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London's cornershops
Photograph: Andy Parsons

Read poet Ben Okri’s ode to the corner shop

Written by
Time Out London contributor

‘the corner shop’, a poem by Ben Okri, a Nigerian novelist, poet and winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction.

the air unchanged,
the muggy light,
newspapers stand,
the deck of sweets,
and the never-altered counter.
it’s the canned food
on the top shelves.
they’ve been there for some time,
never quite past their sell-by date.
it’s the secret pornography
on the middle shelf.
worn lino on the floor.

all the history of the street corners,
those who were here,
who with ingenuity thrived,
by selling odds and ends
to those the streets sprouted,
from the home provinces
or the remote
corners of the world…

a time-capsule of goods
made and packaged,
of all local gossip,
those who pass through,
and those who have been there
since the last oak.

strange mutations
of Britain’s soul
live in those shops
that retail destinies
and distant memories.
sardines, bread rolls,
local papers,
the street.
a fading photograph.
a time machine
to a place that no longer is,
but remains its own mood.
an eternal province
of the mixed quilt of the land.

they’re growing fewer now.
but the new ones are fluorescent
and sell the new yorker
and lottery tickets.
time was when they
were the grey daffodils
at the street’s junction,
dealing in those items
indispensable for daily living,
to the bachelor, the large
family, the schoolgirl,
in need of supplies.

something of the micro-history
of the land filters
through those baked bean
cans, those lightbulbs,
those fork handles.

suburbia’s life-support.
fading image
in the dark country.
a quaint karma
of lost empire.

Feeling nostalgic about these bastions of London life? Have a read of this tribute to independent newsagents

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