A few weeks ago, I took Lydia into London for a pair of new Pointe shoes. After spending an hour in Freeds trying on fifty pairs of shoes (apparently she has the perfect feet for a dancer, which means that only about one pair in a thousand actually give her the support she needs....go figure...) I thought I would treat her to the wonderful sights of the Harrods Christmas department. This was a place that had lived on in my memories from childhood, as a wonderland of sparkling ingenuity and craftsmanship, a real old fashioned fantasyland of naievety and glitter, and I wanted to share this with my baby girl (who is now taller than me by an inch) whilst she still lets me call her my baby girl.
We sweated through the underground (me offending a large lady along the way, by offering her my seat, thinking she was pregnant) and eventually arrived, along with a cast of thousands, at Harrods. Battling our way through the doors, we navigated the bright, sterile interior, eventually found our way to an escalator which churned its way upwards through the mausoleum, and, after more baffled wandering and quite by chance, came upon the Christmas department.
We gazed around at the rows of shining baubles, the dancers and nutcrackers and robins, all dangling, as though from the gallows and staring back, with haunted eyes, at us, and at the white shelves, the bright lights, the colour coded rows of decorations. "Oh," we said. And then: "Well, let's try Libertys."
Libertys, for those who don't know it, is a department store in Soho - a huge, mock Elizabethan building of white and black carved timbers, bursting with the famous Liberty print fabrics, Liberty print stationary, Liberty print umbrellas and soft toys and chocolates and soaps and lavender bags. I discovered it in my student days and remembered it as a place that was touched by Bohemia, a place that was a little bit different to Harvey Nicks, John Lewis etc. Oh well.
Enter the Christmas department and what do you find? The same decorations that are sold in Harrods, the same decorations that are sold in Myers and David Jones in Brisbane, the same decorations we can get in our local (and, it has to be said, rather crappy) Tescos in Buckingham. All made, funnily enough, in China.
But of course it's not just on the subject of Christmas decorations that I came here to bore you with today. There's very little here that you can't get in Brisbane and vice versa, though sometimes - just rarely enough to make it catch me out and consequently get rather grumpy - the prices render them too exotic to buy. Sushi sheets, for instance, are a luxury item here, as is dessicated coconut, whereas bananas and marmite are cheaper! Unfortunately, Vegemite is easily and cheaply available.
Though things you wouldn't expect - like a trip to the cinema - are a different ball game here, though of course they show all the same films, written to the same formula. But, whereas we thought it was expensive to go to the cinema in Indooroopilly, the prices there are nothing to the prices here - if you have a family, a trip to the cinema is a Big Treat outing in England, though why, I don't know. When we took Juliette to see Mockingjay the other day, the only thing that seemed more swany was the fact that, along with the buckets of popcorn and sacks of chocolates, you can also buy a bottle of wine and take it with you into the cinema. "Well, this is a bit of alright," we thought - until we tried to open it and found that the bottle was plastic and the contents were sticky sugar syrup with added alcohol. Yes, I know I'm a snob.
Sometimes I yearn for the days when, on visiting another country, a trip to the local supermarket was a journey of discovery rather than a comparison of prices. And I wonder whether it is partly this homogenisation of the world, the feeling that you can get anything from anywhere in any Tescos (except Timtams - apparently you have to go to Sainsburys to get them) that makes it so hard for people to remember, or indeed, to believe in the horrors that are happening elsewhere. Here I am, writing on a lap top made in China, drinking coffee grown in Brazil (bought in Buckingham,) at a table made in Sweden (bought in Australia,) covered in a cloth made and printed in India (bought in Brisbane). I was going to write something deep and meaningful about how hard it is to equate such homogenisation in "stuff" with the disparity in human rights around the world, in our abilities to feed our families, or guarantee their safety and education, but I feel too depressed and ashamed to do so, so I won't. I will drink more coffee instead and go and teach the violin to lots of children who want to play the Harry Potter Theme Tune, inspte of the fact that they haven't learnt how to play d sharp yet.