On its first day of trading last Tuesday, the queues formed at 7.30am for a 10am opening. The crowds were extraordinary and there is no doubt that the gigantic Westfield Stratford City in the East End of London is a phenomenon.
It cost £1.45 billion to build and, at 20 times the size of St Paul’s Cathedral, this vast temple to commerce has in excess of 300 shops, 70 places to eat and 5,000 car parking spaces.
Come December, it will also have Britain’s biggest casino.
Visiting Westfield, as I did this week, it is difficult not to be caught up in the shopaholic frenzy.
Yet, while I enjoyed my first few hours there, I was soon visited by sensations of deep unease: a feeling that those of us who had been drawn there were lost in an insanity of consumerism and a profound pessimism about the economic future.
By the time I left, it had become, for me, a kind of parable of the madness of our times, pursuing ever greater material prosperity, for no obvious purpose. And, moreover, it all has an eerie feeling of unreality.
Shut away from the real world in this gleaming hall of fantasy, we can disguise from ourselves the fact the Western world is perilously close to ruin.
In Britain today, we are told by nearly all economic experts that we are on the edge of a double dip recession. Unemployment figures are creeping towards three million.
The Eurozone, on which we rely for over half our trade, is in danger of imploding. Neither China, the fastest-growing economy in the world, nor the U.S., the biggest, are in a healthy state.