I've never really got on with shopping centres. I know it's hard to believe, slave to consumerism that I am, sitting here in my pink velour tracksuit with diamante dollar signs across the arse, but I would almost rather not shop at all than shop in a shopping centre. Even Brighton's Churchill Square, which is essentially the village post office of shopping centres, gets me a bit twitchy and flustered. If it wasn't for the soothing scent of Millie's Cookies being pumped out through the vents, I'd barely get past Whittards.
Reasons I don't enjoy shopping centres are largely concentrated on the following:
1. Dehydration. I don't think I have ever maintained a comfortable level of bodily water content whilst inside a shopping centre. They make you moderately sweaty, thirsty, and needing of the loo all at once. This is so that you buy carbonated beverages from any one of their numerous outlets, which we all know make you giddy to the point of wanting to spend £39.99 on a boxset of Rowan Atkinson classics in HMV. It's a scam. Carry your own bottle of weak lemon squash and beat the system.
2. Temperature confusion. The simple rule to remember is that if it is cold outside the shopping centre, it will be boiling hot inside and you will end up carrying your coat round like a cumbersome child. If it is hot outside, the shopping centre will be air conditioned into oblivion and necessitate the buying of jumpers.
3. Everything's a bit worse in a shopping centre. Nice restaurants suddenly look soulless and bland, overlooked by fake designer handbags and people getting fish pedicures. Hairdressers look like fluoro-lit hellmouths. Even Topshop loses its lustre. Without a breeze in your hair to remind you of the outside world, it just becomes so hard to know what you actually want. Lycra bodycon and heeled trainers might start to look appealing. You lose all sense of self.
But of course, the shopping centre that's got me thinking about how much I dislike shopping centres is the jaw-achingly massive new Westfield in Stratford, East London. Its opening a fortnight ago was the first big hoorah in the Olympic regeneration process (if we can't all be champion athletes, we can at least get our cardio wrestling for the last pleather satchel in a Primark the size of Rutland), and looks set to bring plenty of welcome jobs and pedestrian traffic to the area.
Aside from being baffled that it isn't called Eastfield, I haven't done a mad sprint over to its shiny, hallowed walls. I'm assuming it's probably very similar to the other, deservedly-named Westfield, which I went to for the first time only a couple of months ago. "I don't like shopping centres," I told people as they harped on about it. "You'll like this one!" they trilled. "No, really," I'd say. "They're hot and loud and often make me hate myself." "Not this one!" they'd cheerfully reply. "It's so big that you don't even know you're inside. It almost feels like… outside. But with shops."
So I went. And it is, I will grant you, very shiny. And very, very big. But I only got twitchy and flustered in proportion to its vastness, which means too twitchy and flustered to buy anything other than chilled drinks. And that Rowan Atkinson boxset.