If New York is the city that never sleeps, London is the metropolis that never stops, writes GORDON PRENTICE
If you are shopping in Oxford Street, the capital’s Ayatollah of Retail, you have to keep moving. This street – all 1.5 miles (or almost 3km) of it – is busy at the best of times but in the run-up to Christmas, the crowds become almost insufferable. Like Hannibal Smith of The A-Team, you need a plan so start by compiling two lists. That’s right, TWO lists.
First, write down what you want to buy your family and friends. This can be tricky, so sound them out as to what they would like. If they have everything, buy a novelty gift – more so, if money is too tight to mention. There are at least 300 shops in Oxford Street, so you need to know what you are doing.
Secondly, plan ahead. Check the weather forecast before you set out. A cardigan, scarf, beanie, overcoat and proper walking shoes are essential. Carol Kirkwood and Kate Kinsella – two well-upholstered BBC weather gurus – might tell you a sunny day is in the offing but take an umbrella. English conditions can change within minutes and the last thing you need is to get drenched in the cold of late autumn or early winter.
Patience is also called for. From Far East tourists to foul-mouthed locals, there are times you need to act like Job, not just in Oxford Street, but on the Tube as well.
Prices at shops are as varied as the opening times. You would need to be in Rupert Murdoch’s league to splash out £30,000 (R480 000) for a watch at one shop but at a cheap and cheerful store 200m up the road, you’ll pay just £6 (R96). Such is the diversity of modern London.
Oxford Street has changed beyond recognition since the 1980s. Adult shops now sell risqué lingerie, assorted outfits, and adult toys that would make your head spin. And, forget Santa, a “celebrity” switches on the Christmas lights each year.
This being London, there has to be a hard-luck story. Some weeks ago, British Home Stores, which opened its doors in 1929 and was a colossus of Oxford Street, closed its doors for the final time, thanks to maladministration. Some 11,000 people are now out of work. Merry Christmas!by