The secret of long life in Swanage… make mine a large one

6 Nov

Fruity smell ball, anyone?

Two years ago I wrote a feature about Swanage for work.

It was 2009, the year of the great staycation, when the recession first began to bite and holidaying in the UK officially became cool again. Even Grazia ran a piece about the art of posh camping – aka glamping. We were all at it.

For my part, I interviewed local businesses and holidaymakers, one of whom cheerfully told me he thought the high street in Swanage (IE the shops, not the actual High Street, local folk) was “nothing fabulous”.

Little did I know then that one day I’d spend endless afternoons floating around the town myself with a small baby, an absolutely enormous handbag, and Mr Abbott from Worthing’s words ringing in my ears.

Or that more often than not I would return home empty handed (excluding the inevitable baby paraphernalia) and absolutely out of my tree on caffeine, having failed to buy anything except a lake of Americanos. (J. Alfred Prufrock isn’t the only one measuring out his life with coffee spoons).

I would then think wistfully of the halcyon days when I lived and worked in central London, a comfortingly short walk (even in my most painful heels) from the retail palaces of Oxford Street and their overdraft-blowing temptations.

Even as a resident, my impression of Swanage was that it was largely pubs and cheap gift shops.

So yesterday, armed with baby, husband, enormous handbag, pen and paper (since installing IOS5 on my phone I only have about one hour of battery life) I decided to find out whether my sweeping generalisation was correct.

It turns out that I’ve done the town a bit of a disservice.

There are 179 retail outlets in the central bit of Swanage, by my reckoning (only 121 less than Oxford Street, fact fans. Although I’m fairly sure they would all fit in the food hall at Selfridges).

Astonishingly 45 of them are either pubs, tea rooms or restaurants (including three ice cream kiosks). That’s practically one in every four shops. You’re hard pressed to take the advice of Apple founder Steve Jobs and “stay hungry” in this town. Or sober, for that matter.

All this eating and drinking is doing us the world of good though. Dorset as a county is renowned for its aged population (even Swanage has eight retirement homes, according to the Elderly Accommodation Counsel)  – but despite this there are only five health-related shops (including chemists) in the town. Perhaps it’s the sea air, although I’m really rather hoping it’s the cider.

We also have 17 clothes shops (if you’re into tie-dye, sheepskin or anything waterproof, make Swanage your muse), 11 homeware/furniture stores, ten art galleries, nine beauticians/hairdressers (this includes the town’s two dedicated dog grooming parlours – why not), seven bric-a-brac/charity shops, five jewellers, three museums and one bike shop.

We have 14 recognisable High Street brands, of which five are banks and two are betting shops (M&S hasn’t made it over the ferry yet).

Only 11 outlets are empty – well below the national small town average of 12%.

Finally – and I added this up three times because I couldn’t quite believe it –  there are actually only 12 gift shops in the entire town, which, given the number of scented candles I have in the house, I appear to be funding single handedly.

Perhaps it’s time I became less of a fire hazard, channeled Jodie Marsh and switched my allegiance to the town tattooist.


2 Responses to “The secret of long life in Swanage… make mine a large one”

  1. almost witty November 6, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    Or you could do the only sensible thing in this economic climate, and not buy anything unless you actually need it?

    (says the man craving a new laptop or X-Box 360. But I won’t get one. No, sirreee)

    • zskdorset November 6, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

      Ah but that’s not the way to get the economy going!

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