Mark Andrews: Sad days as high streets lose their Sparks | Express & Star

2022-10-15 21:24:40 By : Ms. Cherie Huang

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School holidays. Long hot summers playing cricket in the garden. Splashing about in the sea at Weymouth. Day trips to Aberdovey, London or Warwick. A long-awaited visit to the Birmingham motor show during the autumn half term. And hour after boring hour sitting around in Marks & Spencer.

Filtering our memory bank to look at the past through rose-tinted specs is fundamental to the human condition. We all remember the high days, the holidays, and the big occasions, but the reality was invariably less exciting.

And, as a child, I hated Marks & Spencer with a zeal. Beatties had a wonderful toy section, packed with Dinky cars, steam engines and Scalextric sets. F W Cook, the old-fashioned Grace Brothers type department store at the top of High Street, had a coffee bar with a rocking horse. Even Woolworths was bright and garish, with red signs and the pick-and-mix counter. By contrast, M&S was all beige plastic marble, sensible cardigans, and those grim, chaotic 'reduced' aisles where my mum would sigh about finding the jumper she had paid three times as much for the week before.

Yet my mum loved Marks & Spencer. My brother and I spent what seemed like hours during the school holidays sat on the comfortable tweed-upholstered tubular chairs next to the changing rooms. Occasionally, we would try to relieve the boredom with a game of hide-and-seek, but usually our mum would fix us an icy stair which told us to sit still and behave. Even during the holidays in Weymouth, and the day-trip to London, she would make a beeline for the branch, presumably to buy the same clothing lines which would be in the 'reduced' aisles back home a week or two later.

Anyhow, it looks as if future generations of youngsters will be spared this dubious pleasure.

The retailer that is loved by adults and hated by children announced this week it would be closing a quarter of its larger stores. Instead, the focus will be on internet retail and smaller shops selling just groceries. That is probably a reflection on the perverse habits of retail today; people who no longer have the staples of milk, bread or eggs delivered to their door have no compunction about buying coats, jumpers and jackets unseen, without being able to feel the fabric or try the fit.

Still, I guess the milk won't appear in the reduced aisle the following week.

There have also been anecdotal reports of people going into Marks & Spencer branches, and staff telling customers they would do better ordering online as the shop no longer sells the full range of sizes. I think that's known as talking yourself out of a job.

Ironically, adulthood never really saw me catch the Marks & Spencer bug either. This was mainly due to the fact that they shut the branch in my home town 30-odd years ago, moving to an out-of-town shopping centre. I took the view, as I do now, that if businesses wish to relocate and seek customers elsewhere, that's up to them, just don't expect me to follow. My loyalty is to the town, not the retail brand.

Nevertheless, I do feel sad that Marks & Spencer will be deserting more of our high streets over the next few years, at least in the form that most of us know them.

Aside from the fact that many people will lose their jobs, our high streets – as opposed to the faceless retail parks and out-of-town malls – are the glue that bind our communities together. They are more than places to shop, they are a part of our identity, they define who we are, and like it or not, Marks & Spencer has been a core part of that for more than a century.

And besides, playing hide-and-seek among the socks, pants and woolly cardigans might not be the most memorable way to enjoy your school holidays. But it is a sight healthier than being spending the day sat in front of a games console playing Grand Theft Auto or whatever they do these days.

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.