SEASON OF EXCESS HARD TO SWALLOW
WHAT follows here should be whispered rather than printed in a newspaper, but here we go anyway.
You may have read the glad tidings of great joy about a whopping new shopping centre for Swindon getting the go-ahead.
The North Star Village project in Swindon has just got planning permission. It will have half-a-million square feet of shopping, eating and various leisure stuff. Using the standard journalistic comparisons it will be about the size of eight football pitches, but less than the size of Wales. It’s not a village (a village has a church, pub, pond and primary school), but never mind.
Here’s the bit that needs to be whispered: do we need more shops and places to eat?
We run the risk of each of us becoming the size of whales (the animal, not the country, though who knows…) if we keep stuffing our fat faces at our current rate. And although shopping won’t make us fat, and sometimes one needs to shop, such as when one runs out of socks, baked beans or cat food, it’s become an addiction.
Scientists have monitored shopaholics and found that, as they shop, their brains release internal happy chemicals called endorphins and dopamine. The feeling is such fun that we want to do it again, and again, and again. It is believed that more than one in ten of us could be hooked in this way. We can, of course, get the same chemicals through other activities, such as exercising (and the North Star is going to have two ski slopes, so that’s a start).
But if we’re not going shopping because we need a fix, then apparently we need to go anyway because it’s our patriotic duty.
If project fear/reality (delete according to preference) is true, then the economy is in for a nasty postBrexit shock, and all we can do is shop to keep the broken wheels of commerce turning.
We’ll be handed medals as we leave North Star with our bulging bags of things that some of us couldn’t afford in the first place.
The shops are packed for Christmas, but Rob Campbell says the contrast between the haves and have-nots is stark
Traitors like me will be sent back inside to buy more, and more, before being allowed to leave. Either way, we can’t stop shopping.
It is, of course, at this time of year as predictable as indigestion to complain about excess, but it’s good to get a moan in early.
Within three weeks we’ll have wrapped and unwrapped yet more stuff that we might either want or need but probably not both and maybe neither.
We’ll each have eaten a turkey the size of our heads and while we’re washing down the lonely, chewy, yellow Quality Street abandoned at the bottom of the box, with a pint of value Baileys substitute, the adverts will come on the telly urging us to get out and buy more of whatever it is we could mostly live without.
The excess is even harder to bear this year because the contrast between those with too much and those without enough is so stark.
You can see it everywhere, and now you can see it while shopping, which is apt.
At the weekend, smiling staff at my local Tesco, in festive garb, were urging shoppers to donate to the food bank and everyone looked more than happy to oblige. It felt quite Christmassy, and sat well with the festive muzak in the background about goodwill to all men.
Collecting for food banks is without doubt a good thing, but at Tesco it came with the kind of happy-tohelp vibe that was previously reserved for helping those who had just suffered awful bad luck: orphans, victims of terrible diseases and accidents, lost dogs, redundant donkeys.
By contrast, at Tesco, and other supermarkets, we’re collecting to help people who are grindingly poor for a bundle of reasons, some of which are preventable in a better managed country.
Food poverty is not a natural occurrence, like some diseases, or dogs running off. Some of it can be prevented, and we know that because it didn’t used to happen. In the very ordinary street I grew up in during the 1960s and ’70s some people were hard-up, but few went hungry, and maybe it was the same for you.
Perhaps every time we hand over a packet of soup to the charity we ought to also ask ourselves – or even better, an MP – how it got like this and why it’s not being fixed.
And finally, if you think I’ve written all this just to persuade my wife that I am ideologically opposed to doing the Christmas shopping and that she should do it instead, then shame on you.
London’s Oxford Street is packed with Christmas shoppers