A Love Letter to Westfield Shopping Centre
Hello, I'm Sophie Heawood, does my column need a title? If John Doran is MENK then I could be MILF. Or maybe MILF TEETH. I don't want motherhood to define me.
MILF TEETH #3: THE HEART WANTS WHAT THE HEART WANTS
I'm in Westfield, looking for something to buy that will permeate my soul. It's quite urgent, because investigations have been undertaken, and my soul has been found grubby and wanting. I'm on the run from my house, which is so dirty I can no longer meet its gaze. All my possessions are gradually dispersing across the floor, like a dispossessed people turning into a diaspora. This is not helped by a rampant toddler whose favourite game is finding lego or Nurofen or stilettos and inserting them into my knickers when I'm having a piss. And I'm on the run from my phone, with its little red voicemail dot that glares at me. You know that feeling, when there's someone in your house who you can't quite look at over breakfast, because last night you dreamt that you gave them a blowjob, and you found you really enjoyed it, and then in the cold light of day you realise it isn't appropriate, because they're your mum? That's how I feel when I see a phone with voicemail on it. That symbol nags at me daily, dully, as if there were mildly irritated elves permanently crouched just outside my front door. Why can't people send texts for me to anxiously ignore instead?
And then there's my hair. Someone I once lived with owned a shouty self-help book called NOBODY IS COMING TO SAVE YOU. I need them to write a sequel called NOBODY IS COMING TO WASH YOU urgently. Until then, I have a credit card (buy now, pay endlessly) and a day off from my small child, who has actually enjoyed learning to walk through a house of obstacles, as it's good training for a) Total Wipeout and b) landmines.
And so I get the train for a couple of stops and arrive at my holy place in the east, beside the Olympic Stadium. My cathedral of fluorescent lighting and flattering mirrors, my spiritual catheter: Westfield. This is my favourite place in London, possibly the world. I even came here for the grand opening, which was so crowded it made it look like the marketing people for the Nuremberg Rallies weren't really trying. The only problem is that I don't know what to buy. The heart wants what the heart wants, they say, but what if you don't know what that is? In my experience, the heart wants what the heart has most recently had, and found to be warm, and then later been denied after a frustrating period of indecision followed by a couple of really lame texts. But this isn't love! This is a Retail Experience.
Anyway, inside the shopping centre there is no dirt because there are no pavements, just shining marble surfaces and toilets fashioned from plastic gold. There are people speaking Portuguese and Cantonese and Farsi, and women in hijabs and men in skull caps, and teenagers in fur-lined puffa jackets, all happily ignoring each other. It's the great melting pot of mutual indifference – well, it's not so much a pot. It's a melting foodhall. It's a melting microwave.
There's a John Lewis full of pre-feminist kitchenware and dressing gowns. There's the Greggs that thinks it's a continental patisserie, the Lloyds TSB that thinks it's a nightclub with rave neon cash machines, the Foyles bookshop that's just getting off on mixing with the wrong crowd. There's a River Island with its Tweet Mirror – a mirror in the changing room that takes a picture of you and sends it to your social networking accounts. Westfield is the opposite of avant-garde, and I used to play the African thumb piano in an improv krautrock collective, so believe me, I know.
"I don't understand why they've got so many fucking food shops in one place," says a woman staring accusingly at Spud-U-Like, a chain the rest of us believed to have gone down with Gorbachev. And her friend says "It's GOOD, man." And then her friend drinks her McDonald's coffee and says, "Michael is the love of my life. I'm 33. I've put my life on hold for him, so much other guys have said, like, 'I like you.' And he just thinks me and him is a joke." She looks relieved to be stuck with Michael, without Michael. Because the heart wants three years of pretending that things are going to be different when that guy puts his hands in the air and says "Game up! I always loved you! I've been boning my way through all your Facebook friends just to get to you!" And maybe that's why the heart wants to be among the chainstores, that are always different, but always the same. And why people are lying when they say they don't want to get on a train to Glasgow or Swansea or Nottingham and see every high street looking the same, like a big cheery mouth with brand name teeth in it. Maybe it's nice to get off a train to anywhere and walk among your brand name friends.
(Best people I ever saw in Westfield: two girls, on the cusp of adolescence, who rushed through the entrance into the throng, one of them shouting aloud "We're LESBIANS and we're OUT and we're PROUD!" And the other one said to her, "But we're not lesbians.")
And then my excitement peaks in Build-a-Bear Workshop, where I find myself propelled, even without a child. You could argue that there are enough bears in the world already – that the EU quota has been exceeded, the bear seas have been overfished. But who could resist the chance to choose the skin of their bear? That's what they call it – the "skin" – you choose one from a selection and then you record a sound on a computer that will be embedded into the bear's heart. So you can make a bear that says "Hello, you fat fuck" in Mummy's voice every time your little darling rubs its tummy. And then you feed the skin and the noise into a massive machine that has fluffy cloud mixture floating around inside it, and has a sign on it saying "HEART STUFF – LOVE IS THE STUFF INSIDE". And the bear comes to life, for this is how ursine reproduction works in the kingdom of capitalist moonfuckery.
And then, like someone who feels the call of the wild on Boxing Day, I find myself in Next. Trying on a striped neon onesie. Next! I lived in Shoreditch during the nu-rave wars, I don't need to source my neons at Next! It costs 20 quid and it makes me look like a mental. It doesn't even fit, I've picked up a size small and I'm struggling to get it off my legs again. My heart starts racing. Will this be it, I think? Will this be how our lord takes me – a coronary in the changing room at Next, dressed like a clown who's been doing some supply teaching to fund her ketamine habit? I finally make it out of that cubicle, and I celebrate by going straight to the cashpoint and buying it. That night I sleep in it. By February, I will be living in the onesie.
And I'll be buying Aztec print harem pants in River Island. I'll be at Lakeland, stocking up on microwave-proof Tupperwares, and I haven't even got a microwave. I'll be in John Lewis, having a retail experience on the sofabeds, none of which will ever look quite right in my living room, my fractured belief system, or my life. And I'll be building bear after bear after bear. I think I've worked it out now. The heart wants what the heart can feed into a big fat cloud machine.
Follow Sophie on Twitter: @heawood
Previously – I Don't Want to Stay at Home Tonight