Lost in London

A look at London and life in general through the eyes of someone who sometimes can't bear to watch.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Are you being served?

I'm not beautiful. I'm never going to be stopped in the street and offered million dollar modelling contracts and passers-by do not salivate as their gaze falls upon my face. I am passable: I have good days and bad days and generally look OK. I have good haircuts and wear nice clothes and am clean and that helps. On the whole, I feel pretty good about the way I look. That is until I go shopping and enter the surrealist retail experience that is Abercrombie and Fitch. I first went in there with my other half as we killed time before a dinner reservation in the pop-up restaurant they had in the Royal Academy. I had heard of A&F before- tales of bare cocks and homo-erotic poses in catalogues had reached my ears- but I wasn't quite prepared for what I would find inside.

Clothes are somewhat secondary, indeed almost unnecessary, to the A&F experience. As you enter the store you'll be greeted by a man with no shirt on. Well, I say man, but you don't often see men who look like this in real life. They usually belong in comics or aftershave adverts. A tummy so flat you could iron on it, defined pecs and ripples in all the right places. Toned, tanned and what you would probably call handsome if you liked your men to look as if they were created in a scientific experiment, this man's job is to stand in the doorway in a pair of jeans. This is his job. Sometimes, he will have a female model next to him. She will have perky breasts, porcelain teeth and a healthy glowing tan. They really are there; this is not a mirage. Mostly, however, no-shirt man will be alone, save for hysterical German teenage girls hanging off them having their picture taken. No-shirt man carries a Polaroid camera for this purpose. Acting as doormen will be two shop assistants, the very definition of all-American teens. Inside, pounding and tacky Europop thuds hypnotically as you try to make your way through the store. The lights are turned down to stop you noticing how boring the clothes are: Gap-style sweats and miserable polo shirts in every washed-out shade you can imagine. But nobody is looking at the clothes. It's the shop assistants who catch you eye. Every single one of them is perfect. Perfection doesn't necessarily mean that they are all blessed with model looks. Even those with quirky teeth and squished noses look perfect, as if they were meant to look that way.Whereas a big nose can look like a deformity on the 'outside world', within the confines of A&F, and when teamed with silky-smooth skin and an A&F polo shirt, it looks like a large hooter was God's plan all along.

I've been back a few times, which makes me feel unbelievably voyeuristic, but I can't help myself. There's something quite comforting about the kind of hotness on display at Abercrombie and Fitch: it's not threatening or derisory in any way. It makes me wistful, both for the youth that I did once have and the striking good looks that, sadly, I didn't. I can't bring myself to feel envious because, when all is said and done, they are working in a shop that sells shit, overpriced clothes to idiots and have to flirt and smile at ugly bastards all day when really all they want to be doing is... well, I don't know, but I imagine it's something else. They may be beautiful, but I never feel particularly attracted to any of them: they're oddly sexless in a way that very precisely perfect people often are.

If you ever find yourself at the end of Savile Row, why not pop in and see for yourself? You don't even have to pretend to be looking at the clothes; they know what you've come for.

NB: There are actually a few ugly ones, but even they have really good skin, nice hair and great 'bodies'.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Scot the difference

I’m on a train on my way back into England after spending a week in Carnoustie, Scotland with my dad and his wife. Being unemployed has given me a brand new luxury to enjoy: time. So with all this time to spare and very few jobs on the horizon able to fill it, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to head up north and do my duty as a good son and visit both of my parents. I’m on the way to Mum’s now.

I lived in Scotland for quite a few years so I don’t get any particular ‘culture shock’ when I go up there. My dad moved to Carnoustie about two years ago from Dundee (shudder) and he really loves it. It’s not hard to see why. There’s a great beach which I ran on every day (this may seem like I’m a healthy person but I had to do this to overcome the guilt of eating nothing but big, huge dinners every day), people are, on the whole, friendly (even the teenage binge drinkers on the street corners!) and everybody seems a bit more laidback.

On my morning runs, I was most surprised to find everybody I encountered smiling and saying hello to me. Most of my runs took place quite early in the morning and not everybody had a dog with them so while I was deeply suspicious about what such people might be doing on the beach at that hour, I appreciated the sentiment.

Golf is the big thing in Carnoustie and it’s quite hard to get away from. Naturally, I am allergic to anything remotely sporty so I didn't play myself but it was quite nice to see both young and old having a round together. God, I must be getting old.

A visit to the shop with my dad was quite an experience. He was on TV recently and most of the town seemed to have seen his appearance. Greeted at the local Spar like Paris Hilton, the women behind the counter sat rapt as my dad very patiently went through the ins and outs of his brief brush with fame for what must have been the hundredth time. The fact you can’t deny is that in Carnoustie everybody knows everybody. I like visiting Scotland, but I couldn’t live there again. I like the anonymity and ‘glamma’ that only London can furnish.

I head now to Yorkshire where things are decidedly different. Where my mum lives, strangers do not say hello to each other and there is nary a strip of green to run on. I’d probably be mugged, anyway.