I’ve seen the future, and it sucks. Westfield, the biggest in-city shopping mall in Europe, half a mile down the road, thanks. 265 shops, 50 places to eat. In the words of its website: ‘You’ve never seen anything like this in London before. A central Atrium the size of a football pitch, 16-metre wide malls fashioned from marble with decorative swirls of granite and an exclusive, boutique-style enclave devoted to luxury brands all combine to create a truly captivating experience. Once you’re here, you’ll never want to leave . . .’
For leave, read live. I went there today (because there’s a Foyles, and maybe they’d like to stock the locally produced CBe books) with an open mind, honest, because Hamish, my friend down the road who used to run a wine bar and then became a maths teacher, went there a week ago to buy a pair of socks and came back surprisingly even-tempered, not ranting at all. But it’s hideous. It’s cheap, it’s nasty, it’s almost as bad as Heathrow (it may be worse, I haven’t decided), it has that deadening over-warm used-air smell, and H&M (according to my son, who has a friend who works there) took in a quarter of a million on the opening day.
I’ve already done, in a column in my local paper, my grumpy-old-man piece about Westfield as a temple of consumerism, whose ruins will in a few thousand years inspire wacky theories about the civilisation that built it: liberty defined as the freedom to buy what you want, etc. So today no arguments, just horror.
And then, recovering (wine, cigarettes), I think of that American journalist who went to the Soviet Union in 1921 and said ‘I’ve seen the future and it works.’ He was wrong. That particular future killed its own people, millions of them. There are others.