So here we are in the second half of the first month of 2016, and the last independent wine store in my neighbourhood, the one which was previously a doomed Oddbins, has just closed down. You could see it coming, of course. The poor devils were wasting away before our eyes like a malaria case, with painfully shrinking stock, an increasing feverishness in the disposition of items in a space that was at least twice as big as it needed to be, a long moment of despair during which the deadest part of the retail area was turned into a wine bar which no-one ever went to, then a final convulsion of bottles in the window display, containing beer, mineral water, wines you had never heard of, beseeching chalk notices, messages scrawled from the deathbed. I mean why would anyone ever go into any kind of retailing, especially in our neck of the woods?
Here, the only survivors are either parasites (estate agents, a fresh growth of them in the last twelve months) or necrophages (scores of charity shops, all looking eerily healthy), plus some mainstream supermarkets in different sizes, visitors from a different ecosystem. Nothing much else lives here, except for a hardware store which sold me not one but four sets of Christmas tree lights at the end of last year. But here's the thing: on the face of it my neighbourhood and PK's are remarkably similar, with their mixed suburban housing stock and their relentlessly middle-class homeowners + fatuously large cars + expensive holidays + furious young mothers. However: his supports at least three independent wine stores, on top of a full array of supermarkets and, shortly before this same extended neighbourhood turns into the concrete netherworld at the start of the motorway, a Majestic Wine. And yet it's only a couple of miles from where we live. In fact I could lean out of the window and shout to attract PK's attention if I really wanted to. How can one place be so very good for booze and the other, so close by, not? The demographic appears to be identical, but when it comes to wine, it clearly isn't.
Well, as PK somewhat tartly observes, his place also boasts four bookshops, a theatre and a literary festival, to say nothing of several chain restaurants, and, come to think of it, a boutique chocolatier so overprivileged that a small boxed assortment costs the same as a weekend in Wales, so I suppose that answers that. His High Street is much bigger and busier and frankly, poncier, than mine, so what else do I expect? Oh, and his property prices are higher than mine. It is in effect a perfect storm of self-regard and consumerism, but is it (using the number of independent wine shops as the key determinant) at least three times more self-regarding and consumerist than the apparent dead zone I have been living in for the last quarter of a century? Yes, so it would seem - and of course when I stand back and look at my surroundings critically it doesn't take long before their dullness and banality, their lack of ambition, start to become overwhelming and I wonder how I ever kidded myself that I was a bit of a groover to be living here at all. The difference between PK's retail environment and mine turns out to be the difference between St-Germain-des-Prés and Coney Island.
Which makes me then wonder - if this is the case - how sincerely self-deluding you would have to be, not to spot these actually quite substantial nuances, to believe that you and you alone could bring the art of fine drinking to a place that clearly has no interest in such a thing. Obviously one feels badly for the people who tried to make the project work and failed, but in essence It's got to be more self-defeating than trying to explain the internet to your mother. And yet PK has access to three of the damn things. No, I'm sorry, I still don't understand.