In his Booker Prize-winning novel The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes’ grey-haired anti-hero takes the train to London for a spot of shopping. On his list? Cord for restringing blind, kettle descaler and those patches you iron on to trousers when the fabric wears thin.

”It’s hard to find this stuff locally any more,” moans the character, Tony Webster. ”Where I live, most of the useful little shops have long been turned into cafes or estate agents.”

Ditto. Where I live – a working-class suburb turned beachside resort south of Sydney – there are eight real estate agents, seven cafes and five Thai restaurants in a one kilometre stretch. Miraculously, the hardware store survives, jammed between designer boutiques and homewares stores.

If blind restringing cord sounds difficult, then try finding someone to repair a Parker pen. Or a cobbler. Not your shopping mall shoe repair man, but a skilled craftsman.

This is an edited extract of a story which appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald’s Spectrum on 28 December 2013. You can read the full story here.