Keep it Local

What kind of environment would we like generations to come to inherit? Do we even care about the world that we will no longer inhabit?

In a week that has seen a brand, spanking new shopping centre opening amidst much celebration in large city in the North of the UK I cannot help but heave a weary sigh. This has all happened before. In the 80s there was an explosion of shopping centres, vaunted as exciting, innovative temples to consumerism and incorporating restaurants, cinemas-even an indoor theme park with fairground rides [at The Metro Centre, Gateshead].

The UK is entering an era of financial uncertainty. Many areas of trade, finance and employment are already showing signs of slowing and inflation is set to rise after a long, settled period. You have to wonder why anyone would view a large, new shopping centre as a good idea.

My own, subjective, personal view of shopping centres is that they do not represent [as one of the instigators of the Leeds structure suggested] an ‘experience’:

“You can’t just build the same environments you’ve done for the last 15 years,” he says, “you have to create places that people want to touch, want to feel, want to be in. The retail is almost secondary. Experience is everything.”

The retail is almost secondary? Why go then? And what does he mean by ‘spaces that people want to touch, want to feel’? I am imagining crowds of shoppers, bags in one hand, the other feeling along the walls outside the shops or perhaps bending to pat the shiny floors. I can think of more uplifting ways to ‘experience’. Why not visit an art gallery or a museum? Better still, go outside and walk-in a park or along a canal tow path, or across a field.

I can’t remember when I’ve ever spent an entire day at a shopping centre. These days I take the view that if I can’t find what I’m looking for in an hour I won’t bother. And when I shop I don’t want to run the gauntlet of endless traffic to be enclosed in an emporium consisting of malls, escalators and mile upon mile of over-lit, over-heated, stuffy shops. I may want to visit a couple of shops, but not to be stifled. I want to go outside between one shop and another. I don’t want to spend hours trundling up a multi-story carpark ramp attempting to find a space and then not be able to locate my car again afterwards [or even remember which storey it is on].

Not everyone is fortunate enough to live where they can walk to buy items they need and not everyone is willing to do so, but in these times of increasing traffic and pressure on our economy shouldn’t we be looking to work, shop and pursue leisure activities in our local areas?

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                I’m not sure of the exact meaning of ‘broadening’ the mind, but if it has something to do with stuffing facts, experience, skills and knowledge into it then it must be true that travel does this. But to learn anything by travelling I don’t feel it is necessarily a requirement to trek into the Antarctic, to climb Everest, canoe up the Amazon or swim with dolphins in Florida. While it is desirable to wander far and wide, I think it is entirely possible to broaden the mind with a simple stroll around the block, whether your neighbourhood is a suburban housing estate or the village green. All you need is to be naturally nosy and have voyeuristic tendencies.

                To wander an area on foot, wherever it is, presents a multitude of questions. Who lives here? How do they earn a living? What do they do in the evenings? How do they travel? What kind of tastes do they have? Where did they get their kitchen units? Do they garden? What do they grow? What on earth made them choose to paint the front door cerise? Why do they have net curtains? Why don’t they have net curtains?

                It is helpful to anyone wishing to pry if the subjects have neglected to pull the curtains and left all the lights on. I love this. I especially love the basements of residential London streets, where they may have converted the space into a kitchen or a living area or a playroom, a library or a dungeon.

                We have travelled more ‘on our own doorstep’ here in the UK than in any year I can remember since I was a child. This is in part due to family events, of which there seem to have been many and divers, and also due to the summer weather, the first for many years not to be beset with rain, wind and low temperatures. We have visited all four parts of The British Isles.

                The British countryside is beautiful. The trees, especially are graceful, majestic giants in full leaf and laden with their seeds or fruits.

                We are in the Yorkshire dales in the aftermath of a family gathering; staying on the periphery of a small market town, where many of the homes’ entrances open directly on to the street, their windows allowing plenty of nosing to take place. As we walk I conduct a casual survey of the inhabitants’ attitudes to tourists’ prying eyes. Many have wisely installed blinds or net curtains, but some provide ready-made interest in the form of a display; shelves of antique toys, a beautiful plant, a revolving glass mobile, a partly written love poem in an ancient type writer.

                The spell has broken and it is raining, reverting to summer as we have come to know it. In a couple of weeks school will be in and it will be time to head south in search of warm weather without the hoards. Next month, Southern Europe. Santé!