Sunday, April 7, 2013

It's All Your Fault

People of Jesmond: you’ve let me down. 

You’ve allowed your most valuable asset to slip through your fingers. You have failed to protect a tiny jewel in your community’s collection of treasures, and soon it will vanish. 

Residents sitting in trendy cafés with your flat whites; students munching takeaways in your bedsits; rich folk at smart dinner parties in the villas at the top end of Osborne Road: I blame the lot of you. All except a very few loyal supporters. Like Dominic Parker.

On Friday night at the opening of the Gateshead International Jazz Festival (before an inspirational performance by the National Youth Jazz Orchestra), I bumped into Dominic, who is the Sage Gateshead’s Director of Marketing. “I’m doing my best, Tom,” he said, “but I’m not sure it’s enough”. 

Dominic has a good memory. He was recalling our first conversation at the Turner Prize some 15 months earlier, just after he’d just taken up his new role. He told me then that he’d moved into Jesmond and we were talking about how nice a place it was. I said I thought the best thing about Jesmond was Taylor’s. And he absolutely agreed. 

Taylor’s of Jesmond is a tiny fresh fish shop, wedged in amongst the cafés and posh clothes stores of Acorn Road. Now those readers who don’t share my passion for buying local produce, those who are content with the tiny fillets of Greek seabass and pre-cut farmed salmon in supermarkets (even the ones that pretend to have a “fresh fish counter”), then please feel free to turn the page. But for those of us who appreciate fish brought straight from the trawlers at North Shields, Taylor’s is our last link between sea and table. It is the only proper high street fresh fish shop in the region, aside from the stalls in the Grainger Market. 

People come from miles around for the fresh mussels, clams, cod, halibut and turbot served by Paul, the fishes’ knowledgeable and passionate monger. I live 20 miles away, and many a time I’ve popped out for an hour to get a couple of Dover sole. 

However back in 2011, when Dominic and I first discussed our mutual interest in fish, a black cloud was hanging over Acorn Road. Just round the corner a green giant was about to wreak havoc: Jesmond was getting a Waitrose. 

Together we vowed to support Taylor’s against the threat. Less than a year later, the writing was on the wall, or rather, on the window: a sign saying that Taylor’s was now only open from Thursday to Saturday. It was the beginning of the end. 

“This is desperate,” said Dominic at Friday’s concert. “We need a plan of action. We can’t save it single-handed”. 

“Two-handed,” I corrected, “and at least you don’t have to drive 20 miles for hake.” 

But it was too late. The following day, as he was carving me two slices from the biggest, juiciest slab of halibut, Paul the fishmonger dropped the bombshell: 

“Look at the tight veins on that, oozing with liquid, it was only landed yesterday – by the way, we’ve only got a few weeks left.” 

Taylor’s of Jesmond is closing down, another victim in the small retailers’ battle against the inevitable. 

It was a heavy body blow. And particularly for me right now, because my own body, heavier than it’s been for years (largely thanks to the never-ending winter), has just gone on a new diet, one that’s very dependent on fish. 

Those of you who have regularly followed this column will recall my previous failed attempts to shed the excesses and inches of the years. Well this diet, designed by my own wife in anticipation of an impending trip to Los Angeles, seems to be working. I have lost 8 pounds in just 5 days. 

You can read about my miracle cure on But don’t expect me to be cheerful about it. 

Yes, I admit dieting does tend to put you in a bad mood. And this morning I am in a particularly appalling grouch. But, people of Jesmond, it’s not the diet that’s made me grumpy. It’s all your fault.

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