Cheap Crunchies Force Toby Young to Think Again

Window displays at the Oaks are "Reassuringly British"

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This article originally appeared in the Spectator

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Soon after arriving in Acton earlier this year, Toby Young gave an exclusive interview to, during the course of which he talked about being banned from the Oaks Shopping Centre, and said it was: " a black hole. Even Kerry Katona would give the Oaks a wide berth." (see link, below right)

In an article which appeared today, he has apparently been won over by Acton's only shopping centre - where, we are reliably informed, you can buy the cheapest loo paper in town.

It seems that maybe the Oaks might become the surprise destination shopping centre of West London.

Here is Toby Young's article, reprinted in full:

I was awestruck. As a long-term resident of West London, I had been looking forward to my first glimpse of this emporium, but it was even better than I imagined. I simply had no idea shopping centres could be this good. From now on there would be no need to go anywhere else. It was the answer to all my prayers.

I am not talking about Westfield, obviously, but the Oaks Shopping Centre in Acton. The new £3 billion retail park in Shepherd’s Bush may boast a branch of Tiffany, but the Oaks has a branch of Netto, the Danish-owned discount chain where you can buy a two-litre bottle of diet cola for 19p. If you cannot find what you’re looking for in Netto, you can try your luck in Poundstretcher, which offers a 16-piece dinner set for £9.99. It is credit crunch-tastic.

When I first moved to Acton a year ago, I was too snobbish to set foot in the Oaks, dismissing it as a retail substrata that even Kerry Katona would steer clear of. In fact, there is a branch of Iceland in the Oaks, the frozen food chain that Katona’s a spokesperson for. Having combed the aisles of Iceland, I now realise you can ‘party like a celeb’ for next to nothing. £10 will get you 12 mini chicken kievs, 15 crispy duck parcels and a 75-piece Tex Mex combo platter. All you need to is a 70cl bottle of Kasoff vodka to wash it all down (£7.79 from Netto).

The Oaks Shopping Centre is so ridiculously cheap I felt like buying everything in the place, but I soon learnt not to be too hasty. For instance, at first glance the opportunity to buy a bag of five Crunchies for £1.45 in Netto seemed too good to pass up. That works out at 29p per bar, compared to 49p in my local branch of Londis. However, in Iceland you can buy a bag of seven Crunchies for £1.75 and in Poundstretcher you buy seven for £1.49. If there’s a better bargain to be had in Britain, I’d like to know what it is.

My favourite shop is 99p Stores — which, needless to say, is only one store in spite of the ‘s’ on the end. Its motto is ‘quality products under a pound’ and never a truer word was spoken. The most impressive thing is the sheer range of merchandise you can buy for 99p, from a 400g box of lollipops to a ‘fashion’ Santa hat. It is the perfect place to take Ludo, my three-and-a-half-year-old son. Give him a pound to spend and he will literally spend four hours making up his mind. I have never seen him so focused — even when watching Kung Fu Panda. After meticulously examining every product in the shop he nearly always opts for the same thing: a bag of boiled sweets. Not surprising when you consider that it is the size of a sack of potatoes.

Don’t get me wrong. I have got nothing against Westfield. I went there on the opening day and stood, mesmerised, in front of the window of La Senza as three models paraded up and down in their underwear. The fast food on offer is particularly good and scarcely a Sunday passes without me dragging my wife and four children down there to get stuck into the burgers at Byron.

But there is something reassuringly British about the window displays in the Oaks. My favourite this week is the one in Savers, another discount store. It consists exclusively of toilet rolls piled on top of each other: ‘6 rolls for the price of 4’, boasts the sign. How could anyone resist? Iceland contains an array of party food accompanied by the slogan: ‘Proud sponsors of I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!’

The other great thing about the Oaks compared to Westfield is that it is much less crowded. This is surprising, given that we are now in the midst of a full-blown recession, but that may be about to change. Tesco’s most recent sales figures reveal that the chain is losing customer share to its downmarket rivals Morrison and Asda. Surely, it won’t be long before these cash-strapped shoppers discover that they can get even better value for money at Netto, Poundstretcher and 99p stores? This time next year, I predict that the Oaks will be doing a roaring trade. Westfield, on the other hand, may not fare so well.

December 5, 2008