Shopping April 2011

Dear Rowley,

A rather frustrating day late last week with a visit to the National Archives in Kew. We were led to believe that the National Archives had a substantial amount of material relating to Henry Poole & Co so Keith (head of ceremonial tailoring) and I set off on one of our jaunts fully expecting as magical a day as the one at the Royal Archives in Windsor Castle. Well, you know some days are destined for disaster when you put the wrong suit on and just can’t work it to make it right. So a last minute costume change is mandatory and that unsettles a chap.

We arrived in Kew and walked to the National Archives only to discover they are held in Stalag Nine: a 1970s egg box building not dissimilar to a Polytechnic campus. It transpired that the National Archives had little more than an inventory of the Poole archive made in the 1980s. It confirmed that one or two ledgers we knew were missing were not lost on our watch. But we didn’t learn very much more and left without so much as a sniff of archive dust.

To make up for a disappointing morning, Keith and I decided to promenade Kew Gardens. Of course it is the wrong season to visit Kew but, then again, it is never really an off season there. Literally thousands of daffodils have been planted in the grounds and they gave a display that would have had Wordsworth’s quill a quiverin’ and a quakin’ as Private Eye’s Glenda Slagg would have it. The Victorian hothouses with their catwalk gantry up in the eaves were also magical if a little perspirational. The highlight was the peacocks roaming free in the grounds and shrieking like newborn babies at the top of their register. That sound evokes episodes of Prime Suspect.

Kew Palace wasn’t open but Keith tells me it is truly moving to see the chair in which Queen Charlotte died and a coat worn by King George III in the last years of his life that still bore the marks of the straitjacket the poor monarch was forced to wear in his less lucid periods. Know how he feels. Still, there are worse places to descend into madness than Kew Gardens. I would imagine the lakes, azalea walks and the promenade towards the 18th century brick built pagoda would have offered the King much solace and peace of mind. It certainly calmed me down after the frustrations of the morning as did a very acceptable glass of Cava in one of the far pavilions.

Keith I discovered was an excellent mimic and had Dick Emery down to a tee. I had YouTube’d Dick Emery the night previous and found his blonde, breathy bombshell Mandy in a super compilation. My favourite was Mandy taking a driving lesson. The instructor is impressed and goes so far as to say ‘you almost drive like a man…except for your two big boobs’. Mandy does a double take and says ‘I beg your pardon’. ‘Yes’, says he, ‘when the policeman put his hand up’. Then comes Mandy’s catchphrase. ‘You are awwwwwful. But I like you’. Keith can do it as well as Mr Emery.

Mrs T and I eased into the weekend with a super lunch in the courtyard at the Wallace Collection with Richard Craig, MD of Margaret Howell, who had kindly offered to advise me about finding management and a new accountant. It is about time I had a white knight who could go into battle for me and negotiate contracts rather than I. My problem, I think, is that I love what I do and thus sell myself slightly short to say the least. I have to learn that time is money: to whit I did an hour of telly for the Savoy as a favour that I repeated the next day for Sky and earned a tidy sum for. What’s wrong with this picture?

Sunday saw a morning in the Holborn Health Spa with not a soul in the pool, steam room or sauna. It really is like being a Roman Emperor but with the added bonus of Molton Brown products in the shower. Still, I bet I don’t have as much fun as the Emperor Tiberius did on Capri. After the big relax with the papers – who can possibly not think this Libyan torturer in chief is not indictable? He looks like Christopher Lee as Scaramanga – I did what I have not done for months: go shopping.

When you are a Savile Row man, the air is pretty thin and each decision is huge financially and aesthetically. So it was such a pill to stoat down Oxford Street and reacquaint myself with all the high street brands. Zara has bombed since I last visited a few years ago. Uniqulo just didn’t fit. TopShop was so badly made it negated the prices. The only impressive schmutter merchant was H&M where I bought some obscenely skinny jeans and some generic white canvas plimsolls that will hit the spot in Corfu come September.

John Lewis is always a joy as far as the product is concerned but the service has nosedived. You can be perusing Persian carpets until you are blue in the face but will anyone bother to ask you if you’d like to come fly with me? Do they buffalo. Well, long story short I bought some lovely Sanderson bed linen (blue and white stripe since you ask) and some goose down pillows on which to rest my weary head.

The biggest shock of high street shopping was how bleedin’ awful most people look these days. Age isn’t a barrier to being tattooed like a fat lady at the circus or pierced like a dodgy sex club worker. It is so depressing to see standards slide like lava from Mount Etna. It’s enough to make a boy flee to Savile Row like Anastasia fleeing the Bolsheviks.