You’re OK if you want a sandwich or a phone or a loan…

Wimpy (restaurant)

Wimpy (restaurant) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I was growing up, there was a relative paucity of fast food outlets in our local town. We had not one but two fish and chip shops and a Kentucky Fried Chicken. There was also a Wimpy Bar, but at that time Wimpy was more about table service than it was about grabbing a bite to eat on the move. It was also comparatively expensive to anyone trying to live within a pocket-money budget.

I remember when McDonald’s came to our town it was a very big deal. The fast food giant was almost completely unknown unless you had been to the States. Air travel was much less common back then, so for most of us, we learned about McDonald’s from a story in the local paper. The brand was presented in a very positive light, seen as a much-needed employer and a sign of progress.

Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I seem to remember that the food back then was pretty good too and certainly very keenly priced. On a Saturday, my £1 pocket money would be burning a hole in my pocket and I quite often treated myself to a bus ride into town and a burger. I could even afford chips and a drink if I walked to town and only took the bus back.

Not long afterwards in 1980, Marks and Spencer’s started to sell sandwiches and it’s fair to say that they set the bar very high for take away sandwiches. Many other supermarkets followed suit, but their sandwiches tended to be pale imitations of the legendary Marks and Spencer’s sandwich. My favourite has always been the chicken salad sandwich – absolutely delicious.

Ever since those times, there has been an absolute explosion in the variety of fast food establishments adorning our high streets. I would struggle to walk 50 yards in our local town without coming to a coffee shop. We have two Gregg’s Bakers, two Subways, a Burger King, a Cornish pasty place, umpteen pizza chains and several cafes. Ironically, the fish and chip shops are gone as is the McDonald’s.

If my income was still £1 per week, I would be well catered for in the high street of today. There are a huge number of shops who set the unit price of all of their stock at that magic figure. I rarely go in those shops but when I do, I am amazed at the range and sheer variety on offer and it baffles me as to how it is economical to manufacture all those things in some faraway land, float them over, put them on a truck to get them to the shop and then sell them but it is obviously a thriving sector.

People must buy a lot of phones too. Every single mobile phone network has a shop in town selling shiny new gadgets. Not only that, but there are a couple of independents too and umpteen market stalls toting accessories to wrap your shiny new purchase. It’s hard to believe that 20 years ago, this market didn’t exist and today, 1.5 billion phones are shipped annually.

In fact, if you took away the food & drink outlets, the pound shops, the mobile phone retailers, the charity shops, the pawn shops and the clothes shops, you’d be left with the bookies.

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