Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The City that Ate a Whole Country

Here's a little sample of something I've been noticing since I got here and started reading the full print editions of Ynglysshe newspapers.

When they say something is happening "in Britain" or "in the UK" what they really often mean is "in London."

The fact that there is a whole country, and a very interesting one, outside the great growing cancerous blot that is modern London, seems to go entirely unnoticed.

All to the good, if you ask me.

From the Telegraph (I add the corrections):

Greasy spoons fight for survival against cappuccino culture
By Jonathan Petre
Last Updated: 1:24am BST 20/04/2006

The traditional greasy spoon is to mount a fight-back today against the cappuccino culture of Continental-style coffee shops [in London], amid fears [in London] that the institution could disappear.

A campaign to save the unpretentious caff, where fry-ups and dark tea still hold sway over croissants and vanilla lattes [in London], is being launched following research that suggests it could be squeezed out of the high street by the end of the decade.

The great British breakfast is under threat [in London] from Continental-style snacks of croissants and lattes.

A survey found that almost one in three people [in London] was aware of a café closing down in their neighbourhood, and in London the number of independent cafés has declined by 40 per cent since 2000.

Meanwhile, there has been an explosion of coffee shop chains across the country, and the likes of Starbucks, Caffè Nero, Coffee Republic and Costa Coffee now represent nearly a third of the market.

The Save the Proper British Café [in London] campaign is to ask members of the public to sign an online petition, and buy brown rubber wristbands to show their commitment to the cause. Hundreds of café owners will be doing their bit by offering an extra breakfast free with every one purchased.

Paul Harvey, a spokesman for the campaign, which is backed by HP Sauce [which is now produced by H.J. Heinz in Elst, the Netherlands], said cafés were a "national institution", but he feared they could almost vanish by 2010.

"Britain has already suffered the demise of institutions like the red phone box and the faithful Routemaster bus, which is why it seems so important to start this campaign to Save the Proper British Café."

A survey of more than 5,000 people by the campaign found that three quarters felt better about spending their cash at a local café, rather than at a coffee shop chain. A quarter knew the name of one of the people who worked in their local café, while almost a third knew of a local café that had closed down.

Almost nine in 10 [in London] were concerned that their local high street was becoming overrun by big chains. George Michaelas, the owner of George's Café in the heart of Canning Town, east London, said that he had been in the business "before I could reach the teapot" because his father had run a café.

He has found that young people are drifting away [in London], lured from his chrome tables and fish and chips by the bright lights of McDonald's and other fast food chains.

With the regeneration of the area in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics, he fears new competition from American-owned coffee shop chains.

"They have no soul," he said. "They seem so impersonal. I know all my regulars and their likes and dislikes. People are always going to want a proper breakfast. There isn't much call for croissants from the Irish labourers who come here."

A favourite on his menu, the mega breakfast, would reduce nutritionists to tears, consisting as it does of two eggs, two pieces of bacon, sausages, mushrooms, chips and tomatoes, a mug of tea or coffee and two slices of toast, all for £5.50.

Susan Joslyn, 37, a regular, said: "I eat here every day. I like the pleasant staff, and the food is tremendous."

Clive Pitts, of Greenhill Café, in Hall Green, Birmingham, said "service and value for money" were the hallmarks of a traditional British café. It was not just extra competition that had hit the business, but a move towards healthier eating.


Anonymous said...

Having lived in London most of my life, my husband and I moved to Birmingham in 1980. The first weekend there, I was alarmed by a headline in the Observer which read: 'Train fares to rise by 25%' (or something like that). The article below, however, made it clear that what was rising was, in fact, Tube fares - affecting only the denizens of London. What scared me was that, before our move, I wouldn't even have noticed that glaring assumption that London was not just the centre of the universe but the entire cosmos.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the centre of the universe is the Annex neighbourhood in Toronto, as everyone there will tell you.

It is generally acknowledged even there, however, that London is the mecca towards which All Things point.

Anonymous said...

But you lived in Toronto! Canada's motto "from sea to sea" *really* means "from the Don to the Humber."

(Not that I should complain---I'm in Ottawa!!!)