We were upset to learn that the tobacconists Bonds of Oxford Street are no longer Of Oxford Street. The premises that they occupied for the entire childhood of one Londonista has been invaded by a shop that sells handbags. Bonds have been relegated to some backwater trading estate in SW16. Sentimental adolescent memories are attached to that purveyor of fine tobaccos, cigars, and pipes of all distinctions, shapes and sizes; we bought our first cigarette holder there. We felt sophisticated.
In this month's Profanisaurus we found:
coup de tat n. Fr. A sudden and unexpected takeover of a previously classy high street by pound shops, Wilkinson's and scratter-filled amusement arcades. 'Head for the hills, everyone. There's been a coup de tat in Leamington Spa.'
More examples of this phenomenon made themselves instantly apparent. The Old Parr's Head on Upper Street, a once-favoured pub, is now a women's fashion shop. Centrale, formerly of Moor Street, Soho, has been wantonly demolished to make way for a block of luxury flats. Camden Town has tried to tart itself up by dumping a glass and steel obscenity in the middle of the market and calling it a restaurant. We shudder to think what will happen now that Elephant & Castle is 'up-and-coming'.
Harold Wilson said, 'He who rejects change is the architect of decay.' (Grumpy Old Men being commissioned by the BBC was a prime example of this.) Change is necessary and called for, undoubtedly, but it really should think about what exactly it is going to do with itself before it dives in at the deep end. Didn't Oxford Street once have class? In between the Tyburn business losing trade and before the onslaught of the tat merchants of more recent memory. But according to a recent poll (probably conducted by Time Out), 'proper' Londoners can be identified by whether or not they prefer to avoid Oxford Street like the plague.
There were once (and may well still be) hidden gems tucked away between the multiple all-purpose seasonal card shops (still nigh-on impossible to find Chanukah cards come that time of year, by the way) and the quality sports footwear retailers and the mobile phone emporiums and the repellent general tat shops. (Who keeps these people in business? Surely all the tourists in the world have bought a silly hat with a Union Jack on it and a postcard of a pair of boobs with mice faces drawn on them by now?) If change is really what is wanted, you could do a lot worse than to mostly demolish Oxford Street as it is and start again from scratch.
We’ve just heard that the only decent restaurant on Essex Road has gone out of business. We want to cry.
Image from Estherase's Flickr photostream