Rebecca Barry

Rebecca Barry is a Herald columnist

Rebecca Barry: Time for some culture - High Street it is

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Rebecca Barry writes that with the crowds, bad music and queues aside, you could almost say shopping in London is fun. Almost.

This is so fun, I think as the shop assistant sends his assistant's assistant to collect the shoes from out the back, and I'm almost thrust off the end of the over-populated bench as a woman with an English rose tat and a Fanta-toned tan sits down to try on some high hussy heels.

Self-deluding, punishing fun. I'd spent the past seven days taking in the history of Nottingham and Derbyshire, (lovely, quaint, gorgeous) all the while fantasising about all the museums and art galleries I'd miss in London as I took advantage of the exchange rate and the winter sales in an attempt to keep the Mother Country's economy spinning.

But now I was half on the floor waiting for a pair of shoes that might never arrive. Which one was the assistant again? The house music was making me hallucinate.

Was it the chick with the g-string cutting into her muffin top? The wrestler in the black suit with James Bond's Bluetooth in his ear? Or the fresh-looking Dizzee Rascalike chatting up a rotter by the diamante sandals?

I usually hate shopping. If I need something warm for winter, I'll wait until my eyelashes have frozen off before I set foot inside St Luke's.

But I turn into a one-tracked shopping powerhouse the minute I'm on foreign soil. Maybe it's the ephemeral nature of it. When you travel you have deadlines.

You'll be back on the other side of the world in a few days. You must just bite the bullet and buy that moleskin T-shirt now or you'll regret it next time you're in a tropical downpour.

Perhaps that explains why I'm not the only one with a serious look on my face marching up the escalator on a mission to hand over some pictures of the Queen. It's Monday afternoon and I'm in Oxford St where I thought it would be a good idea to go shopping because it's Monday.

Wrong. Oxford St is always treacherously busy. So much for the recession. Everyone is striding up the high street, arms bulging with shopping bags.

Who are these people? Tourists, yes, all hunting desperately for their moleskin T-shirts. Locals? Well, there aren't too many real locals in London anyway. Most of them are tourists from other parts of the country, other corners of the world.

They flock here because shops are Britain's indoor playground. Where else can you get away from the irrepressible optimism, the constant, brilliant sunshine?

Sure, you can blow out your black snot while lying in a deck chair in Hyde Park for a few quid. Or you could saunter around Covent Garden in your I Heart London hoodie, check out some buskers, buy a Cornish pastie.

Only there's no leisure time to be had if you're serious about shopping and, like me, you've got exactly two hours, 15 minutes to buy your entire winter wardrobe. You need speed, the ability to drop a garment and go.

So it's no surprise to find that the staff manning these playgrounds operate under their own highly evolved, walkie-talkied stratified system. Much like their royals, Fergie and Kate Moss.

Every shop has a monarch who spins a line, cuts the deal, every monarch has corgis who run around doing the dirty work. In this case, fetching my shoes. So Lib-Dem.

On the train to London I'd read an article by a model who'd penned a concerned piece, it seemed, for constipated shoppers. It was shallow and unrealistic, helping to fuel my shopping fantasy.

She recommended doing lovely, whimsical things such as buying a bike with a basket at the front, filling it with dandelions and peonies and riding around in a pair of McQueen platforms. She'd obviously not tried this on London's high streets, which are basically long stretches of bad, booze-free nightclubs.

Never mind the racks and racks of clothes, there are the mirror balls, the bouncers and, worst of all, the horrible, thumping music. How are you supposed to find a floral necktie when everyone around you is shimmying to remixed Cheryl Cole?

Even she'd have a hard time squeezing into the gap I'm in. I'm standing in the corner of H&M, trying to ignore the jackhammer orchestra jamming with a band of screaming kettles in front of a security mirror under a sign that says "No alighting", half a metre from the top of an escalator that is spewing hundreds of battle-weary shoppers, while I haphazardly try on a spit-thin dress over my jeans (winter sales my arse), having ditched the 10km queue for the changing rooms.

This is awfully fun, old chap, I say to myself as the dress turns into a straitjacket on the way off.

I'm having a marvellous time. I'm so glad I didn't go to the National Museum.

- NZ Herald

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