I find myself on Farnborough High Street, where Hampshire and Surrey merge in a series of depressing and forgotten army towns. I am hungry, but it is that funny time of a quarter to eleven and my options are less than they might otherwise have been. And even so, looking around it wouldn’t have been that varied at any time of day.
I know I have moaned about the uniformity and lack of imagination in many UK highstreets (most noticeably Cornmarket in Oxford), but there’s something unnerving about a highstreet which McDonalds, a Costa or even a WH Smiths won’t touch, almost as if they are scared that the decay might be contagious. I trudge down the concrete wind tunnel, reminiscent of some sort of Soviet shopping block at the height of perestroika, having spotted a couple of cafés.
I poke my head round the door of the first, and am hit by a stratocumulus of cigarette smoke emitted from the grey and sticky interior. My shrivelled nose and swift retreat prompts that contumacious glare of the public smoker in numbers. I receive a defiant affirmative from the proprietor, positioning a board outside the second café, when I enquire about his business’s smoking policy, and so trudge back to that temple of last resorts and shitty highstreets, Wimpy.
Wimpy in fact allows smoking too, but I can see through the windows that the clientele feeding their offspring a combination of fried foodstuffs and second-hand smoke have so far all amassed on one side of the establishment. I sit down and look out of the window, watching obese people weighed down by snot coloured jewellery stagger past the modern-art sculpture, the fake marble cladding of which has long fallen off to reveal the concrete underneath.
5 weeks ago