They’ve built a great big new shopping whatsebob in the middle of Bristol called Cabot Circus. It’s really quite beautiful though empty because everyone is at the Banksy exhibition.
Before Cabot Circus stole its crown the pride of Bristol shopping was a three-level indoor job called The Galleries. In a misguided attempt to fight back The Galleries has recently rebranded itself 'The Mall.' I went into 'The Mall' on Saturday morning and it was a bleak experience. Something called Head has taken over what used to be Zavvi (and before that Virgin Megastore) to sell off all the stock at bargain basement prices.
In Head I had a moment of crisis. I was stacking up the CDs and DVDs in a kind of buying frenzy (£4 for Tom Waits, £3 for Van Morrison) when I had a sudden flashback to my student days. Back then buying a CD was a big deal. I worked through the summer holidays and allowed myself just one weekly luxury: on my day off I would cycle to Barnstaple and buy a CD from Our Price. It would cost between £14 and £16 and I would agonise over the choice, then take the prize home in triumph and excitement. I would absorb every note, study the lyrics and place the case carefully in my small collection. That was only fifteen years ago but it was a different world. No mobile, no Ipod, never used the internet. Grabbing handfuls of CDs in Head stands in the same relation to those Our Price purchases as an All-You-Can-Eat-for-a-Fiver buffet does to fine dining: gluttonous, desperate, cheaply decadent.
In 'The Mall' Woollies has still not been replaced so the prime location sits empty. I don’t know what they’ve done to WH Smiths lately but it’s nasty; in fact, it’s turning into Woollies. The High Street clothing retailers are trying to be as cheap as the supermarkets but also pretend that their stuff is superior. Waterstones is hanging on there somehow but on Amazon you can buy nearly any book for a penny plus postage, which also takes the fun out of bookhunting.
It’s not just recession, it’s fin de siècle. Sous les pavés, la plage. Buying stuff isn’t fun anymore. I think I might try to work out how to do gardening and what have you. Something tells me we all need to reconnect with the soil.