Thursday, 21 October 2010

Sites of London

In London a fortnight ago I noticed three things in particular: you now have to pay 50p for a pee; Hamley's toy shop is 250 years old; and after a couple of years there is still a huge gap in Oxford Street. The 50p charge is a sign of things to come, but is it Boris Johnson or the Coalition that did it? Anyway, clearly it is the poor who will suffer, especially the homelss and the jobless, who have neither a house nor a workplace to pee in; and of course everyone will be inconvenienced by the mess and smell in parks and dark corners.

Hamley's quarter millennium is interesting. It shows that the desire to give toys has been steadier than most other kinds of business, but even so, for a shop to last so long it must have been astonishingly well managed. Visits there are among my earliest memories. I fell in love wih a chess set and pestered my mother to buy it next time she was in town. I didn't know the rules and spent nine months organizing royal weddings until my father came home from America and taught me to play. I used to marry the white queen to the black king - a good start in colour-blind politics.

And the huge hole in Oxford Street is a sign of the times; whover bought the site must be unable to borrow any money to build on it. For a while it housed a temporary dinosaur exhibition - more toys! But now it is just a big gap surrounded by plywood walls. Instead of laying off thousands of public sector workers, the government should step in to get something built there, even if it is just the biggest helter-skelter in the world.

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