Talking of big chains and corporations, it's high time I had another moan about the globalisation of historic town centres, as demonstrated by the photo (taken on my new, toy camera-phone) above, of one of Oxford's oldest surviving buildings.
If you look closely at the picture, you will see that it is occupied by two of the biggest chain shops in the country (a mobile phone dealer and an expensive coffee outlet), and the rest of the main street where this picture was taken is row upon row of all the retailers that have taken over every town and city in Britain, and probably most of Europe and North America to boot.
Before you say that this might not be a bad thing, since theses huge companies are the only ones that can afford the upkeep and maintenance of historic buildings like these, bear in mind that it was the local councils who have been forced by organisations such as English Heritage to actively preserve the buildings in their trust. Prior to that, most councils were quite happy to tear them down for the sake of a few million pounds from a property developer - look what happened to my town, Bath, in the 1960s.
In order to obtain the sort of revenue into the public coffers in the longer term, every single council in Britain has fallen for the advances of the multi-national companies who have forced town centre rents and rates through the roof in the name of competition, choice and free-trade.
The irony is that the 'choice' is now so wide (have you seen how many different types of coffee that these places sell? - of course you have), that there is effectively no choice at all, aside from wether you want to buy your coffee from Starbucks, or Nero's, etc. etc. Individual traders can no longer afford to run shops in the middle of town, so we have lost all the quirky little businesses which used to sell individual nails, etc. - maybe for ever. Here and there, a few loss-making but charming shops survive, thanks to the owners of the buildings who refuse to cave in to the demands of greedy town councils.
There could have been a coffee-house on these premises about 300 years ago - about 200 years after it was built - but you can be sure that it was owned and run by a local individual. That local individual was, however, sowing the seeds of globalisation by having to deal with the importers who supplemented their incomes and built vast fortunes by also importing black, African slaves - the very same group of people who were forced to produce the coffee in the first place, along with the sugar we put into it.
I don't believe there ever was such a thing as the 'good old days', but I certainly remember when every single town in Britain and Europe had it's own distinctive character, defined by the traders who lived and worked there. Now it is the same old criminals, everywhere you go.