Tuesday, February 13, 2007

All bets are off in Brockley

Concern about the loss of the Homeview video/dvd hire shop in Brockley has now spread to a campaign against a bookmakers taking its place. Homeview is closing regardless, but the bookies' still needs Greenwich magistrates to give them a licence to operate at 329 Brockley Road. I am sympathetic to this campaign - there are a million things I would rather see there. I certainly don't want that other corner of Boho Brockley, Moonbow Jakes cafe/bar to go under. Whether a betting shop would have a direct impact on the the cafe remains to be seen, but clearly they are going to lose the passing trade from people popping down to pick up a film.

However, reading through the petition against the betting shop in Moonbow Jakes I did pick up on a nasty undercurrent from some people. One comment in particular caught my eye, suggesting that the betting shop would attract 'skagheads, winos and the culturally poor'. Well yes, there is a link between gambling and other addictions, but there seemed to more than a suggestion here of social cleansing. South East London is one of the poorest parts of the country, but increasingly poverty is seen as some kind of personal stigma that needs to be tidied away rather than a social condition that needs to be abolished. To a large extent the poor are poor because the rich are rich, both are a consequence of the increasingly unequal distribution of social wealth. Don't come slumming it in South London and then complain that the poor are on your doorstep - do something about it. Yes I know it's not always easy to think what to do, but you could always make a start by supporting people fighting to increase their income above minimum wage levels, like cleaners on the tube.

As for the notion of culturally poor, I would suggest reading some Pierre Bourdieu, in particular his notion of cultural capital (knowledge, connections, networks) being as important to social power as money. In South London as elsewhere, the middle/upper classes are very good at holding on to their cultural wealth at the expense of the 'cultural poor' - just take a look at who has most access to galleries, studio space, NCT classes etc.

As it happens, I have known some gamblers who are actually very intelligent and 'cultured' but I don't want to go the opposite extreme of glamourising some romanticised Albert Square mockney culture. As another wise man said, 'glorification of splendid underdogs is nothing more than glorification of the splendid system that makes them so' (Adorno, Minima Moralia).

Of course this glorification is quite widespread. We can imagine that in a few years time, gambling on horses will be colonised by the 'haves'. After all, Walthamstow dogs has apparently become a middle class must post-Blur's Parklife, and 15 years ago football fans were despised as culturally poor scum. Now everybody claims to have been a lifelong football fan (usually of Arsenal or Manchester United), and ticket prices have rocketed to reflect the game's new status as a respectable recreational activity. On balance I would prefer there not to be another bookies in Brockley, if only to save from the future horror of a combined bookies/wine bar full of yuppies placing bets on the 3:15 at Haydock Park.

Good to get that rant off my chest - what do you think?


Brockley Nick said...

My objection to a new betting shop is because I believe it would be a huge missed opportunity for to bring new life to Brockley Road. Bookies offer nothing to the street scape other than windows obscured by advertising and dark, unwelcoming doorways. They don't interact with the places around them. Agree that we shouldn't stigmatise the poor (or assume that they will be the clientele) but let's put something there that a wider group of people than the small minority who frequent bookies can enjoy.

Unknown said...

How about a bookshop?
There aren't any around for miles.
You could get a copy of the new Martin Amis, then pop into Moonbow Jakes for a £3.50 bottle of Stella.
Seriously though, a bookshop would be much appreciated. The only ones around Brockley & New X are Christian ones.

Transpontine said...

I agree with Nick and Ian's comments. A bookshop would be great, but it would be a brave person who would take the risk of opening one (independent shops seem to be closing all over the place). Actually I would settle for a big charity shop with a quirky mix of intersting books and vinyl.

Anonymous said...

Well said. It's not too late to send an objection to Greenwich Magistrates Court btw; details of how to do this on my blog at: http://greenladywell.blogspot.com/2007/02/application-for-betting-shop-on.html

Anonymous said...

There are two empty units opposite Moonbow Jakes that would suit a bookshop, charity shop, fruit and veg shop etc. The trouble, as has already been pointed out, is that nobody has the inclination to risk such a venture. It's abundantly clear that high streets in general have been punished by superstores selling everything under one roof and becoming the butcher, baker and candlestick maker as well as newsagent, dry cleaner, deli, blah, blah, blah. High Streets have now, for the first time, been allowed to introduce as many NON retail units as retail. Leisure is a growing industry, be it gambling in betting shops or drinking in wine bars there is a driven market by minorities who frequent such places. Competition brings choice and customers will find a better service and better facilities if competition is allowed. Whether it be a betting shop, cafe, wine bar or drinking club, healthy competition is a good thing.