Despite having no real affinity for the South East, I have never been shy of visiting its historic market towns. In recent years I have travelled to Canterbury, Dover, Brighton, Eastbourne and more recently Cambridge. On arriving at the Cambridge train station and walking a mile and half towards the city centre, I realised I had been deluded from the outset.
Deluded by my own expectations, where I always hope to find an H.V. Morton version of England but leave disappointed every time. Almost immediately on arriving in Cambridge, I was reminded of a previous trip to Canterbury, where I went in search of Geoffrey Chaucer but found myself overwhelmed by the awesome triumph of American consumerism.
Canterbury Cathedral is curtained off by medieval walls but is surrounded by a pedestrianised shopping centre full of New Labour corporate chains. Such is the grim familiarity of these stores, I often find myself dangerously nostalgic for a golden era I never knew and regretting the triumph of motorways and supermarkets. Behind the sparkling windows of discount signs and fairy lights lies the banal realisation that almost every town centre in England looks exactly the same.
Cambridge offers a gift shop experience and on exploring their beautiful university colleges, it is still possible to find a postcard moment from selective angles. While Cambridge has largely maintained its medieval architecture and religious landmarks, most of their traditional local stores appear to have disappeared and replaced by Boots, Clinton Cards and Costa Coffee.
These corporate chains represent economic growth, jobs and progress. Everybody uses them. It’s just a source of regret that you can now close your eyes in any English city and be virtually anywhere from Newcastle upon Tyne to Southend upon Sea.