Strangers on a train

We had the good fortune to bump in to Brockley Central regular Kate on the train this morning.

We were both surprised that sort of thing didn't happen more often, given what a small world Brockley essentially is. We mentioned to Kate that one local businessman recently told us that they believed that, all the businesses in Brockley were chasing after the same limited pool of customers - no more than 1,000 by his estimate. Brockley Central's not sure that's true anymore and, conversely, we are constantly surprised by how many people in Brockley we expect to know one another, don't.

But the question of how many people there are to support the shops and cafes that are springing up led us to do a bit of soul searching about whether we both "did our bit" for the local scene. Kate confessed she met people in London Bridge for drinks after work. We owned up to the fact that we still haven't been to places like Meze Mangal.

But should we all feel a sense of duty to the local shops and businesses?

We feel about "shopping local" campaigns a bit like we do about buying the Big Issue. Bear with us... The whole idea of the Big Issue is that it gives people an alternative to begging - an opportunity to gain money and self-respect doing a job, when few other opportunities are open to them. But some people buy the Big Issue out of a sense of guilt or duty, without ever actually reading the thing. But if you don't really want the product, then isn't that just another form of begging, with some added environmental waste tacked on for good measure? Similarly, local businesses ought to be able to compete on equal terms with what's on offer in other areas, otherwise "shop local" is as forlorn a campaign as the "Buy British" campaign of the 1960s. If people shop out of duty, rather than preference, then there is no incentive for local places to raise their standards.

Fortunately, we believe there is a long and growing list of places that could hold their heads high in any area. So long as we all know what they are and share our recommendations, then there's no need for any of us to beat ourselves up if we stop off at M&S at London Bridge from time to time...