all too familiar tale. Nationwide there are hoards of empty units, boarded up shops and ‘To Let’ signs throughout areas that not too long ago were bustling retail parades, bursting with shoppers all too willing to part with their hard-earned cash in exchange for items they didn’t need and a feeling of satisfaction with having ‘made something’ of their lives. This has now gone. High Streets are now the domain of businesses with nowhere else to go. Post-Offices, Banks, Estate Agents, Chemists and Newsagents are still there but there are some new kids on the block. Poundshops, Gold Exchangers, Second-Hand buyers and sellers are nestled in between the ever-expanding franchised fast-food outlets and the odd independently owned, overpriced boutique, selling worthless tat to people with more money than sense (or taste).

It’s very easy to put this down to the current financial hardship being felt by almost everyone not a professional footballer or hedge-fund manager but I think this is a much deeper shift in attitudes toward shopping and town centres. It is true that the global economic downturn has put extra pressure on small High Street shops but the emigration of major retailers to ‘out-of-town’ aircraft hangers in retail parks on motorway junctions is not new, I remember them starting in the eighties. Equally, the influx of service providers and discount stores to fill the void left by the large retailer’s exit is a change that has been progressing slowly for decades, the recent recessions have merely accelerated the process.

Blame for the decline in High Street popularity is also put on local governmental decisions to allow these lager superstores to operate far enough outside town centres to benefit from cheaper land and rates while still being near enough to them to be in active competition. This could be a valid criticism given that it is local authorities who set both the business rates paid by the units in the town centres and the parking rates for their customers but while I accept that much local governmental policy is misguided, I cannot understand why any council would be driving business out of the town centres while facing cuts to their own budgets. Also, dropping rates to keep some shops in business would amount to a subsidy, propping-up an otherwise unprofitable enterprise, something I do not believe any local authority should be doing with private sector businesses.

Another factor needing to be taken in to account when assessing the situations discussed above is the rise of online shopping. Online retailers have seen well above inflation growth year on year regardless of recession. People are becoming ever more comfortable buying things online and retailers ever more sophisticated in their marketing and delivery strategies. Gone are the days of worrying about being stuck with an item you don’t want because the picture online made the product look nothing like the reality and not being able to return it. Delivery times can often be set at the time of order to fit in with one’s lifestyle and the rise in online competition has forced most retailers into abiding by an easy returns policy. Christmas shopping in December used to be an absolute nightmare but I wouldn’t know now as I haven’t done any gift shopping in actual shops for years.

Changes in the local business landscape should not be seen as all negative, the decline in daytime activity in town centres has been counteracted by a rise in nightlife as pubs, bars and restaurants flourish, offering people a temporary escape from the depressing news headlines and the even more melancholic soap-operas or reality TV epidemics currently offered up as weekend night-time entertainment. It’s not just in the darkness that these changes in activity are evident, the empty units are nearly always near offices, colleges and schools, making them attractive to the glut of deep-fried poultry providers with near identical names (normally based on an American State), offering their fare to any who are unaware or uncaring of the resulting arterial damage its consumption entails.

At root, all these changes are not the result of policy change or government ideology, they are the result of a basic economic model. Give people choices and they will make them, if you are able, as a retailer to offer a more popular option than your competitors you will be more successful. High Street shops are there not as an aesthetic distraction as you drive through on your way to the cheaper and more convenient superstore down the road, they are there as businesses to make money. One cannot have the convenience of local shops while being disinclined to use the regularly, if you think that the superstore is causing the decline in your local high street, you are wrong. It is you, the users of your local shops who have the collective power over their success or failure. As the saying goes: if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

Even more so than with politicians, we don’t just get the High Streets we deserve, we actually get the High Streets we want, even if we don’t know it yet.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

P.S. – Wow, when I had the original thought for this post it was supposed to show my positive feelings towards the changes in our town centres and how I wholly embraced them but having read it back it’s incredibly negative. I don’t actually feel the way I come across, I quite like the idea of service based High Streets and shops being conveniently out-of-town but I suppose I’m too grumpy to get my positivity communicated in a comprehensible way without appearing sarcastic!

Why You Can’t Argue With God – Part 2

Once again I have been doing what I said I wouldn’t, arguing with those who cannot be argued with. I really should stop commenting on posts by people who have no interest in listening to my point of view. It’s normally quite clear from the post how strongly their opinions are held and how loosely they are based in factual knowledge, I don’t know what it is but once I click the ‘atheism’ tag and scroll through looking at some of the utter rot that is being spouted, despite the underlying knowledge that my attempts at education will be futile, I simply cannot help myself.

Having said that, if you’re able to not comment, there are a lot of posts out there with a high comedic value. One of the best logical arguments I heard recently was this (paraphrased) :

  1. All universal physical laws must be the equally applicable, regardless of space and time.
  2. Humans have not visited and checked these laws everywhere in space and time, therefore:
  3. All universal physical laws do not exist.

I really didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I understand the philosophical argument about whether or not a falling tree makes a sound if nobody hears it but this is based on the definition of sound. If one defines sound as the electrical signals from the ear causing a sensory perception of sound, clearly there must be a hearer for a sound to exist. If one defines sound as a wave of varying atmospheric (or another medium) pressure, all actions produce a sound regardless of who or what is present to experience the sensation. Going back to the reasoning above, one can assume from this reasoning that gravity did not exist before Newton and is different on Mars. Does water flow uphill on the moon? Would it also be reasonable to suggest that all medical knowledge of internal anatomy is rendered obsolete due to our being unable to check before surgery? It goes against the inductive reasoning on which so much of modern science (since the renaissance) is based. Inductive reasoning is not perfect, far from it, the classic ‘white swan’ example emphasises that point but without it we have to act as though we are entirely without knowledge. The argument above would suggest that anything that is yet to be disproved must be incorrect, by this reasoning we can assume that all religious belief is wrong (at least we agree on something) and also that atheism is wrong and that all future religious theories will also be wrong. This is quite a bleak post from a Christian!

Another post I commented on recently contained a curious form of circular reasoning to justify my atheism in his eyes. His piece ended by telling his readers that god was available to anyone who would ‘let him in’ but would not enter uninvited, thus would not be available to the unbeliever. When I pressed him on the difficulty of believing in a god who refuses to show itself to anyone who does not already believe, he told me that my actions and thoughts would determine whether or not god would choose to ‘show himself’ to me. This of course raises the question of all those who have either so little knowledge of the Christian god as to be unable to ‘let him in’ or who have been taught about Christianity in a way that did not indoctrinate them into blind faith, leaving the possibility of god’s non-existence open. How could a person who was ignorant of god or another who was sceptical of his existence ‘let him in’? In short, one cannot believe in god unless one already believes in god.

There have been a number of others:

  1. Finches turning into finches doesn’t prove that apes turned into humans. No it doesn’t but it does show that time, separation and differing selection pressures cause species to change, if you allow this, why not speciation given tens of millions of years? Surely the argument is not different in scope but merely magnitude?
  2. The lack of a known census during the time of Herod in Judea is merely a problem with archaeology not with the accuracy of scripture. So one book written decades after the event is true and all other contemporary sources missed something as important as a census requiring some citizens to travel hundreds of miles to their birthplace? Very credible.
  3. You can’t judge the actions of god or anyone doing his bidding in the Old Testament because you only have a human mind and cannot begin to understand the bigger picture, also you are only using your own sense of morality which cannot be used to judge a being as great and good as god. The ‘bigger picture’? Are you having a laugh? Every single part of the bible takes place within several hundred miles of Jerusalem and is almost entirely centred on an insignificant semi-nomadic tribe who decided to segregate themselves from their neighbours by mutilating their young boys and refusing to eat certain food types. There is no ‘bigger picture’, the bible is about a very small picture in global terms, let alone the galactic scale. I don’t have to use my own sense of morality to judge the actions of god because that would be unfair to god, I can use his as laid down in his book. By his own standards, the ones he expects us to live by, god is a nasty, vindictive, spiteful character who jealously demands total reverence without giving anything in return. A god who sees fit to let his ‘chosen people’ become invaded, conquered and enslaved or murdered on more than one occasion. All things that he explicitly tells people not to do.

Essentially commenting on some posts is not only pointless, its counter-productive because you will be outnumbered by other commentors and it is impossible to properly answer questions put to you in such a small space. There is no hope for persuading them round to your point of view anyway, if they made their judgements based on evidence and reason you wouldn’t have to argue with them about the existence of god.

I have determined a few rules for my comments in the future. Never comment on any posts where the writer speaks about or clearly believes strongly in any of the following:

  • Creationism, both Young and Old Earth
  • Intelligent Design (ID)
  • Original Sin
  • Human Souls
  • Heaven & Hell
  • Any form of Contraception being comparable to Murder

Also, avoid commenting on any posts attempting to refute the validity of or denying the existence of these:

  • The Big-Bang Theory
  • Darwinian Evolution by Natural Selection
  • Climate Change
  • Inalienable Human Rights Regardless of Sexuality or Gender

If you can give me any tips in my quest to reduce my (self-inflicted) frustration by telling me of any other topics I should avoid I’d be glad of the advice.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

You’re only fat because you want to be

The first thing some of you will have done when you see the title of this piece is have a quick look at the photo, you will see that I am clearly carrying a few extra kilos and may well think that I’m not really in a position to discuss obesity. I would have to counter that despite having lost several kilos since that photo was taken I know exactly what has caused my weight gain, me.

That is the point of this piece, however much you hear people say how unfair it is that some people can eat what they want but never gain yet they only have to ‘look’ at a sausage for it to go straight to their hips, you know that by ‘look’ they mean eat and eat and eat. Nobody gains weight by eating less that their body uses and nobody can lose weight without eating less than their body uses. One cannot escape from these simple facts. Whilst it may be true that not all our resting metabolic rates are the same and there are a minority of people for whom medical problems may make weight control more difficult, I still feel no sympathy. If you’re gaining weight you need to eat less or do more, there’s no getting away from that simple formula, no ‘magic bullet’.

It seems to have become very fashionable in the modern world to blame a person’s weight, not on his or her love of pies but on the manufacturer or server of the pies. This has led to more and more information on food packaging and now on many chain restaurant menus. This can help to an extent, one may want to know whether to have the triple quarter ponder or the double-decker mega-burger but if you’ve already decided on a burger before you get to the restaurant, you can’t be that bothered about the calories to start with and does anyone really go to a burger restaurant and have a salad?

The people to whom this information is intended however, will pay no notice whatsoever to any labelling. Here we arrive back at the title of the piece, you’re only fat because you want to be. Of course I don’t think that many people actually think ‘I want to be fat’ but when given the choice of being fat and stuffing your face full of pies & chocolate every day or controlling your weight by a combination of self-control, unwanted exercise and a diet consisting mostly of vegetables that my even my dog turns his nose up to, it’s not surprising that many of us find the fat choice more appealing.

Most of us seem to know, however, what the right choice is and stop ourselves from making the wrong choices too often, either by filling our fridges with fruit & veg or joining a sports team to pressurize ourselves into regular exercise. Many people seem to have decided that they don’t want to be fat, that they will do their best to take the tough choices, that they want to be healthy later in their lives. It isn’t difficult though, to find those who’ve decided not to do this, they’ve decided to go for the easy, short-term option. To eat now, pay with your health later. It would appear that these people have never had so much help to make the right choices, from ‘traffic lights’ on pizza boxes & cake wrappers to slimming clubs or celebrity diets. Yet still they’re all around us, mega-fatties everywhere, blocking the entrances to kebab shops, overflowing their seats on buses & trains and most importantly clogging up the NHS which we all pay for.

I know some of you will now be thinking that I should leave these poor people alone, that I wouldn’t want to be in their position so I shouldn’t judge them. Despite not wanting to be fully in their shoes, most people would want to be able to eat whatever they want whenever they want with no feeling of guilt or remorse, with no thought to the future whatsoever. Maybe this is what makes these sort of people so detestable. We live a responsible lifestyle, working hard and paying our taxes toward a health system that treats those who have been irresponsible their whole lives without a care for the future until they develop type 2 diabetes or heart disease in their 30s. The biggest problem I have is this lack of foresight is that many of these people seem to show contempt for the very concept of looking after their bodies, deciding that it’s just too hard. We all treated our bodies poorly when we were younger but giving up or cutting down on things you love is not as hard as is commonly perceived, it’s all about how much you want it. Will power is just about desire, if you really want it, you will be able to do it. I managed to give up smoking without too much difficulty, my wife managed to lose about 40 kilos (about 90lbs) over the course of about 2 years by joining a slimming club. There’s nothing special about us, we just wanted to do it and did it.

It may not be much consolation but evolution has fine-tuned your body to be fat in the modern world. Imagine, if you will two tribes in Africa many thousands of years ago. One tribe loves salad, the other loves meat. The human brain needs huge amounts of calories to keep us alert and to get these calories, the salad eating tribe essentially have to become grazers, eating nearly all of their waking time. The meat-eating tribe will be able to get their calories much quicker and have more free time to do other things like procreate. More of the meat loving tribe’s genes and culture will be passed on to the next generation etc. All animals are genetically programmed to choose the higher calorie option of any food choice given to them, storing any excess as fat to help cope with leaner times. Here’s the problem, modern farming and food transport techniques have ensured there are no longer any lean times for us in the developed world, we have to find a way to beat our nature in order to insure our health. Choosing against your preferred food option and doing unnecessary exercise are obvious ways to do this.

But in the end it all comes down to how much you want it.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

Any comments welcome, I’ll try to answer as many as possible

Families, who needs em?

Every so often, the subject of my relationship (or rather non-relationship) with my father comes up in conversation. Most of you won’t know so I’ll briefly fill you in. I left home at 20 and in the last 12 years have only seen him for a couple of hours at my mum’s wake and we didn’t have much to say to each other then.

An awful lot of people seem to think this is really sad, that we’re both missing out on so much family joy by not seeing each other regularly. Are we? Really? I think people seem to find it difficult to understand how we could just not speak to each other for so long. We haven’t fallen out, there’s no underlying feud, rivalry or any other reason to not speak, I just don’t have anything to say to him. I think that’s where it lies. I don’t really care what he’s been doing, he doesn’t really care what I’ve been doing, we’re both aware of this so why bother?

Now we get into the part that has little to do with me but more to do with you. Why is everyone so obsessed with families? In what way is blood thicker than water? What exactly am I missing out on by restricting my family ties to my wife & step-daughter? A choice of venues for Christmas day? An extra card on my birthday? Or am I missing the point entirely? Maybe the point of families for many people is an innate sense of belonging, of being a fundamental piece in an enormous interlocking jigsaw linking man, woman & child across the land. Feeling at the heart of something special and exclusive, among those who need you and you them, knowing that their love is unconditional, no strings, forever. An extension of the time when you were a babe in arms, relying absolutely on these parents before you, knowing that you needed them for everything and they would do anything in their power to aid your survival in this harsh, unsafe world.

I think that probably is the point, it can’t be nice to feel that the comfort blanket you’ve had for so long may no longer be necessary, as though you’ve suddenly realised that the man holding the back of your stabiliser free bicycle is about to let go. But he won’t will he? Not unless you make it clear that’s what you want , even then he’ll be following behind you to help you up if and when you fall. What most of you will not have felt, however, unless you’re in a situation like me, is the elation of knowing there’s nobody behind me and even if I do fall I can get up by myself.

Ok, I think the metaphor has run its course now, most of you can cycle and I’d hope that if you haven’t already, most of you have left home and can foresee a time when parental intervention is neither necessary nor desirable for either child or parent. Is that when we come back to the belonging part? We are after all social animals, we need social contact, the success of social media and the reason for me writing this is all fulfilling a basic instinct inherent in us all to communicate. The need to have people you are close to and can spend time with to moan & groan about your boss or express admiration for the friendly, hardworking local shopkeeper is something we all have.

Is this really all family is? An evening gossip club for working adults? No, of course not it’s a combination of all the aspects I’ve mentioned above and so much more. Am I coming round to the idea of feeling I’m missing out? No. I never said I didn’t want a family, I said I didn’t want or need the family thrust upon me as a child. Now I’m a married adult I’ve rejected the dysfunctional, semi-parasitic notion that because you share a fraction of your genetic material with a person you must be permanently adhered to each other for the rest of both your lives. I’ve chosen instead to put my time and effort into the family of my choice not only that but also the choice of my wife. This is probably more important, knowing that as complete as it is now, there was a time when our bond was anything but unconditional. It has been earned, indeed it continues to be and is much stronger as a result.

Of course many people are not as lucky as us in these matters. Children have no such choices and many young adults are in a similar position. For the young and inexperienced, financial and emotional support has to come from somewhere and the younger the person is the more often it is likely to be needed. This, for me, is what the old-fashioned notion of ‘family’ is all about. When one is in those younger stages of life, without the support network available to older adults, a family is needed. As you get older, a family becomes wanted.

Many of you may be thinking I had a bad childhood. This is far from the case, as poor as my parents were at parenting, I have mostly pleasant memories from that time. I was not neglected or beaten (no more than was usual for the 80s anyway!) and as a young adult I used the support provided by my mother as much as any of my peers. The point of this piece is not that we don’t need families or that people should reject their parents at the first point of independence. It’s not that couples in their 30s & 40s should stop talking to or visiting their parents. It’s that if you get nothing positive from your family relationships but feel that you have to keep them because ‘its what you do’, take a step back. What would you miss if they weren’t there?

Thanks for reading.

Rowan

All comments welcome, I’ll try to respond to as many as possible.

%d bloggers like this: