Friday, May 22, 2009

Outfitters to the gentry

click photo to enlarge
When I was a teenager I had an early evening job delivering boxes of groceries on a shop-bicycle just like the one in today's photograph. For a couple of years I pedalled my way around the hilly Yorkshire Dales market town where I lived, earning 12/6d a week, a wage that had risen to 15/- by the time I finished.

On a recent visit to Burnham Market, Norfolk, I kept falling over these bikes chained to shop fronts. They weren't there for use as the means of delivering goods to the locals, but for the qualities that they conferred on the business by association - they were there to say "traditional", "quality", "old-fashioned", "up-market", "exclusive". With my experience of such a bicycle used for its proper purpose they said "aching back", "problems with balance", and "rain trickling down my neck!" The display of these bikes as markers of a bygone age also made me feel a touch old!

Burnham Market is an interesting town with a selection of fine buildings and an attractive streetscape. Unfortunately, it appears that the middle classes are busily turning it into an enclave of the sort I call "a village in aspic." By that I mean a lot of the buildings have a veneer or additions that transforms them into the owners' picture of an overly pretty past that never existed - paint colours from the "Heritage" range, new-olde ironwork, rusticated pointing, unlikely porticos, render removed to reveal bricks and stone that were never meant to be seen, etc. I got the impression that, as with most of these places, it was full of shops selling expensive nick-nacks, pricey preserves, costly clobber, and the like, stuff designed to appeal to the well-heeled among both residents and visitors, though I'm sure there must have been "real" shops too. The slogan on the centre of the shop window above particularly caught my eye - "Outfitters To The Gentry". Was that original I wondered, a left-over from the days of deference? I guessed not, though if it was original why hasn't it been removed? Can there really be anyone left in England who is impressed by such a recommendation? Sadly, in all likelihood, there will be! The old enamel advertisement (it looks like it's just half of one) for distemper (!) that has been fixed below the window sits rather awkwardly with the pitch that the window slogan is attempting to make. Many English people would be able to deconstruct what the whole facade and the window display is trying to say, and could name the demographic group to whom it aims to appeal. You may wish me to do so, but I wouldn't waste my time on such a thing!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 20mm (40mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/125
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On