Cropping up around Medway lately are shops, restaurants and coffee shops that are making the place resemble a lightweight version of Brighton’s North Laine. The fact all these funky places seem to stay empty baffled me until my wife (who has better eyesight and has done less drugs than me and is firmly in touch with reality) pointed out that these new places were not real.
Obviously I disbelieved her and tried to enter an empty restaurant that had opened in the location of another restaurant that had closed years earlier. Upon trying to enter, I crashed into the glass like a helpless bird that flies into the window of a conservatory. I realised my wife was right; these places are not real, but huge, carefully designed vinyl stickers designed to make empty and probably borderline-derelict buildings look like they have been occupied.
Okay, so the intro was slightly fictitious. I realised at once that these places were fake. I’m not so detached from reality that I was fooled by these gigantic conceptual fibs. I have to say, and I know some people might find this slightly controversial, I quite like them.
I should state, for the sake of what Hunter S Thompson referred to as the ‘Permanent Record’ that I’m not the Medway Towns’ biggest fan. So brightening up a slowly withering and aesthetically depressing town can only be a good thing, right?
Obviously, having real shops and funky cafes instead of fake ones would be better. As mentioned before, the Lanes in Brighton is a great example of groovy non-monoculturally branded boutiques, with places that offer food that’s slightly more nourishing than that on offer at a Subway.
But for whatever reason, the buildings remain vacant and empty and the Medway towns start to look increasingly more and more like a ghost town. So why stop there? Part of me thinks every shop should have these vinyl stickers.
Who cares what new lines are available in Peacocks? I’d rather someone covered it with a sticker of a shop that sells nothing but lava lamps. Instead of all those mobile phone shops, vinyl stickers of a place that sells only gramophones…
Then we could go surreal. Instead of just fake shops, throw the whole thing open. Document the insides of many houses in Medway: happy families watching TV, or a junkie lying on a bare mattress throwing up into a stolen handbag.
Or have a competition for the many talented photographers around the towns, let us see what they’d like to see. Or, instead of just putting fake stickers over closed shops, why don’t we just build a fake front for every shop, like in Blazing Saddles? Make the entire high street from Rochester to Chatham look like a town from the Wild West or just make it look really bland, like Maidstone’s Fremlin Walk.
Or instead of vinyl, let local graffiti artists go crazy. Since Medway is in danger of looking like a some of the scarier parts of an American ghetto, let the buildings be covered in enormous stylised murals from the spray paint cans of true artists.
One day, maybe, that might happen. But I’ve strayed away from my main point again: I like these vinyl shop fronts, which is probably not an opinion shared by many people. But as good as they are, they just aren’t real shops. Or even interesting fake ones.
Photograph (c) Richard Reader