Tuesday, 29 January 2013

a trip to Britain's oldest recorded town

I had to go into Colchester for a haircut this morning.  Last week the news websites were running stories about how hairdressers are among the happiest people in their work, along with gardeners.  The stories were  based on the findings of a survey conducted by City and Guilds, and are not new.  Googling the phrase 'hairdressers happiest workers' brought up versions from May 2005 and June 2008 at top of page one, though in 2008 the poll was led by beauticians, and gardeners didn't get a mention.  I considered my hairdresser carefully, to see if she seemed like the happiest person I knew.  She always seems on a very even keel, though it is difficult to gauge someone else's mental state when they are concentrating on your hair, and you have taken your glasses off so you can't see their face.

Explanations of why hairdressers, beauticians and gardeners are so happy vary from one article to another.  Some reporters say that it is down to having autonomy over your working day and control of how you do your job, others that it makes people happy to make other people look good.  That wouldn't explain the happy gardeners, but maybe by extension making a garden look good has the same effect.  The survey finds that people doing vocational jobs are happier than white collar workers.  Funny, that, in a survey conducted on behalf of an organisation supplying vocational qualifications.

After the haircut I called at the opticians and got them to adjust my glasses, which had become so loose they were in severe danger of sliding off my face each time I looked down.  That's another thing that can't be done over the internet, though the Systems Administrator has just ordered a cheap pair of back-up spectacles on-line.  I prefer the reassurance of buying my glasses in person from someone who will measure how far apart my eyes are, and make sure the arms of my spectacles don't feel as though they are pressing down on one ear.  Then as I was in town I called at the library, the Minories art gallery and the independent bookshop in the High Street, and asked nicely if they would put up one of my posters for the next music society event, or let me put one up.

Apart from that I couldn't think of anything I wanted in Colchester.  I read a depressing report recently in one of the local papers about how the council in Manningtree were preparing to soften planning regulations to allow empty shops to be converted to hairdressing salons, or restaurants, or offices, or banks, but not housing.  Any alternative use had to be one that provided employment.  In this part of the world we have too many shop premises, hence the vacant ones on every high street, and not enough housing.  Employment is clearly desirable, but there must be a limit to how many restaurants and hairdressers the inhabitants of north east Essex can support.  And when did you last hear of a bank opening branches?  Allow some of the surplus retail space to be redeveloped as residential, bring more people to live in the centres of our towns, and you will push up demand for town centre food shops, newsagents, and cafes.  Plus creches, dry cleaners, secure mail boxes for people who can't ask for their internet shopping to be left in the porch, and other business models we haven't thought of yet.  Forget pop-up shops and community hubs as a long term solution.  They aren't going to bring in enough money to keep the roof of their erstwhile shop water-tight.  We already have community hubs in the form of public libraries, and we can barely afford to keep those open.

In the afternoon I should have been going to Pilates, but my teacher is ill, so I pruned the buddleias instead.  It is practically February, and not forecast to be cold in the next few days, after which it will be February and the textbook time to do it.  The leaves of daffodils are emerging in the borders, and I am starting to feel a great sense of urgency to get things pruned, weeded and mulched, before the great spring surge of growth starts in earnest.  Rain is forecast later in the week, alas.

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