Saturday, April 04, 2009

Small C?

I saw this in yesterday's Guardian: - a feature that starts off talking about Long Eaton - my old stamping ground when I was a kiddie, where I was at primary school. I remember the local journalists on The Advertiser - people knew who they were - they'd nudge each other when one of them passed on the street - did you see who that was?
"A lot of people are missing the Advertiser," says Keen. "This used to be a beautiful town. But it's not the town it was: it's got scruffy, it's got rough, and now we even lose the paper." For the older generation, these things matter. "They want to know who's passed away," says the barman at the Corner Pin down the road, "and to check it's not them."

But the younger generation don't much care. Carl and Katrina Smith, a married couple in their mid-30s, not only didn't know the paper had closed; they didn't even know its name - and they were born nearby and have lived in the town most of their lives. They did, though, occasionally buy the Nottingham Evening Post -mainly for the jobs. For this generation, Long Eaton as a place has almost ceased to exist, lost in a more amorphous Nottingham-Derby conurbation.

"It's only the older people who think of communities now," says Carl. "For us it's more a place to live than a community." He was an electrician's mate and worked all over the country (until he was laid off two months ago - people are as vulnerable as papers in the slump); Katrina works in Leicester. Long Eaton is a dormitory for them; they rent a house and say they have no idea who their neighbours are.

"It used to be a proper community, with the railway, the canals and the upholstery industry," says Carl, "but look round at the shops now. You've got Tesco and Asda, and everything else is in decline." There is one new shop in Long Eaton - selling Polish, Russian and Lithuanian food, to cater for migrants from eastern Europe. The shop even has free papers in those three languages, as well as Ukrainian. But they are UK-wide and won't record deaths in Long Eaton, in any language."

I know that everyone has acknowledged most of this, but it seems to me to be one of the great unanswered questions of our time: The small-c-conservative question: Do we want those communities back? The local paper, the street where everybody knows your name? The high street with a High Class Victualler that makes his own sausages, and the baker that isn't Greggs?

Do we want a locality at all? Or do we really want (as appears to be our revealed preference) dormitory towns?

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