The opening of a new retail outlet extolling cheap stuff from China as must-have lifestyle purchases has been lauded by Berwick’s Civic Party as the society event of the year.
Complete with several cheerful balloons in B&M Bargains’ smart livery of electric blue and orange, the inaugural ribbon-cutting ceremony was undertaken by Mayor Isabel Hunter and representatives of North Northumberland Food Bank – the latter’s inclusion a move by the owners and the Town Council, refreshing in its lack of cynicism, to head off criticism suggesting that the town already has enough shops selling cushions unable to cope with the rigours of daylight.
A hundred-strong queue of seasoned bargain hunters waited patiently for the speeches to end before sweeping down the aisles like Passover angels in leggings looking for a first-born.
Genevieve Fitzroy, a creole earring consultant from Tweedmouth, was thrilled to discover an ornate gilt mirror held together by badly angled staples and plastic wrapping.
“I’ve been looking for one of these for ages, ever since the identical one from Home Bargains broke last week when I coughed near it.” She went on to say: “I’m going to buy three this time as I am quite a heavy smoker. At this price, I’d be mad not to.”
Store manager Jono Jenkins reported that multipacks of tissues were also proving a big hit, with three units flying off the shelves within the first couple of hours. “We were taking something of a risk filling the shelves with mattress-sized packs of pocket Kleenex, what with Savers, Home Bargains, and Homecare doing the same, but it seems nasal discharge is one market that just doesn’t flood.”
Berwick Town Council is promoting this latest in a long line of pile-it-high stores as another top tourist destination for the town, along with the office block proposed for the empty Kwik Save site.
Mayor Isabel Hunter said: “This is a good time for Berwick, a time of growth and regeneration. Myself and the Town Council are thrilled that Berwick has yet another outlet of affordable tat to lure tourists away from the ancient beauty of Alnwick and Bamburgh.”
She went on to say: “When the owners of B&M first approached us, they wanted the signage in heritage shades of Farrow & Ball but we at the Town Council insisted that it should be in keeping with Berwick’s image of indomitable strength in the face of implacable resistance. They came back with the Cillit Bang colour palette that you see now, which we think works really, really well.”
While response to the new store has been overwhelmingly positive from its employees, there are claims that B&M Bargains may not be the saviour of the town’s future it has promised to be.
“The economics don’t add up,” says Professor Jonty Hardcastle of the Berwick Institute of Thinking. “By simply saying something is good doesn’t actually make it good, counter-intuitive though that may seem. We just have to look at Jeremy Clarkson.
“Northumberland County Council says it’s a good thing to put offices on a prime town centre site rather than develop it as a tourist attraction, because they believe the tourist industry contributes less to the town’s prosperity than a single, existing firm of accountants with proven finite spending power. NCC is working on an outdated economic model that never existed which states that by relocating accountants to a town centre, they will feel compelled to spend more of their money in the nearest B&M Bargains store, thereby increasing the town’s average spend per capita and boosting the local economy.
“Put another way, Berwick’s future is dependent on employees of Greaves, West & Ayre indulging themselves in perpetuity with trays of Felix Sensations Sauce Surprise and silk orchids. Even a village idiot with nine fingers will tell you that doesn’t add up.”
Mayor Hunter dismisses such thinking as scaremongering. “It’s sensationalist to call it the Walkergate Scandal. What some people don’t want to admit is that tourism and accountancy are not mutually exclusive.”
Ms Hunter goes on to detail a scheme whereby coaches could reverse from the new, toilet-free coach park on Chapel Street along to the Walkergate offices and then idle by the kerb for five minutes. Visitors could then be offered the opportunity to take photographs of the workers going for lunch.
“We’re going to call it BUS – Berwick Urban Safari. And it’s on a bus, which is a nice tie-in.
“In addition, we’re currently negotiating an exciting deal with Arch, Northumberland County Council and Greaves, West & Ayre that will allow tourists to use their facilities for a nominal charge of, say, 50 pence. That’s for use of the toilets, not the photocopiers. Obviously that would be extra.”
Lib Dem Councillor Gavin Jones, Berwick’s poster boy for the Kwik Save development, claims his wife’s position as consultant for GWA is nothing more than “a happy coincidence”, as is his likeness to Professor Quirrell, the cowardly turncoat in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Councillor Jones briefly appears agitated, scrubbing furiously at his hands with a pocket Kleenex.”Look, can we drop that, please? It was funny the first time, what with the John Lord Voldemort quip, but it’s wearing a bit thin now. Seriously.
“Northumberland County Council knows what it’s doing; it’s currently in the process of delivering a lovely flower bed on The Parade in which any tourist would be pleased to stub out their fags. It didn’t come cheap – that’s over £130,000-worth of topsoil right there, you’re welcome.
“People need to quit whinging. There’s more to growing an economy than encouraging middle-class people with disposable income to visit our town and spend, spend, spend. Sometimes it’s about… it’s about… something else. It’s… it’s about complicated stuff most people wouldn’t understand, like… stuff.
“Oh, bloody hell. What, will these hands ne’er be clean? Oooh, look. Three bottles of Cillit Bang for the price of two. Get in.”