During the nine years I was living in Essex, Bristol garnered itself another mega shopping mall - Cabot Circus. To build it a lot of the 1950's monstrosity that was Broadmead was demolished and this paen to consumerism rose from the ashes. I suppose it's nice enough as shopping malls go - it certainly has some very high-end shops in it like Harvey Nicks as well as every High Street name you can shake a stick at. It is light and airy and has a mega Showcase cinema and lots of restaurants on the top floor. On Saturday (as part of my nephew's 10th birthday bash) I visited it for only the second time (well, there might have been a brief third occasion but I was only looking for a loo that time.)
We had a very nice meal in an Italian restaurant with nine or so 10 / 11-year-old boys who mostly behaved themselves very well, plus a couple of Mummys, me (the token auntie) and Mum - in her role as Grandma, of course. The restaurant was fairly quiet with plenty of space to enjoy ourselves. Outside, though, the story was entirely different. It is a very, very long time since I have seen so many people all hell bent on such an astonishing display of consumerism. People didn't just have one carrier bag of new items, they had whole armfuls. There were groups, families, couples, singles - all trotting off across the weirdly-shaped bridge (famous for inducing feelings of dizzyness and fainting) back to the multi-storey mega-sized car park eager to store their mahoosive amounts of new purchases in the boots of their cars and then join the ginormous queue of traffic exiting the Circus.
I have to say the whole experience of so much shopping and spending by so many people left me feeling rather unsettled. I know it's probably me who was the odd one out there on Saturday (though neither Mum nor my sister ever go near the shops in Cabot Circus either), and I do realise that we need to have people spending in order to get our stagnant economy moving again. Plus, I know full well that if people didn't spend lavishly and buy new items then there would be very little to be found later in the second-hand market. It really felt to me that these people, with their armfuls of carrier bags, were treating their whole shopping experience like some kind of religion - and if that is what makes them happy then good luck to them. I'm sure most of those at Cabot Circus on Saturday wouldn't enjoy a grotty old charity shop or a good rummage round a jumble sale - it's horses for courses. But retail shopping as an Olympic sport? - no thanks, not for me.