July 22, 2007
If I’d have known I was to spend my Saturday off subjecting myself to Bluewater, I would have stayed in bed. Or even better, just gone to work.
What possessed me to brave the vast interior is beyond me, but it resulted in approximately twelve minutes of terror as I was faced with the task of finding my way out of Marks and Spencer.
One wrong turn later (possibly at the handbags), I resorted to following two women back from the “Blue Car Park” (how I ended up there, I don’t know) which would have looked worryingly suspicious if I had continued to follow them beyond the French Knickers.
After finally spotting the exit into the shopping centre somewhere in the distance, I made a beeline amongst the throngs of shoppers, near clambering over trolleys and buggies in my desperation to be free.
It occurred to me, as I burst out of the shop front, that all the people I had passed somehow managed to make shopping look important. Their faces had hard looks on them, eyebrows knit together in concentration and eyes staring straight ahead at symmetrical patterns as fingers inspected sleeves and seams.
Could it be that Bluewater isn’t a shopping experience, but is actually a career?
It baffled me as I wandered past clumps of fashion that I could only assume to be people and felt sorry for the kids that were being dragged about by their mums, looking gormless. The truth is, that glazed expression may have been down the fact that every child I saw was eating a pot of frozen yogurt (a.k.a ice cream). These kids weren’t awed, they were stoned on sugary goodness.
I suddenly realised that this was how you make shopping look important. Put on your best drags and don your only pair of Gucci or Dolce and Gabanna sunglasses, and walk about with stylish paper bags for hours on end, as if you’re strutting up and down a catwalk (at this point, it helps to forget that you’re still in Kent and not London). Additionally, if you have kids, save yourself the embarrassment of being a parent by drugging them with confectionaries. They’ll keep quiet and you’ll remain gorgeous.
Adding fuel to the fire are the people who work there. I wandered into the O2 shop to look at my next upgrade – the Samsung U600. Yes, it is a commodity, but if O2 are going to give me a brand new, up-to-date mobile phone for free every twelves months in return for the pathetic £20 a month I pay, then I’m allowed to gloat. Little did I know that as soon as I set foot into the laminate-clad store, I’d be quietly stalked. Observed as I fiddled with grubby looking handsets on patches of plastic grass. Circled. Smiled at. Pounced upon like I was a juicy lunchtime snack. Do they not feed these people? Perhaps they’re threatened with thumb-screws or The Rack if they fail to reach their sales targets. Either way, the staff are no doubt there to make this the most important purchase of your life. LG Shine, or Prada…
In that moment, I came to understand that I was a form of anti-christ to these people. Why? Because I’m the savvy shopper. I don’t need someone to tell me about phones, because I have the power of the interweb at my command (apart from when my router crashes). Review it online and then brave the outside world to feel it in your palm, with Anthropophobia being the price to pay for a near life time of being able to make your own informed decisions without ever having to interact with people.
I politely refused assistance (by avoiding eye contact) and left before Bluewater Security were alerted to someone not actually shopping, but god forbid – browsing.
I had only been at Bluewater for half an hour before I began feeling doubtful of my role in existence. Chatham High Street employs at least two hours to achieve this.
My day was spent dodging Professional Shoppers with their armfuls of bags and fistfuls of buggies, and queuing – on a day when the seventh Harry Potter had been released. What was I thinking? Why did I even dare to consider indulging my bibliophilistic tendencies in Waterstones when I knew it would be packed with eager fans?.
I had gone to meet a friend for the day. A good friend. Unfortunately, having to spend so much time weaving, waiting and working through what we could manage in the ways of conversation made me long for the orderliness and isolation of MSN.
Popular as it may be, Bluewater does little for real social connections and even less for someone who just wants to sit down to a cup of green tea and muse over the tranquility at the bottom.
Needless to say, I won’t be taking any of my friendships there again. Unless I want to destroy them, leaving them to drown and shatter upon the rocks of hyper-consumerism.