Monday, January 05, 2009
Woolworths Closed – UK to follow.
Many branches of Woolworths closed their doors for the last time on Saturday. Since the company went into administration in December it has offered a curious spectacle; its increasingly empty aisles filled with a mixture of bargain hunters and those who just came in to stare. Many seemed to be wandering aimlessly round the store gawping with a curious mix of fascination and nostalgia at the slow motion death throes of a retailer which has been on every UK town high street for 99 years. “Woolies” at it was affectionately known will be genuinely missed by many not least those without the transport to get to the out of town ASDA or Tesco.
In the high street the demise of Woolworths comes on top of a spate of recent shop closures leaving parts of many town centre bleakly empty. The closure of most of these shops was not however bemoaned, as was the passing of Woolworths. There was something symbolic in the closure of Woolies as one person was overheard to say “ its the end of the era”. Hardly the most original of phrases but somehow spot on. For the passing of Woolworths brought on as it was not so much by poor trading but a lack of credit to service the company’s overdraft marks some final chapter in England’s Dreaming. A Thatcherite dream that has held sway for almost thirty years who’s central fantasy was that the UK could shut down all of its manufacturing and rely on some shiny suited city types to make the money.
We would leave the nasty business of making things to low paid foreigners overseas somewhere. They could break their backs and inhale the toxic fumes manufacturing stuff and we would take the profit by pushing paper around. Indeed we even encouraged people to come to the UK to do the jobs we were not that keen on doing here ourselves. We as the first post-industrial country were beyond all that dirty work now. All those who used to make things here in the UK were either pushed into the service sector or onto incapacity benefit.
That we got away with for so long is remarkable. That the rest of the world effectively subsidised our relatively high standard of living for doing pretty much bugger all for thirty years is a trick that Malcolm McLaren would be proud of. Sooner or late though we would get rumbled and the man from the Pru really is sans culottes on this occasion.
When Thatcher was busy closing pits in the early 1980s whole colliery towns were left without a purpose; their populations stranded in the middle of nowhere without any jobs or any really reason d’etre. Much of the UK is now in that position.