I often wonder what’s going on in this country. I mean, what’s really going on.
In one section of today’s paper I glumly absorb the news that world stock markets are crashing, dragged down by the debt crisis in the Eurozone; that the British economy is stagnating; that unemployment continues to grow alarmingly; and that the unions are threatening public disobedience campaigns to protest against job cuts.
Gloom slugging it out, bare-knuckled, with Doom. Whatever is to become of us all?
And then, in an afternoon paper, I read this: “Tens of Thousands Storm New Shopping Mall”.
Westfield, a retail property developer, has opened a huge shopping mall in Stratford, in the East End, close to the Olympic Stadium. The new mall, one of Europe’s biggest, is a sister to the one Westfield built a couple of years ago across town in Shepherds Bush. The hysteria that accompanied that event was repeated today in Stratford, one of London’s supposedly deprived areas, often painted in the media as a wasteland of low-income housing, high crime and rising unemployment.
Shoppers slept on the doorstep overnight, determined to be among the first to rush in to pick up the bargains on offer, and at 8.30 this morning tens of thousands swept through the doors in a frenzied stampede. First, though, they had to endure a ‘star-studded, red-carpet’ opening ceremony, presided over by television presenters, and including a performance by singer Nicole Scherzinger.
Many of the shoppers, the article noted, were students. Some were interviewed. One young lady had £400 to spend. A store named Forever 21 was her principal target, she volunteered. Another girl had her mother’s credit card. “I don’t think there’s a limit,” she chortled. Imran Chowdhury, 24, said “I have got a budget of £1,000 which I think I’ll spend a lot of in the Apple store….. I wanted to go to the casino but I don’t think it is open yet.”
Student! One thousand quid! Apple! Casino!
Hang on a minute. Did I not read, not so many months ago, that thousands of students had taken to the streets of London to protest increases in university fees. Feelings ran high, we were informed. Amid scenes of mob violence, policemen, students and bystanders were injured. Dozens were arrested. Prince Charles and Camilla were assaulted in their car on the way to an evening at the theatre.
Two stories, side-by-side – national economic crisis and East End shopping orgy – startlingly at odds.
There is probably an explanation. I just don’t want to imagine what it is.