On a river walk I found myself arrested by the Glasgow Quay, which winds unwary Clydeside strollers into a fenced spiral of consumerism, a giant urban entertainment trap for the unemployed. I was walking through the car park, cursing and trying to escape, when “Big Yellow Taxi” came blasting out of the huge, concrete, power-sucking bowling-and-gambling joint. I do hope that was deliberate. It was full of men drinking and playing pool while their kids made climbing frames of the fruit machines, and chased each other through the video games.
The kids and I have become regular mall-rats at the weekend, but in a form of guerrilla consumerpark surfing that involves no actual spending. We read the books, play with the toys, make use of the childcare facilities at Ikea, and sit with our packed lunch watching the weirdness at Xcape Braehead (people pay to climb the walls, literally). It reminds me of growing up on Sussex University campus at Falmer, where my Dad was a mature student. It was a weird sixties urban falsity of square buildings and landscaped gardens in the middle of the Sussex Downs, which was nevertheless as much fun for a kid to play in as the woods and manor-grounds beside it. When we moved to Glasgow, I used to skip out of school with my brother and we’d play in city dumps by the riverside or train tracks, weird urban nowheres that blossomed into shining somwheres with the intensity of our childhood games.
They can pave paradise if they like, kids will make a playground of anywhere. Odd, all my playgrounds of choice had rivers, train tracks or roads running through them. However closely the games we played delineated every rogue tree, broken toilet, and blade of grass around us and made them important, some part of my mind was always riding to elsewhere. Some things never change. I have lived by rivers all my life, given the choice, and I hope I will die by the sea, horizon-watching.