East from Dorking High Street.
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Listening to news broadcasts and the opinions of expats. in Thailand, one might draw the conclusion that the UK is on its knees and may never recover. The published economy statistics tend to support this view, or, at least, the analyses of these have done that. More recently, some experts have taken a slightly more optimistic view.
I've just returned home after a couple of weeks in the Midlands and South of England and have found the picture on the ground, so to speak, mixed but different from what I expected. Around London, the streets, tube trains, tour buses and river boats were busy with tourists, despite cold, biting winds. A few retail businesses were closed down but I'm not sure that there were more than one might expect in normal circumstances. During a recession, luxury businesses tend to suffer more than, say, food shops, but the number of coffee shops and restaurants was surprisingly high and most were very busy. There was no sign of an economic downturn on the streets. A friend who lives in Surrey said that there was no recession there and, despite the closure of a few businesses in Dorking's antique shop street and a few other empty premises, I have to agree.
The picture in the Midlands is not quite so rosy but still there was nothing to suggest that the area was an economic wasteland. The roads were busy with cars dodging between the many speed cameras that must have cost the taxpayers a fortune to install. Shops were thriving. Only restaurants were quiet but that may have been due to the winter weather.
Derbyshire, a walkers' and tourists' mecca, was also quiet during weekdays and hotels had plenty of vacancies. Yet again, one might expect that during the winter. I did notice quite a few closed down businesses and the country clothing shops, rather excessive in number. were offering big discounts.
The most noticeable chnage was in Hitchin where the market has lost traders, quite a few shops have closed down and restaurants were short of customers. The coffee shops were thriving and numerous.
My general impression is that England is carrying on much as usual, at least at the retail end. I understand that the job market is poor but I still saw little evidence of this. Perhaps price inflation is outstripping wage inflation but people still had their mortgaged homes, cars and home comforts.
Anyone over there who feels that their world has collapsed should sample some of the permanent living conditions of country people in Thailand. They may just find that their view of the Western materialistic world experiences some adjustment.