This is the start of a tour of the High Street - down one side and up the other - which should hopefully fill a few weeks. The High Street, which used to run through from the Brighton Road, to the west, at the top, down to Chapel Street taking traffic back onto the A259 and so on towards Seaford, and the coast, was pedestrianised in the 1970s. This has been blamed ever since for the lack of trade to the shops in the town centre. Indeed, looking at the town through strangers' eyes, as I am doing to write this, it is a pretty sorry sight. The first three shops that we see going down on the left hand side are empty, and they're by no means the only ones. In my view, though, for what it's worth, it's not pedestraianisation nor lack of parking that's sounded the town's death knell as a shopping destination. A population of 11,000 simply does not provide the critical mass required in the age of the car and the superstore. Since I've been here, we have lost two butchers, three greengrocers (we now have none of either); a splendid old-fashioned hardware shop, a couple of banks - I shall think of more as I stroll down the High Street. We are lucky to have retained, so far, a Somerfield (not the greatest shop on earth but infinitely preferable to walk down there with the basket on wheels that drive out to the overwhelming mega-Sainsbury's. Whether Somerfield will survive the coming of a Tesco Express on the old Saxonholme site, or indeed the company's own troubles (I was quite excited at the prospect of it being taken over by the Co-op, but that all seems to have gone a bit quiet lately.
Anyway, we start with the post office. At what was arguably the nadir of British architecture, the fifties and sixties, one body was pulling out all the stops in an effort to create buildings of the most oustanding ugliness even by the standards of the time: the GPO. This building housed both the sorting office and the local main Post Office. Under the mad semi-privatisation a few years ago, it was decided that the Post Office Counters side of the business had to be hived off from the sorting office and located in a shop. However, no local shop seemed to want to take it on - or couldn't for some reason, so a shop premises was purschased specially, set up as a greetings card emporium, and the Post Office relocated into there, about half way down the High Street. It's called Occasions. However, possibly predictably, the card business went no where - there are two other major suppliers in town, plus Woolworths - and the entire new shop is now to all intents and purposes a Post Office, its display shelves stacked with bubble wrap and brown paper. So all the cost of new premises - for what?
Meanwhile, the old Post Office languishes empty. I was told that all the while the sorting office is located there they can't sublet the other part of the premises for security reasons. I would like to say, though, that the sorting office provides a fantastic service. You get the impression, as you post a letter into one of its boxes, that it is immediately leapt on and dealt with. Certainly when I was writing every day to someone over a period of four months, sometimes posting late at night, my letters arrived without fail the next morning. The local postpeople (they are all men, actually) who operate out of there are great too, always cheerful and efficient.