Sunday, 20 May 2012

Shopping has changed: now it's all nipples, noise and, no, you're not a size 12

Shopping mall or should that be maul?
My 12-year-old daughter Katie is a lovely girl and I do not begrudge her chosen birthday outing of 'the shopping trip' at all, but retail has moved on and not in a good way if you ask me.

I used to be a champion shopper, traipsing for giddy hours in South Molton Street with my childhood friend Clare, but oh how things have changed.

Firstly, shops present obstacle courses where you have to work to even find, let alone make, your purchase. Secondly, shopping has become a national pastime with families going out for the day to wonder around and not necessarily buy anything, which is just weird. These new retail outlets have truly become the temples of Mammon where folk stand and gaze at endless choices displayed on tables of marble, lit by chandeliers worthy of the Moscow underground.

To me, shopping malls, even giant ones, are claustrophobic. I can't see the sun, which upsets me, and the recycled aeroplane air and hum of people, muzak and retail drowns my senses leaving me feeling tired before I have even started.

My daughter had been looking forward to this for weeks. Her best mate, Hassia, was to sleep over and then I would take them both to Westfield, Europe's largest mall I believe, where they would go off for a few hours and we would then meet for lunch. For Katie this was a rite of passage, for me it was all wrong.

I started off well, parking my filthy, garden waste-shifting car at a place in the car park where it would get cleaned, which seemed to add value to my time spent there. Then as we hit the mall proper and the girls went off, I was met by the realisation that I have forgotten how to do this. My life is so busy that I do most of the family shopping on line, at night or I dart into a single shop in between meetings to pick up underwear for the boys or a swimsuit for Kate etc. I cannot tell you how long it has been since I had time to wander and it felt like a waste of time, to be honest. I kept thinking of my allotment which needs sorting out and that granite path that needs laying in the back garden. But here I was, so gamely I tried a few things on, I do love clothes after all, only to find I had gone up a size, which is too much information to take in and move on from in a single morning, so morale remained low.

When we hooked back up, we had sushi, which was delicious, and then went back out there together. We went to Topshop three times as it turned out, where the music was so loud we couldn't hear each other speak and had to leave to exchange views on the jeans Katie wanted and eventually bought with her birthday money. On the third trip.

But Topshop was a breeze compared to places like Hollister or Gilly Hicks, which make you work really hard. Gilly Hicks had a bloke in his underwear standing outside flashing his extraordinary body to advertise the product and make every other bloke passing have dark and unkind thoughts about him. He reminded me of a modern version of the lifesize Indian statue that used to stand outside old fashioned tobacconists, though I don't believe we got to see his nipples. Walking around him to get in really challenged my Englishness, do I look? Say something? Is that a pistol in your pocket etc? No?

Then you go in, sometimes having had to queue just to get in, and it is so dark you can't see the stock and so loud you lose each other almost immediately. I'm not joking, I actually didn't buy my daughter a cardigan to go with a top for a family wedding because we couldn't see to work out if they were the same colour or not. In Hollister you have to queue for the changing rooms where you are locked in alone, which meant Katie, who is a very shy young lady, had to come out and show the queue as well as Hassia and me what her choices looked like. Then you have to queue for the till, which is flanked by leather armchairs populated by exhausted and wide-eyed parents contemplating their age and inability to understand what is going on, other than daylight, and I use the term advisedly, robbery, because none of this is cheap.

You then emerge back out into the mall to finally view what you have bought, like a sort of lucky dip, was it white after all or cream maybe?

Trying to get into the spirit of things and 'join in', I thought I would get my eyebrows threaded in one of the strange popup stalls conveniently situated so that folk having their lunch can watch you wince. Just when I thought morale couldn't get any lower, the lady who was sorting out my brows asked if she could do my top lip as well, which apparently was 'long'. I had to say yes as she seemed intent on her task and then leapt about in agony as my top lip was subjected for the first time ever to having the hairs pulled out of it.

When she was done and my mascara was dripping from my chin, I sat up and Katie screamed because I had reacted rather badly and my top lip in particular looked like John Major's with an angry shaving rash. "Great," said Katie, "Now we have to walk around with tomato-faced woman." I have long since stopped caring what other people think so advised her to pretend it wasn't happening which was how I was coping with the whole outing. She was not convinced.

Still the embarrassment of having to be seen with a strangely puce-faced middle-aged woman did mean I got to pick up my shiny car and go home sooner rather than later, which was a bonus. But now, clutching a cup of tea and staring at that garden path that needs laying, I am left wondering why people like malls? Even if you don't go there to self-harm as I did, why not shop in local boutiques and eat in local cafes where your digestive process is merely challenged by the sound of handfuls of other diners, not legions.

Still, I'm not 12 or even a size 12 as it turns out, so what do I know?

Remember, if you haven't already, please sponsor my 14-year-old son Sam whose epic bike ride to Paris is coming up in aid of Street Child Sierra Leone. Go to the link for details of how to support him. Thank you. 


  1. Brilliantly observed Allison. Just sorry you had to actually go through it! I think you might enjoy 'Wild' by Jay Griffiths -
    She splits the world into the 'settled' - shopping mall types - and the 'wild' - the other few of us.

  2. Thank you for that Ronnie, I shall look that reference up and even though I am not a natural camper and alarmingly relaxed in shops like Hermes (providing they are not in malls) I would definitely classify myself as a 'wild' person. I have long since believed that mental health can be measured by how much time you spend out of doors and since the age of 10 looked for and sometimes found splendid isolation.

  3. That was hilarious, Allison!! I feel your pain, so totally - hate Westfield and spent the first year in England explaining to significant members of the family/friends circle why it is NOT the 'cool'est use of my Saturday!!

  4. I really like to your new Shopping location. I think that, Its very big location as compare to previous location. Really here we can doing peaceful shopping.

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  5. I really happy for you new shopping mall but i dont like to doing shopping. Generally we know that we dont have time for doing shopping in the mall. So i always doing online shopping. Thanks for sharing.

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