"We live our lives as we dream-alone." Joseph Conrad

Friday, 14 May 2010

Tescos: Tyrant or Triumph?

Nothing much for the good or prosperity happens in our part of Devon. The Monmouth Uprising lost steam here. Cromwell couldn't be bothered to 'sack' Exeter and when, about eight years ago, they panned for gold in the Creedy Valley, the miniscule seam stopped just short of my farm.

For those who live in more sophisticated or metropolitan areas, the arrival of a new Tescos might not raise an eyebrow. Here, and it has been going since Christmas, I can say things have been little short of a revolution.

For years the town of Crediton (where my father and grandfather used to meet with the foxhounds, long since hounded out) resisted Tescos. It would, rightly as it has turned out, result in the closure of a number of small shops. The wine-merchant closed shortly after my father's death (which may or may not have been a coincidence) twelve years ago and the remaining delicatessan seems to stock mostly jam and pickle.

Despite a £5 million town square for pedestrians opened a couple of years ago, Crediton appears to be dying on its feet. But, would this have happened anyway?

I do not know the answer to this except that those services which Crediton continues to offer well still flourish. The local butcher, hardware shop, builders merchant, florist, mower repairer, even a saddler, are fine.

The one thing Tescos has done for Crediton is to reduce the perilous amount of traffic going through the High Street where there are two secondary schools and a brilliant nursery where our daughter went to playgroup. Residents can now walk down that street to the Bank or playground in far greater safety.

But the debate about Tescos seems to have been answered by the store itself. They have employed tens of country people in the area, give priority to local produce and have a petrol station that is cheaper than elsewhere and open for longer. I see plenty of my fellow local farmers shopping there and, after initial reticence, none of us are hiding from eachother behind a chill cabinet.

It was Joseph Conrad who said: "Nothing stays the same without change." It was Graham Parker who sang "A change is gonna come." Well the change has come and for me the arrival of Tescos is little short of a miracle of produce, prosperity and employment.

That does not mean that I do not still go to the Farm Shop three miles away where the woven haired owners look at me with disdain because I do not drive a microbus. Nor does it mean that I do not go to the Church of St Boniface in Crediton and think about Above.

The deciding factor, for me, when Tescos arrived was not simply expediency of the organisation. For five years when I was away at school a friend of mine was Tim Mason, now pretty high up in Tescos. I know it is popular this week for people to come out of the woodwork and say that they knew David Cameron at school and that he was a good bloke, but I would say the same of Tim.

He was, which any organistion should be, even as a teenager: confident, ambitious, and driven. But he was also fair. Would I trust him with my life? No, but I would trust him with my Sunday Dinner.


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