Glasgow, Scotland, UK • May 2014 • Length of Read: 3 Minutes
On a crisp Sunday morning’s stroll along the well-trodden cobbles of Maastricht, I couldn't help but be amazed as to the tranquillity and beauty of it all. If this city were a restaurant, critics would be quick to complement its ‘heartfelt ambience’. Pacing the streets of Glasgow two years later, following my stint living in the southernmost Dutch province, I reminisce back to these times, the accompanying emotions lost for reasons scarily apparent.
The tranquillity, I believe, primarily came from the welcome absence of the horn honking symphonies permeating from monstrous multi-story car parks. Instead, this had been replaced by the rather more pleasant spring-chirping of Dutch wildlife. The beauty not only pertained to the cultural landscape - brought to life by the basilica spires and Roman architecture fortressed within medieval walls - but from the vibes emanating from the locals. The vox populi laugher of Pickwickian residents, shooting the breeze in one of the main square’s numerous independent cafes, was music to the ears that could only have been rivalled by the orchestral talents of Andre Rieu, the city’s favourite son.
Transport forward to present day Buchanan Street however, Glasgow’s premier shopping real estate, and a scene from Shawn of the Dead presents itself; overweight shopaholics and Saturday night’s walk-of-shame residue creeping in their swarms from shop to shop. This is sound-tracked not only by the aggression of angry motorists, but by the endless slurping of 480 calorie grande-chi-cinnamon-mocachinnos - 55% of an adult's GDA saturated fat intake. "But it's OK", you envisage them protesting, "I've requested they use skimmed milk." Well congratulations. Good for you. I think that the council could put taxpayers’ money to great use by purchasing additional street-sweepers with which to vacuum up these degenerates. At 11am every weekend, the kerb crawler's flashing amber lights would be a warning beacon for culprits to either leg-it or be collected like refuse; dumped into landfill sites among all the crap they probably used to own before questioning, in a rare moment of sanity: “Why the fuck do I have this?”
Daily, thousands of people return from the shops with piles of shit they will never use and never really wanted in the first place; suckered in by discount stickers, multi-buy savings and in-store promotions. Linda from customer sales saying that your life would be drastically improved if only you owned a Remington NE3150 Nose and Ear Trimmer, or a Black & Decker X500 Surface Patio Cleaner, is not an excuse to stick one in the shopping basket. Consume. Consume. Consume. Same cheques we’re always cashing, to buy a little more distraction. Worst of all, everyone appears to be in a sense of urgency over the matter, panic buying as if the government has re-introduced rationing and their book coupons are about to expire. As they 'make it rain' on cash registers, I ask myself: How did society end up like this?
Nothing ever appears to be closed in the British Isles, like we are scared someone will chuck the keys into the Channel once we've locked the door. Should one be awoken from a sweaty nightmare at two in the morning with the urge to purchase a new chrome toaster and matching pedal bin, they would merely need to glance out the window for the closest neon sign polluting the starless sky. 24/7 shopping – maximizing the time available to purchase the shit you don’t need, to impress the people you don't like.
Next time you're walking through the town centre, stop for a moment and take in the people sharing your space. Armies of clones can be seen marching military style from window to window, uniformed in this season's latest trends. The mannequins behind the glass may as well be reflections in a mirror, those on the street already carbon copies of these dolls. But the shoppers are still not fulfilled, so they carry on, stooped not only by the weight of carrier bags but in a deliberate effort to avoid any eye-contact with strangers; seemingly repelled by one another like a defective leper colony. Never has the population appeared so aesthetically similar, but so individually alone. How did society end up like this?
Waiting for the train, I grab a juice and involuntarily slip back to that fresh morning in Maastricht. Here there is no such travesty and commotion, just the odd bus load of pensioners disembarking for a glimpse of the surroundings and some tea and scones. Content in the clothes they are wearing. After retailers’ shutters are rolled down on a Saturday evening here, doors remain firmly locked until Monday afternoon. The same goes for supermarkets, which also close at 5:30pm every week night. Cafes and restaurants take centre stage; time spent relaxing with friends and family prioritising all forms of consumerism. People truly happy in their own (well-worn) shoes. Why couldn't our society have ended up like this?