past and future

Good day from London,

A colleague of mine once described a third party as one who would have preferred if the world stopped in 1960. It was meant as a slight deprecation of his character but I’ve never been wholly convinced by the inherent inference. England has an interesting mix of the past and future. To my way of thinking, Harrod’s in London portrays the future.

Tower Bridge

      Whilst in London, we just had to pay a visit to Harrod’s. This was not a shopping expedition, but a voyeuristic look at one small sector of the commercial world. If Harrod’s depicts the future, dear readers, I have seen the future – and it’s not particularly appealing.

Buckingham Palace gardens

      Harrod’s is a huge department store in Central London which sells a wide range of foodstuffs, jewellery, clothing, furniture, pet accessories and alcoholic beverages. The range in each category is unashamedly, nay ostentatiously, in the upper end of the market. Almost all of the packaged items for sale bear the Harrod’s brand. Almost everything else is designer-label merchandise from stylish European houses like Gucci and Armani etc.

Shop assistants wear boaters.

The interior of this massive six-storey shop is ornately decorated, with very stylish and trendy colour schemes and flourishes. The shop assistants wear boaters, ties and sometimes suits and maintain an interested distance, never intruding on the shopper’s reverie, always respecting their right to decide for themselves. 

     This is brand name shopping at the extreme. These people quite possibly invented the concept. They have cleverly placed themselves at one end of the market and are milking the dividends from years of crafty investment. 

Price determines quality.

    There is no bargain basement here. Prices are way above the norm. This is where price determines quality, rather than the other way round. This is where perception, image and snobbery all intersect. It’s the place to be seen for the aspirational as well as the established aristocracy. It’s also the place where the nouveau riche from the oil states prefer to do their shopping.

changing of the guards
The bag matters here, too.

     Linda points out that the bag actually matters here, too. The clearly labelled bag has to be highly visible not just on the commuter train but on later occasions when it is judiciously re-used, allowing others to know all about their prudent shopping choices. 

     Here are some sample prices for you. A dog bed was selling for £132. (Multiply by two for approximate exchange rate with Australian dollars.) From the restaurant (can’t have a lowly name like ‘cafeteria’ in Harrod’s) a Welsh Rarebit was on offer for £13. Downstairs in the chocolate hall a common price tag showed 100 grams going for £12.5. 

             This is ostentatious shopping at its worst. Linda took a little while to understand that this was a non-shopping visit and took an unhealthy interest in some of the goods on display. What on earth was she thinking? She eventually came to heel when she realised that £50 for 50 g of tea leaves did not actually represent a very good deal at all. On top of that, this was purportedly a special offer at discounted price, down from £100. She was also tempted by some of the eight thousand different chocolate items but was persuaded to consider the plight of the poor cocoa growers in Côte D’ivoire. Lucky the voice of reason was there, eh what?

The Big Issue

       The only thing we purchased on site was the British version of The Big Issue, from vendor John the Liverpudlian outside the door. John is a have-a-chat kind of guy who vouchsafed to us that much of the real estate in the swanky Knightsbridge suburb is being bought up by the Saudis in preparation for the time when the oil runs out. When I asked John how many copies he sold outside Harrod’s, we said, “varies, mate, varies”. 

on The Eye

  Harrod’s represents the future to me. Being seen by other members of the A-list, self-gratification, wasteful consumerism and gluttony are all on show here. None of these is a terribly appealing aspect to the human race. If this is the future, living in the past is a whole lot more preferable. Preferring that the world had stopped in 1960 is not a weakness at all. Give me decency, community and selflessness any time. 1960 was a good year, anyway

Toodle-oo from London


Other photos from hereabouts

from The Eye

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