Last weekend I went to Malvern with Phil, my husband and Jo-ann, a friend I met on Facebook. The trip had been planned before my recent bereavement and for a while I thought it may not happen. I didn’t want to do anything except mope. However, I knew that getting away from the routine of home would be the therapy I needed. After weeks of horrible cold weather that kept us huddled inside for fear of going arse over tit on the ice and all the emotional crap a change of scene is what was needed.
We were so lucky with the weather. For days it had been snowing which would have meant cancelling because the British cannot deal with a few centimetres of snow. The country comes to a standstill and motorways get blocked and no trash is collected. I was checking the weather forecast which promised rain, to wash away the snow and clear blue skies all weekend. I looked out of the window and there was a blizzard blowing. But for once the forecasters got it right and to Malvern in the sun we went.
The main reason for going was for the massive flea market that is held at the Three Counties Showground. Both Jo-ann and I love old china and vintage stuff and Phil also likes a rummage for a bargain. Plus a bonus was a visit to Carnival Records for a serious vinyl fix.
With so much to see and do we decided to make a weekend of it and booked into a B&B. This would give us time to trawl the shops in Ledbury and Malvern, have lunch at an indie cafe and we would not have to get up at stupid o’clock for the flea market.
We stayed at Marl Cottage, run by a friendly, helpful if talkative couple who are mad about wildlife. So much so, they have installed a camera to film the badgers in the garden at night and live stream this to the guest bedrooms. I say garden, it is more of a mini country estate with its own lake, bee hives and so many birds encouraged by the numerous feeders. To say it is peaceful is an understatement. Somewhere that is spotlessly clean with a good breakfast is all you need from a B&B. Badger cam is the bonus for insomniacs like me.
We were spoilt for choice for our evening meal, with a number of good pubs within a mile or so and a Thai restaurant in the village. We chose The Chase as it had good reviews and sold proper beer, aka Real Ale. We tucked into slow cooked blade of beef and while Jo-ann and Phil supped Bathams I, as the designated driver, had a sip of beer, then soft drinks, which always seems a shame in a proper pub. But there you go, I had a bottle of Italian chardonnay, bought earlier in Ledbury, stashed in the fridge, for a tipple during Badger Watch.
Ledbury is very county and people were shopping having just come back from a hack, or maybe they always wore jodpurs and riding boots to shop. Lots of lovely shops with clothes I can neither afford nor need and lots of quirky independents, who were so welcoming. All greeted you when you entered with a friendly hello and no trace of the false Have a Nice Day/what can I sell you and if you aren’t buying go away now attitude I experience all too frequently. There were no bored sales assistants picking their fingers or worse their nose. No, these people were genuinely happy to have you in their shop. And the place was buzzing.
Carnival Records was also very busy, one guy was filming there and if you look carefully you will spot us all browsing the music. He was just so thrilled that the shop is so busy he goes into help for the love not for money. And was truly getting very excited about Record Store Day. The enthusiasm and the knowledge of the people who are there just make you want to go back and spend your money.
The flea market was heaving and there were hundreds of stalls. Too much Poole Pottery and too expensive for my liking and I got fed up of ‘the best price’ when asking how much stuff was, yet it was interesting to see what people will buy. I will reassess all my now apparently vintage Tupperware and the dinner service I use every day. As someone who wants to downsize, declutter and travel more, my house is full of mostly what was on sale at the market, which means I am either right on trend or I have the crap no one else wants….
As they say, one man’s trash is another mans treasure. This basket however, will be treasured for a long while. Wish it was mine….
On the way home we broke the journey to have tea at a Barnett Hill Garden Centre. Again this place was heaving. The cafe was busy with families tucking into giant portions of ham ploughmans, chips, ice cream and cake. There was a childrens entertainer and facepainter and the store sold everything from Joseph to Joules. I never even got to see any plants!
And I pondered about the so-called death of the high street and how online shopping was killing traditional retail and why some traders seem to thrive like this place was and others are not faring so well. The phrases ‘Broke Britain’ or ‘austerity cuts’ is not one I could use to describe any of the places we had visited. I accept that the Shire counties are more affluent than Sandwell, yet it was not just locals shopping in Ledbury and Malvern. People will travel to enjoy a positive retail experience and to get things they can’t get where they live.
The garden centre was a day out with granny and the kids. It had something for all ages and income. It was the first sunny Sunday in a month of Sundays, spring seemed tangible and thoughts of gardens and planting and BBQ’s may have had something to do with it, but Barnett Hill have got it right. They are not just a garden centre. They offer a day out for the whole family.
So what can struggling retailers learn from Ledbury and Barnett Hill? why is Carnival Records buzzing yet HMV are in administration? What do they do that is different? My local high street doesn’t even have a proper green grocer yet the council are delighted that 35 jobs will be created by Iceland moving into a local shopping centre. A shop that sells poor quality food to families living below the line. That puts profit before people. If just some of the empty shops on my high street were independent bakers and green grocers, selling local goods made by local people, more than 35 jobs could be created and the money would stay in the local economy. And that makes me sad. Because I really think, my high street is dead.
- A Day at the Flea Market (notreallyking.wordpress.com)