Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday 31 December 2011

Traffic jam of the vanities

The paper's description of 'a ticking timebomb' might be putting it a bit strongly, but it's true that things got badly out of hand at Bicester Village on Boxing Day.

More than 30,000 people visited the shopping centre on December 26, causing some drivers to abandon their cars on the A41.
Tailbacks stretched back to Junction 9 of the M40 while the inconsiderate parking forced police to shut one side of the road between the Oxford Road and London Road roundabouts.

Pause a moment to consider that figure; over thirty thousand people dragged themselves from the bosom of their family on a December day to join the queue for parking spaces and cram themselves into a grossly overcrowded feeble pastiche of a New England shopping street.

And then consider that Bicester Village is a shopping outlet for last season's collections and the lines that didn't sell - it seems to have escaped the notice of the teeming hordes that the stuff in the stores is permanently marked down; this was an entirely irrational feeding frenzy.

It's a measure of how the name on the label has eclipsed the product that, in these supposedly cash-strapped times, so many ordinary people considered this a worthwhile enterprise - and ordinary people they must have been; the affluent foreigners who form Bicester Village's target clientele arrive by train from London, no traffic jams for them.

Incidentally, I'm intrigued by the Oxford Mail's choice of language; these shoppers were 'caused' to leave their cars at the roadside, as if, on finding the 1800-odd spaces full, they were in some way obliged - or entitled - to abandon their vehicles and continue on foot into the temple of Mammon.

It reminds me of the woman who set up a facebook page to draw attention to the fact that residents of her town were ‘fed up having to travel to Northampton or Milton Keynes to view films in a modern big cinema’ - this despite the fact that her town already has a two-screen cinema in the centre.

Of all the bizarre January (ha!) sales stories, this mass migration and the stranding of vehicles along the A41 is surely one of the most peculiar and inexplicable, given current economic circumstances - though there could be a certain hip-pocket or (dare we say it?) demographic factor at work.

With the possible exception of Clarks shoe shop (a leftover from the Village's 1990s infancy) Bicester Village sells virtually nothing that could be considered essential to normal life - unless, that is, your continued survival depends on designer labels and overpriced luxury goods.

Perhaps there are now people who genuinely believe it does.


  1. On occasional travels using the Chiltern Line from Marylebone I have been perplexed by numbers of people travelling out from London and down from Birmingham to do a bit of shopping. I have to be dragged kicking and screaming the half mile to our town centre. Its mad, totally mad.

  2. Irrational feeding frenzy eh? When irrational acts become the norm as the population is slowly turned into a bunch of spoilt children, does that word loose it's meaning?

    I wouldn't have been a part of that, but if I had I would have jusy gone home on finding the 1800 spaces filled, having come to the conclusion that the town would be too busy for shopping anyway

  3. Demetrius, it is, I suppose, a triumph of marketing; designed as a pilgrimage - complete with arduous journey to get there - it offers what must be for some the nearest approach to a religious experience they are likely to have.

    Bucko, 'spoilt children' just about sums it up; it's the ultimate in 'because I'm worth it'; conspicuous consumption for the chronically immature. Sadly, I know of several young women who have clocked up significant debts as a result of frequent trips there.

    Ironically, the traffic jams for this out-of-town outlet village - stretching for miles in all directions - prevent anyone but pedestrians geting into the town centre where they have normal shops selling things people actually need; local residents and businesses are suffering badly as a result.

  4. "It's a measure of how the name on the label has eclipsed the product that, in these supposedly cash-strapped times, so many ordinary people considered this a worthwhile enterprise..."

    Spot on! The same goods under label no 1 are probably made in the factory right next to the goods under label no 2, 3, 4...

    It's all a big con, and millions have fallen for it.

  5. Good point! 'No Logo' highlights this from the US PoV - batches of different designer labels ready to sew into identical garments in Far East sweatshops.

    One of the supreme ironies of newly affluent Chinese visitors spending a fortune on European designer merchandise is that it probably originates far closer to their homes than they think.

    There's an interesting bit in 'Jaws' - the novel - where the young Brody begs his parents for what they call 'a ten-dollar lizard on a two-dollar shirt'. This purchase - which they can ill-afford - doesn't bring him the instant acceptance and happiness he expects, and he later ends up using it to clean his car.

  6. Does one say By-chester or Bitch-ester?

  7. Uncannily appropriate, JH, given the post following this one.

    Meanwhile, perhaps this will help:

    There was a young lady from Bicester
    Who borrowed some shoes from her sicester;
    That they were too small
    Didn't matter at all;
    Looking good is worth every blicester.


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