I don't write about Bow often enough. My blog's strapline may be "Life viewed from London E3", but I don't force a lot of stuff about E3 onto you. I don't think the wider world's really interested in the new advertising panel that's gone up beside the Bow Flyover, or the mysterious hoarding outside Thames Magistrates Court, or even the lack of southbound bus stops on Parnell Road. I'm not wrong, am I? But someone's got to speak up for Bow sometimes, because I'm not aware of another blog that covers life in and around the E3 postcode. So it's up to me to mention Bow-ish things sometimes. Like today, for example. But, don't worry, not too often.
At six o'clock this morning a brand new supermarket opened in Bow. Fancy that, a brand new supermarket. It's halfway between Bow Road and Mile End tube stations, opposite the girls' school, next to St Clement's Hospital. A couple of years ago this spot was a narrow patch of greenspace sandwiched between Bow Road and a particularly unlovely council estate. Buddleia grew, white vans parked and stocky dogs squatted. Ripe therefore for acquisition by property developers, who noticed that they could squeeze a long thin apartment block into the gap. They built thin, they built high, and they built grey. The end result is a fortress of boxy apartments, shuttered behind what look like prison bars, in an architectural style I can only describe as ruddy ugly.
And on the ground floor there's a proper new supermarket. You probably haven't noticed it yet because it manifested itself very quickly. I only noticed last week when a single small sign saying "Store entrance →" appeared in a window on the ground floor. I had wondered whether this space might be for a row of shops but no, silly me, it's for a supermarket. I recognised the typeface immediately, so perhaps I wasn't quite so surprised that this particular national store chain had muscled its way into Bow under cover of a new housing development. Oh yes, retail homogenisation continues - we've got ourselves a new Tesco Express.
They were stacking the shelves on Monday morning as I trudged past on my five mile wintry commute. Just the one bloke, by the looks of it - presumably the rest of the workforce were trapped elsewhere by catastrophic snow chaos. Signs reading "Half Price" and "Buy 1 Get 1 Free" were already in place, presumably pre-planned by whichever Tesco department has the job of fitting out a new supermarket in one week flat. There was rather more activity when I passed by at dawn yesterday morning. A fleet of contractor's vans was parked up on the extra-wide pavement, representing at least six different tradesmen essential to kickstarting a new business. One of these vans was for Rentokil. I also noticed a man on his knees inside the supermarket scurrying around behind where the tills are going to be. I'm not suggesting that these last two sentences are in any way connected, obviously.
And this morning, Bow's new Tesco Express is open. You can pop in and buy milk, rather than going to the small supermarket over the road beneath Minnie Lansbury's Clock. You can pop in and buy a newspaper rather than getting it from the nice family in the kiosk beside Bow Road station. You can pop in and buy six cans of lager rather than going for a beer at the Little Driver pub. You can pop in and buy paracetamol rather than getting it from the tiny pharmacy the other side of St Clement's Hospital. You can even pop in and buy fresh bread rather than getting it from Bow Supermarket just round the corner in Merchant Street. In short, you can pop in and help to kill off many of the independent shops in the neighbourhood, if you really insist. Which would be a damned shame. Do shop carefully (especially if you're living upstairs in one of the prison cells immediately above the frozen food cabinets).
Bow's never been well blessed with supermarkets, especially since Safeway on Roman Road closed down a few years ago. Sure there's the giant Tesco store at Three Mills, which is damned convenient for me, but quite a trek for those in the less well-off estates nearer Victoria Park. You'll find a Budgens under the Green Bridge and a mini Somerfield at the Bow Church Texaco, but there's no sign of a Sainsburys or a Lidl or an Asda. Does Bow exist in some sort of food desert? To find out I've knocked up a Google map to show all the major supermarkets in and around the E3 area. Local readers might find it of interest (or be able to pick holes in it). The new Tesco Express is represented by the yellow basket, then the surrounding pins show the paucity of supermarkets in E3 and beyond. Maybe turning the old Woolworths into an Iceland is exactly what the area needs...