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  • Writer's pictureJanette Frawley

'There is a wonderfully exquisite/uber-kitsch Egyptian escalator at the centre of the building.'

19 January 2022

What a wonderful trip this has been! It has been made sweeter because I've finally been able to shake off the shackles of closed borders. And I am certainly not at all regretful about the expensive fare or the rules and restrictions placed on me for the privilege of escaping my 'prison' home of Australia, even for just a short while.

Since returning from Ireland on Monday evening, my mind has been filled with the challenge of packing my suitcases to return home. Not that I have bought much, on the contrary, but I do want to do some shopping and visit some other iconic places over the next few days.

Upon my return from Ireland, we plan out the next few days before my flight on Saturday. Natasha has decided to take Friday off so we can spend the day, after I've had my PCR test, exploring London. We secure timed tickets for the Sky Garden. There is no cost to enter, but due to COVID, we need to pre-book our tickets.

That's when I discover, via the Qantas app, that my flight home on Saturday has been cancelled and replaced with a new one on Sunday. Oh! Goodie - an extra day! My initial euphoria turns into concern over the next couple of days as I check my email for confirmation of the cancelled flight from Qantas. It doesn't come, but the app has confirmed a new flight, which departs on Sunday. After checking with my Qantas booking online, I am reasonably comfortable that my flight is now on Sunday and that Natasha and I can safely book something else to do on Saturday!

Natasha is working and after not very much deliberation, I decide to go shopping. Not ordinary shopping. Oh No! I have to get myself to Knightsbridge. To Harrods, the most well-known (and expensive) store in the world. Harrods has special memories for me. In January 1981, my friend, Helene, and I went to Harrods to check out the sales, particularly those in the china department. Here, we found boxes of Wedgwood jasperware stacked a metre high on groaning tables. Supermarket shopping trolleys strategically parked around the department were used by us to fill with our purchases. We were not daunted with the thought of getting the stuff home, we just knew we would manage it somehow along with everything else we had bought during our five-week holiday - err shopping spree - across the British Isles. I must admit, that even today when I look at the trinkets that I bought that winter's day in 1981, I cannot believe how cheap the stuff was. But that is another story for another time.

The next time I entered the hallowed halls of Harrods was in January 2011. We were visiting Natasha in London prior to travelling to Egypt. London was filled to the brim with tourists and the day we arrived at the front doors of the store, so did every tourist and half of London's huge population. Then owned by Mohammed Al-Fayed, whose son Dodi was killed alongside Princess Diana in 1997, it was hard to miss the huge memorial to them as we battled to find a place on the escalator. So crowded was the store, that it was not an ideal shopping experience and we made do with a quick visit to the merchandise department where I bought a mug and a tea-towel, and then escaped the crush to find Tom sitting in an uncrowded cafe across the road enjoying coffee and cake.

This visit, however, is different. I am armed with a Harrods gift card, which I received for Christmas and I am a woman on a mission. I slip on my mask as a doorman wearing black gloves opens the door for me, rushing to the next set of doors to have it open as I arrive to enter the great store. Unlike my previous visits, shopping in Harrods is an absolute joy. The annual Christmas sales have obviously finished and with the lack of tourists, I find myself with not only plenty of space surrounding me but a large number of attendants smiling and welcoming me to their specific area of expertise. I stop to touch a silk scarf, surreptitiously flipping the corner to peek at the price tag, trying not to gasp audibly at the price, whilst smoothing out the wrinkles and fleeing before one of the underworked staff members decides to whip it off the stand and tie it around my neck. The balance of my gift card will does not extend that far!

Out of curiosity, I ride the central escalators up to the homewares department - just for old times sake. No shopping trolleys here now, nor are there stacks and stacks of boxes on trestles. Instead, the Wedgwood jasperware is tastefully displayed on tables and in showcases; a magnificent tea set for two, pale blue, white, and an unusual bright yellow jasper on royal blue for a trifling £6,000, a Waterford crystal base guitar for £28,750. I feel faint and perspiration is forming as I look at the price markers again - just in case I got it wrong.

Settling into a seat inside the nearby cafe, I decide to contemplate how I am going to spend my gift card over a cappuccino and today's special. Coffee is perfect and even has an ostentatious chocolate 'H' sprinkled over the froth - Harrods style.

I don't know how it happens, but I spend an entire day inside this magnificent store. I can't leave Harrods without mentioning the central escalator, which I seem to spend a lot of the day riding between floors. Although it may look authentic, the Egyptian-themed escalator was installed sometime after Al-Fayed bought the store in 1985. Despite selling it over a decade ago, al-Fayed's legacy remains, as the face of the huge Pharaohs benignly watching shoppers as they move from floor to floor. This exhibition may be kitsch, but it's an experience because who knows how much longer it will remain now the store is owned by someone else. Footsore and weary and before I travel from the homewares department to the merchandise area in the below-ground floor via the Egyptian escalator one last time, I use my gift card to purchase a unique piece of jasperware; one that will forever remind me of this special trip and this special store.

I reverse the route I had taken this morning; two tube trains and the bus. As I alight from the red double-decker at the end of Natasha's street, hands filled with numerous bags, I reflect on the impact that COVID has had on the world - even Harrods would be lamenting their lousy daily takings, but for my third visit to this iconic store, it has been an absolute pleasure to wander through the various departments, chatting to staff, and selecting small treasures to bring home with me.

Title Quote: Justin Roxburgh

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