Saturday, 30 January 2010

Are we really like this?

My wife and son are in France visiting her parents this weekend and so I had some time to myself. Ideally, I’d have liked to have gone back up to Wolverhampton and watch Wolves play, but they were playing away this weekend – in Hull of all places, which is far too far to go.

So instead I drove into Milton Keynes. It’s an odd sort of town. For those who don’t know or have never been, it’s unlike any other town in Britain in that it has no “historic” town centre. Most towns in the UK have a very clearly defined central area from which the rest of the town spreads organically. Take Northampton – where I live now – the centre is quite a nice place and the Guild Hall is a very fine building.

But because Milton Keynes is a “New Town” it was designed from the ground up to be car friendly and pedestrian friendly at the same time and it doesn’t have that ‘organic’ feel to it. The planners looked at other towns and decided that since they almost all have a shopping district at their heart, they’d put one in Milton Keynes. But in MK they simply built a shopping mall. The kind of giant indoor shopping mall that you normally see on the edge of most towns, not in the centre. So it has a strange feeling about it. Still, it was warmer in there than traipsing around Northampton or Kettering in the rain, so that’s where I went.

But as I wandered around The Centre:MK (good name for it, huh?) I got quite depressed about the state of our fine country. Why? Let me explain.

I felt a bit out of place as I wandered around, looking in the shops with no intention of buying, taking my time and just enjoying being out of the house. But I wasn’t enjoying it. The people around me made sure of that. Everyone was rushing from one shop to the next, jostling people who dared to want to occupy the same space as them, oblivious to everyone around them, intent on what they wanted.

I couldn’t help but get the impression that everyone, well, almost everyone, was so wrapped up in their own existence and own concerns (such as “Does this top look good on me”) that they wouldn’t noticed if a person not ten feet away from them was having a heart attack. Or they might have noticed but they certainly wouldn’t have offered to help – they might watch the show until they got bored with it, which would probably be a few minutes at most. I can hear it now - “Come on, let’s go get a McD’s, this is boring."

Have we really come to the point where all we care about is ourselves?

And it was people of all ages, not just “the kids”. Hell, I was jostled out of the way by a couple of middle-aged women because I was walking past the entrance to “Next” just as they wanted to go in. I could hear them ‘tut’ because I wasn’t walking fast enough for them.

And whatever happened to holding doors open for the people following you? No one seems to do that any more and people give you a funny look if you do.

Add to that the countless ‘clone’ teenage girls – all of them looking the same and walking around in pairs (threes at the most) with their GHD straightened hair, too much make-up and tight leggings.

I’m sorry, but the whole thing saddened me. It all seemed so… pointless. Hundreds if not thousands of people with such a pointless pursuit of what big business tells them they want.

Still, there were some things to brighten the heart. Like the woman sitting on a bench bouncing her baby on her knee, her face aglow with the unconditional love that only a parent knows. And the look of joy and absolute trust in its mother on the baby’s face. Or the toddler running towards its parents with its arms wide, relief at having ‘found’ them clearly evident.

Perhaps it’s me. Perhaps I’m an old cynic these days. Maybe I’ve forgotten what it’s like to actually care what brand of jeans I’m wearing or which logo is on my t-shirt. Or maybe… maybe it’s not.

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