Now before we go any further, if you are planning a cultural / sightseeing/ shopping trip to a big city, and money is at all limited, the first thing you must do is to pack a picnic. As I mentioned yesterday, eating at the site of an accepted landmark is reckless and foolhardy. Their sole purpose is to fleece hapless tourists of their hard earned euros / dollars/ yen and no amount of weeping and cries of “I’m not a Tourist, I’m a Free Man!” will melt their hardened capitalist hearts. Trust me, I’ve tried it. Backpack, picnic, flask of cocoa; thirty quid more in your pocket to spend on fridge magnets and fudge. That was Top Tip No. 1
We left St Paul’s and headed along the Central Line to Oxford Circus, where we emerged into a throng of more people than I have ever seen in my life, despite being a Londoner by birth. Apparently, last Saturday is the busiest Saturday of the year. Top Tip No. 2 – do not visit the West End of London on this day.
In the past, Selfridges department store has had the most fabulous window displays; marvellous dioramas of fairy tales or children’s stories, or cats or something, all with moving figures and sparkly stuff. This year there were groovily arranged piles of merchandise with mannequins with Betty Boop style heads on. Boy the Younger liked it because it was bright and colourful, but Boy the Elder and I felt that we’d walked a sod of a long way to see a Shrine to Mammon. We wandered around the store for a few minutes but were totally overwhelmed by the people and the stench of perfume nearly set my asthma off.
We went back into Oxford Street and walked slowly along, looking at all the shops and enjoying a variety of people you simply don’t get in Market Harborough. Remind me another time to talk about hats. A lot of the shops were having a fun with their displays and there were loads of hospitality girls and demonstrations going on. Debenhams had a fashion show in their main window which was brilliant, hosted by a really gregarious and attractive person who, whilst showing off some really nice gear, nevertheless had his tongue firmly in his cheek.
We bought some freshly baked triple chocolate cookies from a tiny shop in an arcade and proceeded with all speed to Regent Street for the Hamleys experience. The windows there were really lovely; huge bears in clothes doing baking and moving about. That’s more like it. There were so many people trying to get in, that there were security staff on every door, stairwell and escalator and they were letting the shoppers in in batches when enough other people had left.
It was completely overwhelming and again, although the boys loved it, there was none of the sense of ‘specialness’ that one used to get in Hamleys, the feeling that you were in a special place full of special toys. We have a toyshop in Leicester called Dominos which is equally good and considerably cheaper. I gave the chaps £5 each to spend as they saw fit; BTE bought an Airfix model and BTY found a Lego figure which he adores … which was lucky as there was precious little else they could have afforded. Top Tip No. 3 – support your local toy shop, if you are still fortunate enough to have such a thing.
Home beckoned, and we sauntered down Regent Street, enjoying the ‘Narnia’ themed lights, to Piccadilly Circus. It was quite touching how excited BTE was to see the huge flashing advertising board on the corner in real life and to see Eros silhouetted against it. We fought our way onto the tube and settled into the inevitable monologue of BTY reading out every single station name and counting the number of stops left until Hatton Cross.
We arrived back at the Aged Parent’s at about 7 o’clock, to be greeted with steaming plates of sausages and mash, tired but thoroughly excited by our day. When Granny asked the boys what had been their favourite bit, I was hugely gratified when they answered (with absolutely no prompting from me) that it had been St Paul’s. With the triple chocolate cookies coming a very close second.