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It was sleepover time again with granddaughter 3 (aged 8) and she had £2.50 left to spend on a Primark voucher. ‘What about Westfield Shopping City’, I ventured, trying to sound enthusiastic. ‘No, gran,’ she said, ‘all you can do at Westfield is shopping.’ Gosh, I thought, is the younger generation turning away from consumerism these days? Then she said, ‘I want to go to Oxford Street.’ Hmmm, I wasn’t sure what she knew about Oxford Street, but there’s not much to do there either other than shopping. But then it dawned on me – we could do Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park and Marble Arch. And we could pop into Selfridges which, although obviously a shop, is historical. I know -I’ve been watching the story of Mr Selfridge, who opened it in 1909, on the tele. Sorted! a trip up west it would be then.
Granddaughter 3 is nothing if not prepared. Like Dora the Explorer, she had a backpack with a map of the Underground, three books, two top trumps card games and some emergency Haribo’s. As we hurtled westwards on the Central Line, she studied the map – apparently we had fourteen stations till Bond Street so time to play a game of Top Trumps called Sweet Revenge, a gift from Santa. Each card tells you food facts about different sweeties – sweeties are granddaughter 3’s favourite topic – and you have to choose the highest score from categories such as ‘Tooth Rot Rating’. That Father Christmas is well cunning.
We got out at Bond Street tube station and mercifully on a cold Sunday the pavements were quite empty. And, lo, up the street was the towering temple of Selfridges. Wow! I’d quite forgotten how impressive it is – with columns from one corner to the next, it looks like the Parthenon only in much better nick. And posed for posterity atop the portico was a huge statue of a woman with robes abillowing. Was she a goddess? Or a shopper rushing to the sales? Granddaughter took a photo. We went inside – gosh, it’s definitely gone upmarket since the olden days when I used to check out the cheapo stuff in Miss Selfridge after a cuppa at the Lyons Corner House. Granddaughter 3 was quiet as we stared about like two urchins from Oliver Twist. Marble floors gleamed, enormous pillars reached up aloft and glittering glass cases had things in them you couldn’t touch. Staff in neat black uniforms stood and silently about and it felt as if you had to speak in a hushed voice. Do people really buy things in here? They must do or it would close. There were no price tags and only a few people were wandering about presumably ‘just looking’. To me it seemed more like a museum or art gallery, or a cathedral even – well, it was Sunday.
Granddaughter 3 wanted to see the Food Hall. Curved glass counters shone everywhere with opulent displays of food as if for a still life by an old master: fruit, wines, silky fish on marble slabs, glistening with crushed ice. ‘Am I allowed to take photos for daddy?’ she whispered (her daddy likes to cook). I asked a man, dressed like someone off Masterchef, who was standing behind the fish counter. He smiled and obligingly held up a live lobster, feelers flailing about, over some ready-to- swallow open-shelled oysters – a bit different from a take-away from Domino’s Pizzas. She clicked the camera, and clicked again at a rustic arrangement of enormous round cheeses. Still quiet, she seemed to be trying to find some familiar frame of reference. ‘It’s a bit like Costco,’ she said thoughtfully. ‘They sell big things in big boxes.’ Ok, sort of. Costco is a wholesaler, where her mum and dad sometimes buy bulk boxes of frozen sausages and vats of washing liquid.
Onwards and upwards we went, gliding up an escalator to the clothing department. Still no price tags and granddaughter 3 bravely felt inside a pair of jeans – £348 – and a sweatshirt top was £155. ‘That’s just silly, gran,’ she said. ‘Think how many things you could buy in Primark with that money.’ Then she wanted to see the Ladies – it was the kind of loo where the toilet flushed itself and the wall-to-wall basin was like the water feature for Princess Diana in Hyde Park with water trickling over slabs of granite. Back on the ground floor, granddaughter 3 stopped and gazed at a little white bag in a glass case. With trepidation (we hardly looked like bona fide Selfridge shoppers) I asked the posh-looking assistant if we could see it. She opened the case with a litte gold key and placed the handbag gently on the counter. ‘How much does it cost?’ asked granddaughter 3, her £2.50 voucher burning a hole in her pocket. ‘£1,185’ came the reply. Time to head out.
Across from a couple of boarded up shops stood Marble Arch in the middle of the road. And no, it’s not to do with a war, in wikipedia it said it had been one of the back gates into Buckingham Palace. Good lord, how many back gates do you need? So, being royal, they had it moved. At Speaker’s Corner, I was hoping for some firebrands spouting off about the state of the nation but there was man holding forth about existence and a bloke on a box with a bible, singing a hymn. Not the stuff of action then and granddaughter 3 was not impressed. And even the gods seemed dispirited and were blowing a chilly wind across Hyde Park..
Unlike Selfridges, Primark was hotching – it had a sale on with big signs everywhere showing £3 for this, £2 for that. But even a seasoned Primark shopper like granddaughter 3 found it too busy. However, despair not, oh Primark shoppers, there’s more than one Primark in Oxford Street and on the tube we went to Tottenham Court Road. The £2.50 voucher spent, we were out on the pavement. Granddaughter 3 stared up at Centre Point. ‘What’s that?’ she asked. I told her that it’s offices but it also has rooms for homeless people. She looked thoughtful and took a picture of it to put alongside the ones of Selfridges in her scrapbook. But I’ll have to tell her I was wrong – I looked it up later online – built as offices it became a symbol of greed in the property business since it stood empty for years while the owner held out for a single tenant who would pay megabucks in rent. And homeless people used the underpass below it as a place to sleep.
Heading home eastwards on the Central Line granddaughter 3 fell asleep on my shoulder. What would she make of our trip up west? I wondered. It had certainly given me more to think about than if we’d gone to Westfield Shopping City.