Dabbler Diary: Drapery, Flummery, Usury

To Kent for a couple of half-term days. Is this the most under-rated English county? It’s got everything that southern England can offer, but no-one makes much of a fuss over it. I suppose it suffers from being a place one travels through to get to warmer climes – with those towns you pass on the way being pretty ugly (Maidstone, Ashford, Dover).

This relative neglect does have its benefits. With the exception of Whitstable – aka Islington-on-Sea, and in contrast to the rest of the county probably the most over-rated seaside resort in England – most nice places tend to be unselfconsciously nice, not too up themselves.

I find a sure indicator of English authenticity is the presence of a drapers in a town’s high street. My guess is that today’s youth won’t know what it is that a draper actually does. They’re like an anti-Starbucks.

Hythe has a drapers – as well as a fantastic promenade, pleasure grounds, a military canal, fresh fish, an ossuary, a links golf course, martello towers, Shepherd Neame beer, etc. Worth a visit.


I think rumours of the triumph of the pumpkin and the demise of the bonfire are premature. The noise on Monday night was incredible – we had to have University Challenge on full-blast.

Is this what urban warfare sounds like? It reminded me of an incident at college when a jet-lagged West African fresher ran out of his room one 5th November evening shouting out repeatedly, ‘There has been a coup!’ Of course, he was right, just a little over 400 years late.

The English have something of a genius in turning the serious business of politics into amusing bits of pageantry and outright entertainment. Perhaps uniquely: has any other nation turned the anniversary of a failed act of terrorism which resulted in the torture and gory execution of the perpetrators into fun for all the family?


On the other hand, the BBC’s election coverage remains a cruel and unusual punishment. Too many talking heads – most of them ‘editors’ of something or other – not enough reporting. If I see or hear another old fart standing in front of a crowd and telling us what he reckons I think I may scream.

One of the US election’s themes was the supposed marginalisation of the middle-aged white male. The trend doesn’t seem to have disturbed the ponderous flummery of Dimbleby, Mardell, Simpson, Naughtie, Edwards, etc. Mind you, the ‘modern’ bits are just as bad: some go-ahead person waving their arms in front of a giant graphic whilst demonstrating points we could just as easily understand if they were conveyed using the medium of language.


Both presidential campaigns culminated in selling the heck out of ‘change’. Is there is no constituency in the US for more of the same but a bit nicer? If there ever was, it’s now surely shrunk into insignificance. There can be few political movements in the world more misleadingly named than America’s conservatives.


I see that over the next couple of years City jobs are expected to fall to levels last seen in 1993. This is really quite staggering. I started work in the City in 1994 and remember how quiet it was in the wake of the early-’90s recession and before the expansion of US and European banks of the late-90s. Canary Wharf was practically empty.

If anyone is still puzzled by the economy’s lack of growth then this and the long-term decline in North Sea oil revenues explains all. It means our debts are going to take ages to work through.


One of the factors contributing to the lack of work in the Square Mile is that companies have more or less stopped raising equity or buying each other. They’re flush with cash, which they just seem happy to sit on.

I worry that this is more than the product of a temporary lack of confidence. It may be that there are not enough new opportunities to invest in.

In the depressed ‘30s, whilst the old staples were on their back, Metroland was being built: roads, cars, houses, electronics were all spooling out at a great rate. Nothing equivalent is happening right now (forget the growth of the digital – there’s not enough of it to make a difference).

This makes the loss of City jobs and North Sea oil even more concerning. We need to think of new or revived ways to pay our way in the world. In the meantime, we should probably just get get used to feeling poorer. But look on the bright side: a slower pace of development may mean our remaining high street drapers have a few more years left in them.

Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.
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10 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary: Drapery, Flummery, Usury

  1. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    November 9, 2012 at 14:25

    Maidstone used to be an attractive town, strawberries growing in profusion on the banks of the Medway. A wonderfully named mental hospital ‘Barming’, the fleshpots of the aptly named Knightrider Street, the London Tavern crowded with American servicemen from Manston drinking pints of beer with a glass of ‘Scotch’ dropped in, it was, in short, the gateway to the weald, Staplehurst-Headcorn, the Lark Rise-Candleford of Kent. Took a drive through the area some time ago, oh dear.

    As for the lengthening dole queue in the square mile, they could re-train as lawyers, when the Brownite thug Watson has completed his quest many more will be required.

    • Gaw
      November 9, 2012 at 14:59

      Lawyers are a bit under the cosh too, criminal as well as corporate (lack of legal aid). As well as banking and the law you have an absence of growth in advertising, journalism, tv, industry, government, construction, retail. So what is the go-ahead thing to get into nowadays? Digital things I suppose. But it’s a tiny employer and doesn’t generate any significant tax revenues (or any money at all in cases like ours). Perhaps farming is the future?

      • Worm
        November 9, 2012 at 15:10

        Are corporate lawyers really under the cosh? Surely corporate law must be the safest job ever – lots of takeovers when the economy’s great, and lots of takeovers and mergers when the economy’s rubbish???

        • Gaw
          November 9, 2012 at 15:14

          Corporate activity is down massively and because of low interest rates there aren’t the usual number of offsetting administrations, liquidations and work-outs. Even partners are being kicked out.

  2. peter.burnet@hotmail.com'
    November 9, 2012 at 14:25

    That last paragraph is one inspiring torch to pass to a new generation, Gaw. Musn’t complain, eh? Perhaps you should help show them the way by preaching the delights of eggs and spam.

    • Gaw
      November 9, 2012 at 15:02

      I thought you’d see the attraction of a shrinking horizon, Peter.

      BTW I understand we’re going to hit our Kyoto targets so there’s a silver lining to being economically screwed…

      • peter.burnet@hotmail.com'
        November 9, 2012 at 15:35

        This is a funny week to be a Canadian, Gaw. My American pals are all running around screaming “Give me Liberty or give me Death” as they oil their muskets and stock up on water and batteries, while my British friends are trying to make Eeyore look like a can-do guy.

  3. Worm
    November 9, 2012 at 15:36

    Re. Kent – East Kent is great, I lived there for a few years and yes, it is an underappreciated part of the world, folkestone and hythe are really coming up, and the little wold in behind them (the elham valley) has some lovely places in – and there’s a terrific microclimate down there too. West Kent, with its reliance on such modern fripperies as ‘decent rail links’ has been over stockbrokered and is bland suburgatory in comparison

  4. john.hh43@googlemail.com'
    John Halliwell
    November 9, 2012 at 17:28

    The spirit of Guy Fawkes was very much alive and burning in the fifties; every third or fourth house on our estate had a bonfire; some had two – the wooden heap with Guy atop and the coal shed door set alight by the catherine wheel that refused to turn and quickly became a torch. A ton of nutty slack residing behind a burning door was slow to light but, goodness me, once away it took some stopping. As I reflect on those gloriously atmospheric November nights (I say atmospheric: by 8.00 pm touring the estate was similar to a walk through a London smog) I become increasingly aware that it was a rampant breeding ground for the maniacal fire-raiser who resided within some of us. Take Eric H: his motto was ‘If it’ll burn sling a couple of bangers into it; if it won’t fetch a can of paraffin.’ I suppose his mates weren’t surprised when, a few years later, the brainy sod wrote a chilling and groundbreaking treatise: Principia Pyromania. It remains a matter of conjecture as to who set fire to the local waxed wrapping paper mill in about 1952, one of the most exciting days I can remember, when the fire brigade lost one of its tenders in the heat of a losing battle; the mill had to be completely rebuilt. The height of the flames was astonishing, beating those from the fire that engulfed Clarkson’s hay barn by a country mile. I should have known Eric was trouble the day before bonfire night when he showed me how to shoot a rocket straight up the middle of our avenue from a glass bottle laid horizontally. But he clearly had a concern for health and safety issues even in those days by insisting the demonstration take place at 10.00 in the morning: “You have to remember, John, fireworks can be dangerous.” That advice seemed hollow on the night of the 5th when he put a banger in the petrol tank of an old motorbike in John Rs back garden.

  5. george.jansen55@gmail.com'
    November 10, 2012 at 00:59

    “One of the US election’s themes was the supposed marginalisation of the middle-aged white male.”

    I must have missed this, but then at some point soon I will have to quit describing myself as middle aged.

    “Both presidential campaigns culminated in selling the heck out of ‘change’. Is there is no constituency in the US for more of the same but a bit nicer? If there ever was, it’s now surely shrunk into insignificance. There can be few political movements in the world more misleadingly named than America’s conservatives.”

    There is a huge “more of the same but nicer” constituency, but the message doesn’t really sound inspiring. It is implicitly the message of every re-election campaign. Neither “conservative” nor “liberal” is particularly apt now. The economic program of the “conservatives” tends to be pure 19th Century liberalism. More than a few “liberals” want to minutely regulate many aspects not only of economic but of social life. But like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, they’re the brands we have, and in our brand loyalties at least we are a conservative people.


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