I am not a misogynist, not in the least. I happen to adore strong women. I say they can do what ever they like and want. But when it comes to shopping, it is mostly women who rule. There may be all kinds of explanations for this rationale. I’ve heard plenty. And I’ve witnessed first-hand the results of such activity. When I want something (notice I didn’t say need), I go into a shop and get it. When my best friend does the same, we are in one shop after the other trying to find that right what ever it is. Often, we leave empty-handed as nothing satisfies.
I shall not labour the point. It just is. A fact of life….in the West anyway. Wherever there is money to spend, shopping is carried out. Not always on a grand scale, but always happening. Most shopping is desire. I may not like the act of looking and wandering through a mall for eons, but when I’m there, my desire for this or that article is heightened. Need flies out the window and want takes over. Malls are built for just that purpose. Not only to keep consumers dry, but to gather all that glitters under one roof thereby ensnaring us and enticing us endlessly.
Such a place is the Bluewater Shopping Centre in Greenhithe, Kent. When I returned to England after a 50 year hiatus, I needed to find work. That came in the form of a music shop opening up in Bluewater. The shopping centre opened in 1999 and was still pretty new in 2006. Bluewater was the third largest mall in Europe at the time and was, for a few years, the largest in the UK. Owned by a consortium of business ventures, Bluewater promises everything and delivers, well, more shopping. 330 shops on two levels shaped in a triangle. Ever evolving (the rents are astronomical for retailers) with everything the consumer needs from entertaining the kids to a recently added events centre that holds the most boring events you could imagine. That’s right….you imagine because the folks who run the place have no imagination.
But, for 2 years it was my workplace as I said and I am thankful to the owner of that shop who gave me my first job in England. I have to go on record as saying I hate retail. Working retail that is. Didn’t matter what kind of shoes I wore, my feet ached from about an hour into my shift to the end. And the public? Don’t get me started. Who ever said England was the land of manners never worked in retail. Mind you, some were courteous, I have to say that. But you only remember the nasty ones and we had plenty of those. I worked with a great staff, all much younger and Metalheads all. I was the only Classic Rock enthusiast and ridiculed for it. One went as far to say that Clapton is rubbish. Nearly came to blows over that. I daren’t ever mention Folk.
One rule of thumb that ought always to be followed. Never put a music shop in a mall. Doesn’t work. Rarely at any rate. Consumers don’t come to buy guitars. They come to follow their wives or sweethearts around while they shop. That’s why Bluewater has a preponderance of shoe, clothing, lingerie and housewares shops. The music shop was there to entertain burned-out hubbies and boyfriends who needed a place to get away from the rigours of shop hopping. The men came in, looked, chatted about their musical experiences and left. Lots of name-dropping. No purchases….not allowed. Mums came in with kids to buy starter kits. That’s where the business was. Leading up to Christmas was the best time. The rest of the year was a wasteland of beleaguered men looking for refuge.
My best friend worked there too, but way in the background, checking in deliveries and such. Sometimes we’d have lunch together and sit in the mall, eating our Boots lunch specials (Boots is a pharmacy and more for those North American cretins who are uncultured) and watching shoppers drift about, looking haggard and very often overwhelmed. We tried to eat outside when the weather was good. This is England remember. But on a nice day everyone else had the same idea and it was hard to find places to sit outdoors. So we’d head to the lakes.
Bluewater is constructed in an old chalk quarry. White cliffs of chalk surround the mall and lakes line the perimeter. Wildlife abounds, everything from fish to a swan affectionately known as Psycho….for reasons you can imagine. He rules the waves. Still, it’s a pleasant walk around the lakes on a nice day. For a while you might have had to avoid gangs of roaming anti-social youths, but what I like to label as sociopaths. That was cleaned up in a hurry. It really is like a little bit of countryside in the midst of hedonism. Then it was back to our respective shop and office to do battle with the shoppers and the drivers.
Neither of us work there now. I have my own business. My best friend works in the city. But from time to time we find ourselves back at the centre, either to see a movie or have dinner. We meet up with old friends occasionally too. So we become part of the throng that gathers daily in these hallowed halls of economic escapism. Once in a while, a long while, we might buy something. Rarely. During the global recession we noticed a number of shops closed. Some small companies do what is known as a runner to those who operate Bluewater. Gone like a wisp in the middle of the night, lock, stock and merchandise. The centre tries to put on a bold face by tarting up the closed space’s window with colourful banners promising better things to come and advertising other places to eat and spend money. A never-ending story.
I noticed in a very recent visit that the old place (16 years now) was looking tired. It rained while I was there (it is England after all) and the waters poured in on one poor group of diners at an indoor alfresco restaurant. The roof leaks. been a problem for years and getting worse. The air conditioning unit needs changing. The whole place needs a pick-me-up. Even the chalk walls are beginning to crumble. All this rain (it is England after all). But to its credit, the old place battles on ever deeper into the 21st century, looking for new ways (sooner than later we hope) to reinvent itself. There will always be shoppers and so there shall always be a Bluewater. But please, no music shop, unless it’s strictly used as a way station for embattled men. No purchase necessary. Just tell your good stories. I have a few too.