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As grandparents living along the Central Line with grandchildren with access to ditto, Westfield Stratford City has featured rather more strongly in the autumn of our lives than maybe us 1950s-make-do-and-mend, slightly anti-consumerist, old fuddy duddies would want. And when the idea of a huge shopping extravaganza with John Lewis at one end and Marks and Spencers at the other next to the Olympic Park was mooted, my partner (who worked in Stratford) and me muttered darkly to each other ‘who’s gonna go there? It’s one of the poorest areas of London’.There was already a shopping mall opposite Stratford station with a 99p Store at one end and McDonalds at the other and one in Ilford, with an M&S even, not far away.
Well, we couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only has Westfield Stratford City become the must-see venue of international tourists but also the coolest place on the planet to hang out for teens, pre-teens and, so it seems, One Direction fans of all ages. It’s even been mentioned in the sitcom Outnumbered as the venue of choice for 10-year-old birthday party outings.
So when Granddaughter 1 came for a sleepover, (each grandchild comes in strict rotation so all is fair and just) and I asked her what she wanted to do: ‘Go to Westfield and have lunch at Nando’s’ came the reply. Apparently, Nando’s is the fav restaurant of Niall (or is it Zayn? or Harry? or Louis? or even Liam? Yes, I‘m showing off my extensive knowledge of One Direction). I was flattered that she would be seen out in such a young and trendy place with an old granny in tow and tried to book a table (not possible) since I thought every 1D fan in London might be heading there. I did discover that there are two Nando’s in Stratford, the other one through the old shopping mall.
We joined the crowds of people streaming over a bridge towards Westfield like people in Close Encounters of the Third Kind approaching the Light. Inside, ‘Show me heaven’ was floating out over hordes of strolling shoppers – but were they shopping? Families seemed to be using it like a day out in the park. The powers that be had closed the beautiful gardens around the Olympic Park – was this intended to channel people to the shops? I asked myself. Well, at least you don’t get rained on.
Granddaughter 1 and I were having lovely chats over clothes (and I mean this most sincerely, folks). From Primark to Forever 21 and back we wove our way through the throng, granddaughter 1 skilfully avoiding bumping into people, me saying ‘sorry, sorry’, as I did. Decision made, we joined the queue to pay. Primark queues are biblical in dimension but no sermon awaits – just a battery of beeping tills. However, halleluya! they have the same speedy queuing system as the Post Office, the same sing-songy voice, ‘Cashier number 3 please’. Then we squeezed our way towards the next queue (much slower) to get on a loaded escalator and two floors up we got to the restaurant bit (passing the champagne bar – aspirational? or one finger at the poor?) to check yet another queue (static) in Nando’s.
What to do? The other Nando’s was deemed to be on the wrong side of the tracks. I was feeling faint for lack of food, but we found ourselves standing (I’d been to the loo where thankfully I’d had a little sit-down) at the dimly lit bar in TGI Fridays sampling restorative smoothies. They were playing rock music at full volume – lovely. It seems that this is Liam’s fav restaurant (or Niall’s, Harry’s, Zayn’s or Louis’s). We had to wait half an hour for a table, but at least we weren’t actually in a queue and then we had great chats over monsterburgers with fries (oh dear, not healthy eating).
Granddaughter 3 likes to do everything her big sister does. Her approach, however, was to research Westfield online and make lists of shops to be visited (with their location) and ditto restaurants (ditto) filed in an A-Z folder. We did the Primark thing where she identified some Little Mix clothing in her size, aged 7-8 (and oh god, why is the stuff so cheap?).
Schooled about the evils of McDonalds by her parents, but tempered by friends’ Mcbirthday parties, she opted for McChickenburger, (again, not healthy, but maybe ok as a ‘treat’). McDonalds have mastered the art of processing people somewhat like their ‘burgers’ (and how do they make them so cheap?). Finding somewhere to sit was trickier. I was concentrating on keeping giant paper cups of 7up up and we strayed into the Subway section. Oh hell, I thought, are you ‘allowed’ (I was brought up in the 1950s after all) to sit in the Subway section while eating a McDonalds? We joined a table with a Subway-eating couple, the woman was rubbing her hands with hand gel, killer of 99% of all bacteria. Oh hell, I thought (again), why hadn’t I thought of that? Here we are gel-less and germ-ridden in Norovirus Central.
Granddaughter 2 rejected the offer of a trip to Westfield Stratford City, plumping rather for various chemical experiments (with goggles and plastic gloves) making exploding bath bombs and other noxious concoctions. What a relief! I have to admit, though, I have a love-hate relationship with Westfield, appreciating, on the few occasions I buy stuff, not having to traipse Up West. And don’t get me wrong, I hugely enjoy having the chance to spend time with each grandchild on their own wherever it happens to be. And they help to keep one old fuddy-duddy, who doesn’t even understand Facebook, almost up to speed in one area of the modern world, although it’s overcrowded and fraught with dilemmas.