The Metro Centre in Gateshead is a strange sort of place. Heralded as ‘Europe’s largest shopping mall’, whether that is still the case i’m not sure, it is packed with a variety of shops and restaurants and is the ideal place to flex your consumer tumor. I myself have always found it to offer a heady mix of depression and terror.
I recall one particular visit with my mother, I must have been a teen or thereabouts. After an exhaustive hour or two of zigzagging from one boutique to another we decided food was what was needed and settled on a Chinese buffet style restaurant. A greeter girl watched our approached and with each step towards her, her smile widened. Once we were within acceptable greeting distance the crazed Orwellian ear-to-ear grimace did nothing to distract from the ‘dear god, save me’ desperation beamed towards us from the whites of her eyes.
We were offered a choice of seating, indoor or outdoor. This confused me greatly as, for those not familiar with the Metro Centre, it is an entirely indoor affair. I could only assume she was referring to the tables placed outside the storefront on a raised stage only six inches higher than the rest of the walkway. Just high enough for every Tom, Dick and Bellend to have a good nose at your dinner. We agreed to the alfresco experience. Not least of all because it allowed us partake in our shared passion of people watching.
And that’s when it struck me. Maybe it was the greeter girl and her infectious, chirpy horror or maybe not but I was suddenly overcome by the feeling that I was a survivor of some non-specific Armageddon. It all seemed to fit. The greeter girl’s existential dread. The scores of other ‘survivors’ following their lazy arched paths from shop to shop under fluorescent light. The chipboard and plaster Romanesque pillars that clearly bore no structural weight. The scene was almost complete. All it needed was a hazmat clothed, assault rifle toting guard at each door and the faint waft of elevator jazz in the air. I can still see it now, I can smell the D10, hear the occasional ‘bing bong’ of the Tannoy with that polite home counties telephone voice.
“Good afternoon shoppers! It’s day 1,095 since the event and The Body Shop is having an anniversary sale on lye and steel wool! And a polite reminder not to allow children near exterior windows. The sea of scorched earth and sun bleached skeletons may cause distress! Have a great survival! Consume Consume Consume!”