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‘Where Do You Get Your News?’

Good Morning. Where do you get your news?

From programmes like this, of course… but traditional news sources are under siege from the internet.

There’s another source of news which is also under threat. This week one of the big supermarket chains announced the closure of several dozen convenience stores.

Many felt the rapid expansion of ‘express’ or ‘local’ stores, would be one more blow to the survival prospects of the traditional corner shop.
You don’t know what you miss until it’s gone. A good local shop provides customers with more than milk, bread & emergency loo roll.

It’s where, for example, I get my news. I get it from Bhupendra, our local shopkeeper.

Some mornings I sit near the till drinking a coffee as his customers come in and out: as he asks students for ID to buy 10 Benson, as frail James puts a fiver on his phone card or Maggie buys her cats more food than she appears to be buying for herself.

Bhupendra seems to know everyone. He’s run the shop for 27 years, has 350 regulars and guesses he’s on first name terms with 300. His family faith is Hindu and he laughs it off when I tell him he’s a kind of local priest.

But it was Bhupendra who organised Mark’s funeral when he died. Mark was a drinker and often sat by the counter wiling away the hours.
When I asked after Jenny, another regular, it turns out she’s been taken ill and he’s been visiting her in hospital.

Some people linger for a chat after collecting their Daily Mirror – if you’re old and live alone, this might be one of the day’s longest conversations.

Others don’t talk. They approach the till, reach out a hand and Bhupendra sticks a Daily Mail in to it, like two sprinters passing a baton on the final lap. Sometimes true religion doesn’t need to say very much.

He tells me about people who can’t afford to keep the heating on. People who’ve switched to smoking roll-ups because they last longer. Or those who are slowly forgetting themselves – with children who’ve moved away and have also forgotten them.

Service may be quicker, choice greater in the new wave of express stores, they may be good at training their staff to be polite and friendly. But few will stay behind the till for as many years as Bhupendra.

True, there are grouchy, bad-tempered shopkeepers who barely offer you the time of day. But the best kind signal how the small society is often more significant than the big society – adding value to a community that can never be measured.

It’s tempting to raise a censorious eyebrow at a man buying four cans of lager at ten am – but Bhupendra doesn’t speculate on how a life comes to this.

Like the good priest he doesn’t think he is, our local shopkeeper doesn’t pass judgement. But he always has the news.

Malcolm Muggeridge once said of Mother Teresa that she never watches TV and never buys a newspaper… so she has a pretty good idea of what’s going on in the world.

Sometimes the same is true of the local shopkeeper.