It is turning into the pick and mix recession, bad news is hitting some hard but bypassing others. As some banks go under and others get bailed out, as the car makers beg for a bailout while makes of wind turbines are protected from the chill winds of the credit crunch by subsidies, house prices tumble while heating costs soar.
The only recession proof industries, according to Tony Soprano, are gambling, prostitution and organised crime but even so purveyor of shite usually prosper. It is a measure then of how bad the current recession truly is when we learn that the nation’s favourite purveyors of pure unmitigated shite, Woolworths, have gone belly – up.
Throughout my life and the lives of my parents Woolworths has been a High Street institution, the number one supplier of cheap tat. Now they find themselves squeezed in the jaws of the credit crunch and impaled on the twin horns of global Wal-Martisation and the availability of cheap imported tat from China. Say what you like about Woolworths tat but it was good, sound British tat. Our tat is the equal of any in the world and we should defend it.
Not only did Woolworths successfully sell shite, they made it acceptable for middle class people to shop there, giving a veneer of respectability to a bag full of rubbish by enabling people to strike a virtuously thrifty pose against the chavviness of other cheap retailers.
Two things stick in my generation’s assembled minds about Woolworths, the records and the pick and mix. The records were terrible own-label cover of big hits of the day attributed to unknown singers with ludicrously uncommercial names. An Elvis Presley song might be covered by Stan Gomersall or somebody, one Cliff Richard sound-not-very-much-alike was later revealed as Tony effing Blackburn. This is a measure of how uncool Woolworths records were. To own a Woolworths record was social death for teenagers. I even heard that someone called Reg Dwight had covered hit for Woolworths. How could anybody with a name so dull have any musical talent?
The Pick and Mix counter was a different matter altogether. Bizarrely flavoured and coloured sweets, chocolates and candies were displayed in plastic bins, customers collected a bag and moved along the display adding a few of these, a few of those until they had collected their own bodyweight in the various concoctions of sugar and toxic chemicals many of which were so unnaturally coloured one felt they would probably glow in the dark. The colours and the foul aftertaste did not change the fact that Woolworths Pick – and – Mix was gloriously addictive. Where will sugar addicts get their fix if the chain closes. Sorry about that rhyme, I’m not up for poet laureate, it was entirely accidental. I’m not mental, a job like that is inconsequential.
As addictive as the pick and mix choices were, the records were equally repellent so we who sucked saspirella tablets while listening to tuneless and lacklustre recordings of Satisfaction or Please Please Me will not come over sentimental. Woolworth promised much but in the end neither pleased not satisfied. A metaphor for life really.
Goodbye Woolworths, we’ll miss you but not much.