Me and My Bathmat

'Target' by Scott Listfield
There are two things I needed to get while I was shopping today: bagels and a bathmat. I got neither, but still managed to spend £200 ($370.50). Such is the dire predicament of shopping in London.

I have no bagels, which is fine. I have bread, instead, and we can eat that. Or we can survive without a bread product at all, until I make the trek back to the one and only store that sells sesame bagels.

I have a bathmat. I inherited said item from my husband’s apartment in Kansas City. It also lived in his previous house, and, I think, might have even made the trip from Brooklyn, N.Y., his previous residence. It’s seen lots of different kind of water run off. And for the last two years, it has not once seen the inside of a clothesdryer. It’s time has come.

How do you buy a bathmat in Iowa or Kansas City or any other average American town? Easy. Three steps:

1. Get in car
2. Drive to Target/Bed Bath and Beyond/Linens n Things/Walmart/K-Mart/Kohl’s
3. Buy bathmat, in a variety of colors.

Not-so alternative step 4. Also buy lots of other mostly unnecessary things, such as matching towels, matching fluffy toilet seat cover, matching fluffy U-shaped carpet thing that goes around the toilet to catch any wayward man-urine, cute duck-themed soap dish and tooth brush holder, half-priced Martha Stewart Bed in a Bag, two t-shirts, a pair of shorts and/or shirt for your husband/Dad/any other man who doesn’t buy clothes for himself. Oh, and some make-up. And earrings. And a Kit-Kat. And microwave popcorn. And that REALLY cute set of plastic margarita glasses, on clearance. And Us Weekly.

Time elapsed, driveway to driveway: Roughly 1 hour and 10 minutes, depending on whether children are along.

God I miss Target. Shopping in London is definitely designed as a form of torture on the working classes. Here’s why:

1. London, particularly Oxford Street, is like one big shopping mall. Hundreds of individual stores over miles of territory, all very specialised. Need a cheese grater? Well, you’d better go to the kitchen supply store, where they will have, probably only one. And it will be £20.

2. Department stores, such as Harrod’s, Selfridges or John Lewis/Peter Jones may have everything, but who can find it??? These places are the size of Maine, and no matter where you go, you have to walk through the perfume department, a hazard to the lungs and the stomach.

3. Everything, including the exact same products you might get in the United States (ie. Gap or Esprit clothing) costs twice as much. Hence the reason Colin and I arrive through Chicago customs with empty suitcases and roll back through, hardly able to lift them.

4. Certain meat products, such as pork, are just missing from some stores, because they are owned or run by Muslims. This is fine, but it does make patronizing your local shop owner difficult. Bacon? Sorry, got to visit the evil empire, Tesco.

5. Research/Travel Time: It takes a serious commitment to not just “shop” but to go out and get something specific. Here’s how it plays out.

Call shops to make sure they have what you want (includes at least four conversations with people who are either monkeys or robots): 45 minutes.
Walk to Tube: 5 minutes.
Tube to Oxford Circus: 20 minutes;
Time to walk to shop you want and find the item or items you want (average, including interacting with more monkeys and robots): 27 minutes;
Walk back to the Tube on crowded Oxford Street (avoiding tourists and rude Londoners): 15 minutes;
Tube home (barring delays): 20 minutes;
Walk home from Tube: 5 minutes.

Total time to get one item: 2 hours and 17 minutes. And that assumes you didn’t veer from your course at all. No stops into the drugstore or the shoe store or the card store or the beauty supply store or the grocery store or the top shop.

As for the bathmat, well, there are solutions.

  • I could order one online, which is rapidly becoming the shopping outlet of choice for us. However, I have vowed that this bathmat will not make the journey to our new flat, and time is running short
  • I could make the trek to John Lewis and spend £30 on one ($55.47) but I just can’t do it. I’ll use a towel for now
  • I could take the LONG bus ride to IKEA (1 hour and ten minutes each way) but I can’t get up the energy.
  • I may get lucky and have a friend buy one at Target and bring it back for me. That is, IF she has enough room in her suitcase, packed in around her OWN purchases.

Until then, moldy-old-faithful will have to suck up the limescaled waters for a little while longer.

Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth writes literary non-fiction, haiku, cultural rants, and Demand Poetry in order to forward the cause of beautiful writing. She calls London, Kansas City, and Iowa home. 

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