Sunday, 21 March 2010
Oxford street, the survivalists guide.
Oxford Street is as unavoidable for the average Londoner as springtime pigeon poo, errant tube lines and those mysterious moving road works (has anyone checked for ley-lines?). Even the well heeled may find themselves girding their loins to face the place, even if it is only to cross from Marylebone to Bond Street. If anyone doubts that a shopping 'trip' to Oxford Street is occasionally akin to an assault course please see the image below. Some might bellow that there are alternatives. However shopping malls are not central, Croydon is full of roaming feral groups of teenagers and Wood Green is the last resort of the truly desperate. The fact remains that the UK has the best fashion-forward High Street retailers and that most of these house their flagship stores with the widest range of lines on this thoroughfare. The shopping survivalist can, however. make a day spent here more pleasant. Through planning and distraction combined with an avoidance of the myriad irritations and dangers of the place a good day can be had. Redlegs lists her own do's and don'ts below in the hope they may help. These are my own tips, I would be extremely interested to hear other suggestions. After all we need all the defensive and offensive weapons we can muster to survive a DAY IN OXFORD STREET!
Things that might make your day more bearable:
1 Timing. It sounds obvious, but if you have a choice do choose a weekday and arrive early. I really don't understand the large numbers of obviously retired grey haired elderly ladies heading to Oxford street for their Saturday jolly. Inexplicable. Particularly slack times of year in terms of crowds are late February/early March and late September early October. Remember though that just before Mother's Day and other such events things get busier. Bank Holidays are also a no-no. Under no circumstances go on one of the special pedestrian friendly no-traffic days. They are not pedestrian friendly, buses and cabs do a great job of getting stupid big groups of people off the road and walking. In their absence there are five times the amount of people, often from outside London behaving like human dodgems.
2 Sustainance. Every cafe in the area seems to be full of noisy families and obtaining a place to sit requires the ruthlessness of a crack SAS unit. The Selfridges food hall is like a Japanese train station at rush hour and the fast food chains are unspeakable. There are alternatives. My tip is to spend a little more and go to John Lewis's Brasserie (tel 020 7629 7711) . Largely because you can actually reserve a table and swan in past the queue and sit right down for a nice light waitress served meal with a glass of wine. If you are in the lower end of Oxford Street and fancy solid cheap grub, head down Berwick Street and grab some delicious cod and chips in the utilitarian fish and chip shop there. I have always been able to sit down and Soho tends to discourage the yummy mummy hordes.
3 Walk behind the street itself, the pavement is full of idiots. You can avoid the elbows, hard faced Primarkadonnas with prams, battalions of chadors, large men with beer cans and gaggles of shrieking European teenagers just by following the streets running parallel to Oxford Street itself. Slightly longer in footfall but twice as quick and far less stressful.
4 Feed the brain. Both the Photographers Gallery and the Wallace Collection are just off Oxford Street. They remind you that there is more to you than mere consumer. The Laughing Cavalier in the Wallace always cheers me up although I suspect the joke is on me...
5 Treats. My habit is to reward myself for my powers of shopping endurance. A favourite is afternoon tea at the Durrant Hotel, one of London's last family owned Edwardian hotels. Quiet, rarely crowded and full of antiques; between 3-6 they will serve a full Champagne afternoon tea for a very reasonably £21.00.
6 Remember there are some joys to be found in Oxford Street even at its busiest. The Hare Krishnas whirling along raise my spirits with their combination of jolliness and longevity. They seem to have always been there. The frontage of Selfridges, the fifties modernist sculpture outside John Lewis', the roast chestnuts that are hygienically highly dubious but never seem to poison you and the proximity of wonderful establishments such as Claridges. Let's not forget that very few shopping streets of this type end in a fantastic royal park. The new Tokyo style cross walk at Oxford Circus is very effective and shows the place can be improved.
Things to beware of:
Most Londoners are aware of these but for those who don't regularly visit the street..
1 Sundays. Due to UK shopping rules the first hour/hours on Sunday you can only view goods and may not be able to buy them until 12.00.
2 Pick pockets work in teams and are very sophisticated. Black spots are outside Selfridges and Primark. Also the exits of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street Tube Stations. Never give to beggars, they are used as scouts to show where you keep money on your person.
3 A common theft in Oxford Street is bag lifting. Some one will stand by you at a counter, you put some bags on the floor. They do the same. Then pick up their bags along with a couple of yours. They will then return your goods for cash. This is also common at fast food and coffee chain shops. Don't put your receipts for goods in the bag especially if you have used a credit card, if you get back to the shop quickly they do sometimes catch these people in the act.
4 The Tottenham Court Road end of the street has virtually nothing worth visiting or shopping at and is tatty. Best avoided.
John Lewis Brasserie menu: http://www.johnlewis.com/Shops/DSTemplate.aspx?Id=177
Berwick Street fish and chips: http://www.yelp.co.uk/biz/fish-and-chips-london