To misquote Mark Twain, ‘The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.’ And I hope that’s also true of the long-anticipated demise of the high street. The great shift to online shopping may have been accelerated by the pandemic but I, for one, relish the experience of grazing and browsing in the real world. And so do many others judging by the queues of masked punters we saw shuffling towards the entrances of various Norwich stores when we ventured into town. Sure, some retailers have gone to the wall while others limp on but a little imagination and a lot of fairy dust might be all it takes to stop the rot and save our city centres from becoming ghost towns. People are nothing if not inventive and fairy dust is plentiful in the retail trade.
One thing an online shop can’t provide is the conviviality of a post-shop bottle and bite. This we sought in the Lamb Inn, our favourite city centre watering hole. The delightful lady at the gate recognised us. ‘One white, one red,’ she said. She’s Spanish and I was delighted that Brexit hadn’t put her off from sticking around. What she didn’t know is I had a brand-new axe in my man bag. I’ve never gone tooled up before. I felt like a criminal. And that’s another thing you can’t get online – an offensive weapon. Well, not legally anyway. Rest assured I bought the axe to chop up firewood, not run amok. Norfolk isn’t Midsomer.
As we took our seats for the bus home, I looked through the window at the YMCA opposite. I began to wonder if ‘it’s fun to stay at the YMCA’, as suggestively sung by the Village People. I doubt it. This is Norwich not New York and these village people have long since hung up their leathers and feathers.