Sunday, 1 March 2009
I bought an excellent pair of shoes in Nottingham yesterday. It cost me £5. The shoes were last year's style and shop-soiled and I found them on a market stall, tucked away in a side street opposite the glossy and uncomfortable Victoria Centre. I couldn't face the Victoria Centre. It has a lively market area, which I love - you can get the best espresso coffee in Nottingham at a small Italian stall - but the main shopping centre, with its mirrored columns, lifts and escalators, disorients me.
I dislike shopping but sometimes the liveliness of Nottingham draws me. I like its atmosphere and variety. I enjoy seeing the Goths and political campaigners mingling by the steps of the Council House. I like the buskers and still miss the much-loved Xylophone Man. And while too many of the surviving shops are national chains, with windows arranged according to order from Head Office, the mobile stalls have been decorated with character and are set up with individual care. Much of the character of Nottingham as a shopping centre comes from these street traders.
Apparently the councillors disagree. They don't like the stalls where customers can buy a hat, an apple, a bunch of flowers or a hot baked potato - and propose to put all the stalls together, out of the way of city centre shoppers. They say the stall detracts from Nottingham as a place for "high-class shopping".
Obviously I'm not a high-class shopper. I looked at the stalls as I wandered round. Behind the Victorian Oven, which has been selling baked potatoes to the people of Nottingham for 24 years, there's a mobile phone shop, a branch of Ann Summers and a big Primark. Not what I thought of as "high class" but the councillors seem to have a different idea. The fruit stall and flower stall masked a large, empty - but very "high-class" - shop. They caught the sun and were so colourful that I wandered past them down Bridlesmith Gate instead of crossing the Old Market Square.
The street traders, who support families through their established businesses, are shocked at the Council's threat to turf them out of work in an economic crisis. Yesterday regular customers were queuing to sign a petition to keep the stalls. There's outrage in the local newspaper. I'm outraged too. What affluent, high-class shoppers does the Council want to attract? Bankers, perhaps.
I'm not a high-class shopper. Perhaps the Council will follow this absurdity by establishing a dress code and stationing bouncers at all entrances to Nottingham City Centre. Plainly people like me aren't welcome there.