Have you nerticed the quirkyness of English? Not the people; the language. It’s the most significant on the planet and yet it is just about the most irregular, polyglot, rapacious (in its ability to borrow), adaptable, frustrating and evolving language mankind has ever known. Despite its influence it is almost certainly one of the hardest to master because of its many peculiararities. And we speak it every day and rarely trouble ourselves with its intricacies. But as regular readers will know that’s a dead cert subject for me to reflect upon. The Eurozone’s in crisis, austerity beckons and yet I about words when I ought to be hard at work. Take that word ‘work’. It’s innocuous isn’t it? As we all know it means to toil or be employed. But have you noticed how it is pronounced – like werk? Nothing funy on the face of it but look at a host of other words spelt the same way like pork, cork and fork. In dozens of cases it’s an ‘or’ sound in the middle. Why is work pronounced differently? Don’t you find it odd? And here’s something odder; there’s already a word beginning with a w and pronounced like ‘pork’ but it is spelled ‘walk‘. Interesting, the letters ‘al‘ as in ‘pale’ or ‘talc’ or ‘real’ are pronounced as ‘or‘? Is this what they mean by perfidious Albion? How on earth do foreign students ever grasp our language? But they do with seemingly apparently ease, and yet after 5 years in Italy, which has an almost perfectly constructed language, I probably know no more than 10 phrases and 100 words, sigh.
There are dozens and dozens of other linguistic oddities I can quote at you but I couldn’t possibly do the subject justice. If you ever wanted to read a compelling and insightful study of the English language then read Bill Bryson’s book entitled ‘Mother Tongue’. He’s one of my favourite authors and, to me, this is probably his best work. Reading this I was staggered by the amazing complexibility, likeability and adaptability of our language. One of its quirkiest features is our ability to simply mispronounce words as they are spelt. It’s an unconscious thing but we do it all the time. For example take the word handbag. Unless you’re Brian Sewell the chances are you’ll pronounce it as ‘hambag’. And library tends to come out as ‘libree’. We just can’t help it. But here’s one of my least favourite recent adoptions; I notice that most people now talk transatlantically about ‘charidy’ rather than charity. And what’s got my real goat up is that ‘charidy’ shops are slowly taking over our high streets and squares. I wrote extensively how my old town centre in Buckingham was strangled to death by the effect of the mighty Tesco’s opening a superstore on the town’s ring road which decimated the town centre’s local retail business. Then the supermarket garroted the few remaining independents by installing a ‘Tesco Express’ in the town centre, which after a few months was left with some banks, an artist’s paint shop (note to Tesco’s product management), several hairdressers and not a lot else.
We were so glad to leave the place. And in SW London’s Teddington we found a cosmopolitan and bustling main street which is actually divided into a trendy High St and commercial Broad St. And it’s on my much admired Broad St that we witnessed the dawn of this latest shop this week….
It’s replaced a wine shop (two of my more favourite words). Now that’s a shame but it was inevitable. I popped in there just once and they stocked a lot of French labels (which I stopped drinking years ago) and hardly anything cheaper than £10 a bottle except crappy bin ends. In our local Tesco Metro just across the road I can buy some great new world wines at around half that price on special offer with a further 25% discount if I buy 6 bottles. Better quality, more accessible wine at a third of the price. For anything other than really great (and prohibitively expensive) wines why would I shop at a specialist vintners? And here’s the thing; I don’t buy those wines and nobody I know now does either. So it came as no surprise when the shop closed. But it upset me because other people may like to buy stuff other than rugged pinot grigios. Bit by bit the big supermarkets are ruining our main streets. Many independent greengrocers, butchers, clothes shops, electrical shops, book stores, record shops even newsagents have already gone and a lot of local flavour has disappeared with them. And what’s replaced them? Bloody charidy shops. I’m not against what they achieve but to me they are like weeds in the garden – unwelcome, popping up all over the place, ugly and not very useful. On Teddington’s Broad St alone, which can only be 250 yards long, there are 6 of the them supporting cancer research, the Princess Alice trust (whatever that is), Oxfam, Shooting Stars and two Fara shops.
I’m fearful that others may follow. We have a large Dreams bed store which is forever empty of customers. How often do people buy beds for goodness sake? Twice in their married lives and when the kids come along. To compound matters there’s a competing Bed City not 50 yards away. Here they are:
As you can see they’re both offering huge unrepeatable discounts, that is until next month when the offers will be even more dramatic. How do they stay in business? It mystifies me. But the most staggering survivor is the Carpetright store which I’ve mentioned before. I can hinestly say that in nearly 24 months living here, I’ve only ever seen two people in the store. Here’s a shot of the place I’m particularly pleased with because I’ve actually captured somebody peering inside!
Look at the sale offer 60% off. Unbelieveable. Is it any wonder I saw the company reporting profit warnings earlier this week. And as with the beds there’s a carpet competitor 50 yards up the road. For a product that most people aren’t interested in buying any longer. A bit like those French wines. For now our main street remains varied and interesting and still worthy of a Grade A for shopping. But any more second hand clothes outlets and it’ll be a grey day for shopping in Teddington. See what I did there?
On a similar note:
Hey Paulie, having been involved in the wholesale distribution business for most of my working life I know all about the big guys taking business away from the smaller traders, yet we all use them for the convenience of one stop shopping. With the opening of more and more hypermarket style stores in Italy are we to see a similar decline in the independent sector there or will the specialist butchers and bakers etc be more resiliant.
Almost a month since your last blog, Paulie, and I am suffering withdrawal symptoms so get writing again.
Great to hear from you. I’m sure the Italian system of support for their local shops will be more resilient than in the UK but then again I look at the masses of people shopping in the big stores and supermarkets (even on Sundays) in Italy and you’ve got to wonder if the situation is just a few years behind the UK’s. I hope not but fear you might be right John.
Sorry about the absence of postings recently – it’s been incredibly busy for us of late but I’ll get back on it asap.