Friday, 27 March 2009

“The Last Spike”, Cowboy Junkies

While I know there is at least one book entitled “The Last Spike” (the one I seem to recall is about the trans-continental railroad, and thus quite possibly worth a read), it’s the fantastic 1992 song by the Canadian band, the Cowboy Junkies, that I’ve got in mind here.

One of the many nice things about my job is that I get the opportunity to work from home on a reasonably regular basis, and a consequent nice feature of this is I can go for a constitutional around the village when a bit of fresh air and head clearing is needed. Today was one such day, and around lunch time off I head for such mundanities as the post office and a mild thought that I might find lunch in the reasonably good “Ye George” pub on the high street.

Up to now the recession was something that I’d been aware of. It’s hard to escape Robert Peston on the radio, the absence of any interest on my savings is pretty apparent, and while I’d long since stopped going into a branch of Woolworth’s it’s pretty clear that this has now gone as an option. Today, walking through Beckenham it was arrestingly clear that the recession actually means something real to a lot of people. When I moved here, one of the nicest things about it was the thriving village and the sense of community it engendered, and over time I like that I’ve managed to become part of this community.

Today, the High Street is certainly still there, and it’s far too early to be putting nails in the coffin of community, but along the length of the street, but it was all too noticeable that in the last week or so two delis and, most sadly, a small independent coffee merchant, have lost their fight for survival.

While this must be awful for all those concerned, because ultimately it means that people have lost their jobs, I felt the demise of Eva Emilia (the coffee vendors) quite acutely. From a cold commercial point of view I suspect they went under because they didn’t really have the faintest idea about running a business. The shop was hidden away, all too easy to confuse with the slightly odd Chinese herbal shop next door, and the staff always seemed a touch diffident almost about trying to upsell you or manage their loyalty programme. But you know something? That was all part of the charm, and didn’t detract from the fact that their product was both quality and individual. I liked having a bag of “daily fix” or “lunchtime kick” on my desk at work. They were always pretty happy to sell me something a little more unusual to have at home. Most of all I liked living in a village where you could buy something fantastic and different, and the fact that they’re gone more than almost anything else makes me realise that recession is something real, and even if my own employment situation is, so far, largely unaffected, the cold wind blowing through the economy is going to chill every single one of us in some way.

Another nice aspect to working from home is that instead of having hubbub of a sales floor in the background you can play any music you like in the background. Today, despite the best efforts of a whole array of other artists I can’t get the Cowboy Junkies out of my head. I know this hasn’t been much of a review - but if you’re looking for something that in under four and a half minutes sums all the bleak desperation of a community dying away you could do a lot worse than give “The Last Spike” a go. It’s one of the highlights of the broadly very good “Black Eyed Man” album, and Amazon are selling it for not much more than a fiver, which sounds like one of the better ways to spend money. Even better, if you’ve got a small record store near you go and see if they’re selling it. They could probably do with the custom.

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