The Galleria: Hertfordshire’s idea of childhood entertainment
It was terrible, but you kept on going back
Hertfordshire isn’t reputed for its attractions. So when you were a kid and it started raining, that was it – you knew you were off to the Galleria.
If you listen to Google reviews, the Galleria was “a joke when it opened and all these years later it is still a miserable place”. Someone even recommends that it’s “time to knock it down and build flats”.
However everyone’s least favourite outlet shopping centre was the most popular hangout for the entertainment-starved youths of Hertfordshire.
It’s built over a motorway, which is weird
The Galleria looms over the A1(M) ominously, a huge monstrosity of glass and what looks like scaffolding. Don’t forget to hold your breath as you drive under it, though.
You hung around here on Saturdays with loads of ‘cool’ 13-year-olds when you were 10
…and it made you feel like God.
Patrolling the bridge and trying to run up the down escalator was how you passed the hours. One of your friends probably got kicked out for wearing heelys inside too: they were a legend after that.
Your mum made you come back on Sundays to buy ‘sensible school shoes’ from the Clarks outlet
There is only one thing worse than school shoes from Clarks, and that’s discounted school shoes from Clarks in a style that was only vaguely in fashion in 1989. The Galleria was everyone’s first stop in September when it was time to stock up on back-to-school gear.
Even now you can see many unhappy kids being dragged around the sale rails as their parents hunt for a bargain but “practical” school bag.
You had all your childhood birthday parties here
Being hauled around the Galleria with your parents when you were ten felt like the worst thing ever, but make that trip a birthday party and suddenly the Galleria was the haven of all fun.
A trip to the cinema and then Frankie and Benny’s after was a classic, followed by you inevitably losing one of your party and having to call security.
The shops were all a bit rubbish
The Galleria pretends to be a designer outlet shopping centre, but who really wants to buy discounted slippers from M&S which are only available in size nine-and-a-half? Every time you went, all the shops had mysteriously changed. Sports Direct counted as a designer store.
Even so, something about the Galleria made you always come back for more, only to feel vaguely unhappy as you trawled around stocking up on the scented gel pens you coveted.
Other crucial items always on your Galleria shopping list include silver hoop earrings from Claire’s that seemed to make you ears green after two hours of wear, the latest ‘Now That’s What I Call Music…’ CD from HMV and either a very potent Lynx or Impulse body spray (but only when it was in the one pound Boots offer because you weren’t made of money).
The cinema was shit
It was absolutely tiny, there was only a choice of two films (neither of which you wanted to watch) and it was filled with five-year-olds crying and 12-year-olds having popcorn fights.
You should have saved your pocket money and gone to Stevenage Cineworld.
The escalators were shit
For some reason they put three steps at the bottom of every escalator. This made no sense, and turned the journey of downstairs into a deathtrap as you desperately tried to not be catapulted off the end and onto the granite floor.
It was awesome when they had trampolines, but then they got rid of them too
The trampolines in the middle of the shopping centre didn’t last long – no doubt they were deemed too dangerous – and they were replaced with an outlet furniture store, which lacked the same appeal.
Saying that, it was excellent for hide and seek. And your Aunt got a lovely pine coffee table from there once.
It did have a great choice of fast food outlets
Jamie Oliver had just forced everyone into healthy school dinners so you had to get your fix of turkey twizzlers elsewhere. Which did you pick: KFC, McDonald’s, or Burger King? All three? A course at each?
The Galleria was the place everyone loved to hate, and even though it was pretty awful, for some reason it feels like I spent most of my childhood lingering around those ridiculously shiny floors, killing time.
It was pretty much all Hertfordshire had to do other than watch cows in the field – and that’s why you couldn’t help but make the most of it.