In fact, it was a bit of a disaster down there, with a few cheap shoe shops (should you decide in desperation to buy a pair, you pretty much knew that the heel, if not the whole sole, would fall off within 2 days), a Woolies, a Smiths and a CoOp. That was pretty much it. We had a Monday and Saturday market, which was full of knock off, faux designer items which were so bad they were often spelt wrong- Louise Vooton handbag anyone? Or how about a Abibaz sweatshirt? Junkey Coture tracksuit for Wag wannabes? Me neither.
When we first moved here, we were amazed- there were shops! Everywhere! There were no nasty flammable market stalls on the weekend! You could find what you needed and then some. In fact, such was the
Cut to the last 18 months, and, to quote one of my fave Ska bands of all time, The Specials- "This town, is 'coming like a Ghost Town."
There are currently something like 56 empty shop units, one whole side of the indoor centre is empty, and week in week out shops shut up and disappear overnight. Its not just the indie retailers either, its the big guns- it seems every shop which went bust- Bay Trader, Woolies, Waterstones, Game, Peacocks, Zavvi, the list is endless, was resident in Maidenhead.
The thing is, Maidenhead is a bit, well, snooty, in places, by association of being part of the Royal Borough- ie, we are kind of near to Windsor Castle if you forget about Slough, Taplow and Burnham. House and rental prices continue to rise, but what is there for people who live there? Apart from a train station out of the mess we call a town centre.
The councils idea to stop the rot?
Erm, well, it's not great. They paid for close to 20 "Flower Towers", at £700 each. In a period of drought. So they are slowly dying. They are meant to lead to the larger local park, which at the moment is hard for kids to play in being that it has building sites on either side and the noise is deafening. And the air is thick with dust.
They also decided to fill the empty shops with art by indie artists- all very well and good, but who can afford £900+ for indie art?
One of the aforementioned building sites is for a hotel, designed for the many visitors we are being told to expect over the Olympic fortnight. Except they didn't get planning in time so it wont be ready.
Finally, they decided to, and this one kills me with laughter, to fill the windows of all the empty shops (so god knows how it costs to do so) with a big sticker showing people out in town having a cuppa, shopping and laughing in a jolly old fashion.
Except one small detail- none of the images is of Maidenhead itself. They are stock images.
It kind of leads me to wonder what they were trying to achieve. They may as well have said "look, this is what we used to have, in the good old days before the Tory's messed it up for everyone, and the banks gave out ludicrous loans and then called them in to cover the huge bonuses their management pay themselves for watching it all crumble and doing nothing to stop it happening. This, oh skint dwellers of Maidenhead, this is what you are missing".
Less Betjeman's poem of "come friendly bombs and fall on Slough, it isn't fit for humans now" but "come traders all and migrate to Slough, we are not fit for shoppers now" instead.
How about, save the money spent on Flower Towers (most of which being outside pubs no doubt have been used as urinals as well as ornamental ashtrays), art work and the pointless stickers, and lower the bloody rents of shops? Simple, no?
Town centre officials. Please. Give us some shops.
Maidenhead- less "Live It, Love It, Make It Maidenhead", more "Give Up, Go Out, Get The Train to anywhere but Maidenhead".