Monday, 29 August 2011

My new novel

So I was working on this just now, its very raw (probably to the point of spelling errors...), but it's the prologue to what might potentially become a novel.  Or not.  We shall see.

It's (hopefully) funny, but also quite dark, and features prolific swearing, but if that doesn't put you off you're clearly bored enough to keep reading, so go on.  Feel free to let me know what you think, even if you don't make it the whole way through.

“Yeah, but I didn’t steal them.  I was just walking down High Street, you know, and then someone came out of the shop, it was this girl, she was like five foot tall, quite chubby, still fit though, and she was carrying this bag, like a handbag, and then she started running and these two guys came out, from security, and they were chasing her, so she suddenly lobbed them at me, and I didn’t even know what it was to be honest, but I caught them, and suddenly these guys were on me, and like they must have seen me catch them cos they were quite close, and one of them tried to deck me but he missed and then they pushed me over and ripped them off me, so I just lay there.  I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty fucking scary, cos I’ve never been in trouble before, and I didn’t want my mum to find out, cos she reckons my girlfriend’s been a bad influence on me and she ain’t, but its not like she believes that… So yeah, I didn’t do it, so like, I don’t even know why I’m here, do you know what I mean?”

The balding, tubby, broad faced cop looked across the table.  For a minute he just stared blankly, with the dead expression of an insomniac watching late night television.  Then his left eyebrow slowly curved itself and climbed his glistening forehead.

“That is literally bollocks.”

His junior partner just barely held back a snort, before almost instantly rearranging his facial features to the mirror image of a concern and responsibility.  Kevin started to open his mouth, but the tubby cop interrupted.

“That is fecking ridiculous.”  (He wasn’t Irish, but like many Englishmen he sometimes forgot that in tense situations.)  “You went into the shop, you picked up the sweets, you shoved it in your pocket, you walked out...”

“…No but you didn’t see that girl…”

“That girl? Of course I didn’t see that girl! Noone outside of the chubby chaser porn you watched this morning before breakfast saw that fecking girl!  You took the ipod…”

“No but they punched me, and that’s definitely not…”

“Punched you? They asked you to stop for a second and you told them you had a fecking gun.”

“Yeah but I didn’t.”

“And I honestly don’t know if that’s because you’re a liar or because you’re genuinely stupid enough to believe it.”

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Why shouldn't we shop at Tesco?

Today's Guardian's Weekend Magazine led on a story about how 'across the country people are battling the relentless march of the 'Big Four''.  Have the four horsemen of the Apocalypse come at last?  Is there a nationwide movement to find 11 footballers good enough to beat Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool? No, the Guardian doesn't think we should shop in supermarkets.

The article itself tells a harrowing tale.  According to one banner near a Norfolk village 'TESCO IS A PARASITE - it fastens on to healthy, vibrant market towns and KILLS them'.  Valiant freedom (from supermarkets) fighters in Bristol have damaged an evil new Tesco store so badly that it had to close for a month, but still the monstrosity matches on.  'Once one of the Big Four has a town in its crosshairs, it can usually be assured of eventual success... Once planning permission has been granted and another supermarket goes up, the inevitable happens: local traders suffer, and many go out of business'.

Leaving aside the ridiculous metaphor that suggests big supermarkets want to shoot towns, the biggest problem with this narrative is that it totally overlooks the crucial step in the process.  When Tesco opens in a town local traders do not 'inevitably' suffer and go out of business.  There is no magical corporate voodoo whereby Jerry's Butchers down the road suddenly wakes up to find itself bankrupt.  Instead, shoppers can choose to spend buy their food (or clothes, or life insurance) from the supermarket rather than the small business, and if they do the small business loses income.

The Guardian focuses on the suffering of small business owners in the article, and that is indeed one side of the debate.  However what about the shoppers, who can now save 10% on their food bills across the year, and thus afford to give themselves a holiday?  Or those who previously didn't have time to get the film they wanted to watch that night because they couldn't squeeze in a trip to the DVD shop and the food shop in the small window of time they had free, but now thanks to a late-opening superstore can settle down in front of Titanic and have some dinner too in the bargain.

You might argue that those are small and superficial benefits, and they don't compare to the loss to communities and companies that are the necessary cost of such comforts.  But if the benefits are so small and the damage to the community so great, then why are enough people shopping in supermarkets to keep them running?  If the anti-supermarket campaigners are right and the appearance of Sainsbury's in their town will ruin it, then they need only convince enough people of this truth (which they consider so obvious it is acceptable to cause criminal damage in defence of it) and the new superstore will be choked of custom and move away.

The other side of the equation is that small businesses can save themselves by providing products or services that are more attractive than what Tesco can offer.  Even if they can't compete on price due to economies of scale, there is nothing to stop small businesses going the extra mile to provide superior products or superior customer service.  Residents in these towns can support small businesses not by opposing the arrival of supermarkets and denying choice to those who want it, but by continuing to shop in their local butcher even though they could get a wider range of cheaper meat just down the road.  Unfortunately, the facts would suggest that (in the main) they don't.

And what of the Guardian's other claim against supermarkets, that thanks to the heinous Town and Country Planning Act of 1990 they can 'swing the debate by offering to fund no end of sweeteners: libraries, public spaces, housing, even schools'(!)  How immoral, Tesco unscrupulous sinks small businesses by resorting to such disgusting bribery.

Except, isn't the Guardian angry about closures to libraries, claiming they're a vital service to communities and education?  Aren't we all aware of the great need for housing at the moment, and the corresponding need to ensure there are available public spaces?  Didn't Tesco give over £9 million to schools in the UK last year, providing vital equipment that will only become more important in an era of cuts?  Isn't the whole argument that Tesco comes to areas and destroys communities completely undermined by the fact that the Guardian are claiming that they buy their way to success by investing in precisely the same communities?

Of course it is unfortunate for a very hardworking shop-owner if they close down as a result of losing custom to a supermarket.  But given that supermarkets also provide jobs, produce products that need workers to produce them and form an important part of the communities they find themselves in, it is simply ridiculous to describe Tesco as a sinister parasite.  If you prefer to help local shops then noone is stopping you from doing so.  Just don't try and claim the moral high ground if I'd much rather nip down to Asda.