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11/03/2021

Louise Brooke-Smith: Novelty value

What's the connection between The Very Best of Leo Sayer and our collective recovery from Covid-19? Let Louise Brooke-Smith explain...

If you’ve got kids, have you had those odd conversations when you refer to equipment or machinery, in common parlance, only to find that they have no idea what you are talking about? 

Last year we were clearing out the loft for a house move and unearthed a series of record players from down the ages. I accept that my ‘His Master’s Voice’ wind-up gramophone with a selection of 78s must have looked like a museum artefact. But it was good fun to play hits of the 1930s and imagine grandparents and great-grandparents raving through the night.

I was, however, a little surprised when hubby and I unleashed our Decca Hi-Fi system complete with very large speakers and our highly prized LPs of the late ’70s and ’80s. It was comical to watch the incredulity on our kids’ faces of having to get up and turn a record over – akin to having to push a knob on the telly to change channels. The fact it had an integrated tape player meant there was much mileage in the ‘laughing-at-us’ stakes.

But what was then strange was that our joint Christmas present last year was a compact ‘retro’ record player, which our daughter explained didn’t need miles of wires to connect to speakers the size of small cupboards. Although it didn’t have a tape player, it was capable of playing all our ‘best of’ albums. Yes, I am aware that every ditty under the sun can be summoned on Spotify at the speed of light. But listening to all those scratches and jumps on a favourite LP brings back warm fuzzy memories.

What is the link to planning? Well, yards of text, in very small font, have been written on the ‘impact of Covid – how we will live post-lockdown – what will our environment look like, and many seminars continue to analyse the fallout. But perhaps the analogy of ‘music systems through the ages’ and the novelty value of a retro record player under the Christmas tree could be a simple illustration.

It sparked a conversation on what might be lost through Covid but then possibly ‘reinvented’ as we got to thinking about activities that are likely to disappear as we move to #LifeAfterLockdown.

“Much has been written about the need to keep high streets alive”

Retailing is likely to change as people hold on to the benefits of online shopping. Much has been written about the need to keep high streets alive and so town-centre funds and renaissance programmes are likely to encourage outlets for local suppliers and more quirky offerings that will support community cohesion. Swap ‘quirky’ for novelty and providing it proves commercially viable, then, hey presto! Let me simply say ‘daily milk deliveries from a milk person’ rather than a plastic bottle from the supermarket, or local markets for local people or street entertainers and village festivals.

Commuting is likely to be confined to a two or three times a week experience, as opposed to the day-in, day-out chore. Perhaps future spasmodic journeys will be entertaining experiences in their own right, and not the sardine-packed horror of trains pre-2020.

And how about all those subscriptions to the gym? They are already replaced by online and on-demand PT sessions, but just once in a while it might be a novelty to get together with fellow Joe Wicks wannabes for an evening in the school hall.

Novelty value could see some of our old activities come back in such a way that they retain a ‘wow’ factor. Spotify and Alexa are great, but playing old LPs on our new retro turntable once in a while has become an experience and brought back the joy of when hubby and I first bought The Very Best of Leo Sayer album.  

Dr Louise Brooke-Smith is a development and strategic planning consultant and a built environment non-executive director

Illustration | Zara Picken

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