If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday, 24 October 2009


I've just been out to do the weekly shop. I was up too late to do my favourite trick: in the shops by 8.30 am and home by ten, no crowds, tills all to myself, no hassle in the car park, no traffic jams getting out again. I was in Morrison's by 11 am, which meant I hit the peak Saturday morning rush.

And how depressing that was.

Cocky young men with beer bellies, proudly strutting around wearing the latest sportswear, and older men with straggly, greying hair sticking out from under baseball caps, wearing grey, stained jogging pants and battered trainers. Women with dark roots and grown-out frizzy perms, dressed either as Soviet peasants in a cold snap or as ready for a beach stroll in Marbella - neither appropriate for a cool, windy morning in West Wales. Either wrapped in dowdy overcoats or exposing way too much flesh (with 'tasteful' tattoos, naturally) with pole-dancing clothing offset by rolls of flab in all the wrong places.

I blame Jane Fonda. From the very first 'feel the burn' fitness craze, everyone has rushed to wear sports clothing. It's as if putting on a track suit from JJB Sports makes you suddenly part of the fitness revolution - whether you are a fit 20-year-old or a lardy 50-year-old grandmother. At least leg-warmers have had their day, but the ubiquity of the trainers, jogging pants and (round here) Wales Rugby shirts (on both men and women) makes the unfit look paradoxically less fit than if they wore a shirt and tie.

And above everything, a sad, defeated look about everyone. Sour mouths that turn down at the corners, an air of resignation, a look of utter poverty - both material and spiritual. Standing in the queue for the checkout, I was reminded of photographs of food queues in 1960s Russia. No-one was smiling. Surliness was the mood of the day.

Looking around, it was obvious that the vast majority of Brits dress for cheapness, not looks or quality. Baggy, formless jeans; shapeless hooded tops; grubby cheap baseball caps; and greasy, unstyled hair, dirty fingernails and, everywhere, the tattoos. Everything from the bargain bin. And this was Saturday morning. In the middle of the week, you might say that the shoppers were more likely to be pensioners or the unemployed, where economic necessity could be an explanation. But today, it was all about families, working people who were spending their hard-earned cash on the weekly shop.

What made it even more depressing was the occasional person who had made an effort. A woman in a smart coat, with good hair and decent shoes; a middle-aged man in a crisp dark shirt and a stylish waistcoat - these people stood out, drew the eye, as they were so unusual, like those photographs where everything is monochrome apart from one brightly-coloured feature like a sail.

In a similar supermarket in France, the reverse would be true. Sure, there would be the scruffy and grubby, the style-free and the couldn't-care. But the majority of shoppers, regardless of wealth or status, would be well-presented and clean, with clothes with a little class, and accessories with a hint of panache, as if it mattered that we gave the best impression in front of others.

Perhaps we just don't care what other people think any more. We've been told so often that we have our rights, that others are not allowed to criticise, that everyone is equally valuable and worthy, that we don't even bother to make the effort to make the best of ourselves. I know we are in a recession, and that money is tight for everyone, but this has been going on for years.

Today, I feel depressed about my country. I think we have lost it, whatever 'it' was. What can be done to make our country keen again, and happy and positive, and active, and optimistic? I'm not sure I know; in fact, I haven't a clue.


  1. I suggest that you shop at Waitrose or Booths around 7pm most days, and circulate with the smug *astard* like me who buy the yellow label markdowns with little competition from the great unwashed.

  2. Ah, if only! I live near (and shop in) a reasonably prosperous county town, so it's not like the area is crawling with the great unwashed, but we only have choice between Tesco, Morrison's, Aldi and Lidl. No Waitrose, no Sainsbury, nothing above the middle rank. Morrison's is the most convenient and has the nicest staff, so that's where I go.


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