Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Misery Mall

If you had to guess where to find the UK’ s largest man-made dome (after St. Paul’s Cathedral), you probably wouldn’t bother to look in Dumplington, Greater Manchester. And how about the world’s largest chandelier? Yep. Dumplington again. But, if you want to see them for yourself, don’t bother to try to find the place. Ask instead for ‘The Trafford Centre’, where both these wonders are incorporated into a huge, eponymous out-of-town shopping mall which has dominated the area since 1998.  Dumplington, a hamlet first recorded in 1225, has been elbowed aside by the massed ranks of our national retail outlets, its lowly brand dumped in favour of one which has more worldwide recognition.

I went there to gawp when it first opened for business, and I returned recently to make sure that I really wasn’t missing out on a wonderful shopping experience, but I suppose that depends on what your parameters are. Certainly, the place is impressive in its lavish ornamentation. It is full of statues, murals, columns, marble staircases and gold leafed adornments, yet it felt to me that I was the only one taking notice of them. The people I observed were resolutely focused on shop windows that could have been lined up in a giant tin shed. Maybe they were regular visitors who had become blasé about the grandeur of the place. Maybe the grandeur seeps into their consciousness, working its magic in subtle ways, elevating the spirit and loosening the purse strings.

Anyway, it was coffee time, and there were so many establishments to choose from that Carluccio’s were advertising reduced prices. Refreshed by a very good, reasonably priced cappuccino, I walked methodically through the mall, trying to maintain an open mind and some of the curiosity which had sent me there in the first place. About fifteen minutes later my resolution began to wane, and I started to fantasise about being back in the city centre. I passed a grandmother, mother and daughter, all sitting together on a bench outside Thornton’s. They were staring into space while they ate their way through a box of chocolates. It was 10.30 in the morning. I needed to split.

The bus dropped me back into the city centre, and I walked the long way round, through all the back streets. Here are the second hand book stalls, the ‘adult’ shop, the army surplus store, the vinyl shops and all the scuzzy characters that inhabit and frequent them. The Big Issue sellers never seemed so welcoming, and the buzz of city life never so intense. The shiny, expensive mall, with its army of minders could never be home to all this. I felt cheerful again, stimulated by an environment which has an edge, and encouraged by the diversity and energy of human endeavour. Like I said, it depends on what your parameters are.

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