Today, we did something we’d never done before. We went to the Traffic Centre on a Sunday afternoon.
It was a bit peculiar. The Traffic Centre is really the only full-scale shopping mall in the North West, and as a result, it gets very busy. We go very, very rarely – partly because it’s thirty miles away, partly because we don’t really like shopping, partly because we have two kids to make shopping an even more unpleasant experience, and partly because we don’t really like other people much, and there are usually a lot of them there.
As a result, on the couple of occasions a year that we DO go, it tends to be evenings, or mornings, or some other time calculated to be fairly quiet, and it tends to be with the aim of achieving a specific goal as quickly as possible, and then escaping.
Today was slightly different. We’d actually gone for the food – we’d landed up in Warrington (which is half-way there), we needed some lunch, and it seemed like the best option. We knew that Sunday is a busy day in such places, and we were expecting it to be busy, but we weren’t quite expecting the sense of culture shock.
The place was crawling with people. They were all holding plastic carrier bags full of stuff. None of them looked happy. Within minutes of entering the building, we’d already heard two very unhappy children wailing, and whilst one was out of sight, the other upset me because he was only a baby, and he just wanted someone to pick him up, but nobody would. Actually, the happiest-looking family we saw were taking photos of themselves, posing in front of… the shops. Not even the big fountain, or the statues, just themselves, leaning against the balustrade of the balcony, in front of the shops.
It felt very odd. It felt like we’d walked into a closed community, full of rites and rituals that we, mere outsiders, couldn’t hope to understand. And the more people I saw, the more they seemed to be scurrying about like lab-rats – not going anywhere, not achieving anything, but never daring to stop.
I knew I wasn’t a particularly materialistic person, and I think I probably knew that I was becoming less so with age (and, let’s be honest, with the comfort of knowing I already had most of the Stuff I felt I needed – it’s easy to be snobby about consumerism once you’ve already stocked up). But I never expected to find the Traffic Centre so shocking in it’s total and uncompromising glorification and worship of the Accumulation of Stuff.
I asked Kevin how all those people found the money to keep going back so often, and buying so much – surely they’re not all tumbling into an abyss of credit card debt? I mean, I know that far too many people are, and I don’t, generally, blame them nearly as much as I blame the society that seems to coerce them into it, but surely not all of them? And even if they had the money in the bank, why on earth would you keep going back there, to spend more and more of it, on less and less?
It made me sad. It made me uncomfortable. It made me a little angry – consumerist culture is conspiring to dupe people into thinking that the purchase of stuff is going to make their lives better, and it NEVER EVER DOES. I felt like I’d stumbled into a huge, destructive cult, and that only I, the outsider, could see it for what it was – but just like with a cult, my clarity of vision would carry no weight with the insiders, precisely because I didn’t belong.
I’ve really never felt like that before, about something so inane and ubiquitous as shopping. It was a very odd thing.
Still, Daisy managed to accidentally Stick it To the Man – she pulled an entire shelf of merchandise ( which should have been screwed to the bracket, but wasn’t) onto the floor, with a very impressive crash, and was lucky not be underneath it when it landed. Apparently, she was trying to reach the windmills…
I’m getting more and more minimalist. I keep looking around my house, and wanting to streamline it, declutter it, make it less hard work to look at it. The couple across the road redecorated their living room recently, and when they leave the curtains open in the early evening, we can see how calm and simple and tidy and EMPTY it looks. And it makes me want to go and live there.