Love it or loathe it, shopping has a pretty big role to play in our consumer-driven lives, and what you can get hold of, how easily, and for what price, will depend on where you hang your hat.
Trying to get hold of Louis Vuitton in the ‘Shire, for example, will likely be met with a derisive snort, or perhaps a confusing conversation whereby the shopkeep interprets your request for designer bling as an enquiry about an unfamiliar breed of sheep.
Conversely, try to purchase a fresh apple in the city and you’ll have to accept that ‘fresh’ is widely interpreted as ‘displayed outside’. Next to a main road. So where’s the best place to drop your dollar?
The corner shop
(Photo: Alison Christie)
The bastion of British consumerism, the corner shop is a comfort blanket for communities around the country, proffering pints of milk, questionably hard bread and small, dust-covered packets of random household items such as clothes pegs and pipe cleaners. Brilliant, if there’s one in your vicinity.
If, however, you live in a rural idyll, you might find the two hour walk to your local corner shop considerably less convenient, although you’d probably be guaranteed a smile and a warm welcome, and likely a sample of the ‘local thing’ from down the road, which the shop also sells and to hell with trading standards.
(Photo: Emily Webber)
In the city, you can't walk down any street without falling over a neighbourhood convenience store, but the payoff is eye-watering prices and a disinterested shopkeeper that’ll fling your change at you and make a big, sighing, dramatic show of opening the fag cupboard.
The winner is: the city, because if you need a bottle of wine at 11pm you probably don’t care how much it costs.
Thanks to a massive shortage of land – and the obscene cost of that available – big supermarkets don’t feature highly in the city, with chains such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco squeezing ‘metro’ versions of their stores into busy streets instead.
Come 6pm, these stores are full to capacity with weary, irritated commuters billiard-balling around in search of something for tea, and things get mighty heated around the self-service machines. Thanks to all this convenience, the ‘weekly shop’ isn't really a thing – this is basket country.
In the countryside, though, visiting the supermarket is an event. One which is planned for, and strategised – after all, it’s gonna take a while to get there. Lists are made, pound coins are safely tucked into pockets for a ‘big trolley’, and everyone has their favourite parking spot. The aisles are wide, the air is cool and the checkout girl will actually help you pack your stuff instead of throwing it at you.
The winner is: the countryside. It ain’t convenient but it’s better for your mental wellbeing.
Trends and choice
(Photo: Rachel England)
When I was an horrendously awkward teenager going through a stupendously ill-advised goth phase (pictorial evidence above), I had no choice but to buy all my black velvet garb online, and this was back in the days of dial-up, when putting your bank details into the internet was as safe as giving your credit card to that Nigerian prince who definitely has millions of dollars for you. And not much has changed. Well, apart from the internet security.
If you live in the countryside and want anything not stocked by your bland, run of the mill high street chain, then it’s off to the web with you.
In the city, of course, you can find everything. Everything. The other day I saw a dress made out of nail files and a pair of shoes made out of old floppy disks. If you can imagine it, it’s here. You’ll just have to deal with the exquisitely ultra-fashionable sales assistants that probably are judging you because your outfit isn’t ironic in an ironic way.
The winner is: the city, because who doesn’t want easy access to a black PVC wedding dress?
(Photo: Gerry Balding)
As already stated, shopping in the countryside is something of an event, namely because of the faff involved in getting to a shop. That said, since driving is a norm, there’s usually good parking provision and everything tends to be in one place, so you can shop yourself silly then chuck it all in the boot of the car, ready for offloading next to your front door.
(Photo: Q Simple)
In the city, there’s a bewildering array of choice, and as such, a considerable amount of distance to cover between shopping destinations. And you’ll have to do it all via public transport since there’s nowhere to park, so by the time you get home your fingers will be bleeding from shopping bag friction.
The whole exercise is given a delightful 'Total Wipeout' flavour because you’ll also have to navigate thronging crowds of tourists that love standing in the middle of pavements.
The winner is: the countryside, because a day shopping in the city is almost certainly going to end in an argument.
And the winner is... it’s a tie!
In the first case of ‘swings and roundabouts’ we’ve seen so far, it seems both the city and the country are equally matched when it comes to splashing the cash.
Yep, there’s a lot more razzmatazz to be had in the Big Smoke, but also a much higher chance of intentionally taking out someone’s knees with a Harvey Nicks’ carrier bag.