Its been lovely today. Brilliant sunshine. Normally I wouldn't go out on a Saturday morning, because it is on this day that I would get the chance to do the chores around the flat, sit back and catch up on TV that I've missed during the week and just generally luxuriate in the fact that I don't have to jump in the shower and dash out the front door to catch a train to work. But I did have to go out this Saturday morning, some matters which I was too tired or too lazy to deal with yesterday. Anyway, immediately I left home, I realised how lovely the day was. And because its Saturday, the roads are devoid of the usual rush hour traffic that I'm accustomed to on weekday mornings. Within an hour, I had completed my business. But it wasn't yet noon. And the day was lovely. So there was no way I was returning home to clean the kitchen. The West End, I thought. I haven't been to that famous part of London for years. Go on, go and have a walk around the West End as you occasionally did in the old days. I considered the idea for a minute, then thought, why not? So off I went.
Exiting the Underground at Oxford Circus station is a nightmare on any day. But on a Saturday at midday, there can't be many places more crowded anywhere in the world. And if there is one thing that I don't ever like to be a part of, it is a crowd. But climbing the stairs out of the station you would think that Oxford Street outside would be better. Wrong! Throngs of people of all shades and colours, of all shapes and sizes, of all tongues imaginable, all pushing and shoving. Had I made a mistake perhaps? Cleaning the flat, surely, would have been a better way to spend the afternoon. Then I remember why I had considered it a good idea to come to the West End in the first place. I need a pair of cuff links and some new M&S underwear. M&S would be out of business were it not for people like my good self, being a faithful wearer of M&S undergarments for as long as I can remember, trusty, durable, pure cotton and comfortable. The last time I bought cuff links was at Debenhams in Newcastle, where I had gone to attend a wedding. I know there is another Debenhams on Oxford Street, and a M&S too. Its no wonder that I'm here. OK, lets get the cuff links first. It takes about 25mins of pushing and shoving through this hideous crowd to arrive at Debenhams about 200m from the station entrance. Its a warm day for March, and by this time I've already broken out in a sweat. Debenhams is a massive department store and I was not about to start wandering around the store searching for the cuff links section, so I walk straight up to the first uniformed person I see. He happens to be a security guard, guarding one of the Oxford Street entrances to the store. In a thick Polish accent, he points me in the general direction, menswear he said, just down the escalator. I hate shopping, so whenever I have to go to a shop, I make sure that I know exactly what I want to buy, and as soon as I have located it and paid for it, I leave. I can never understand people who walk around stores looking at things they have no intention of buying, mostly because they can't afford the things anyway. Anyway, going back to my story, I reach the menswear department in the basement of the building and am accosted by a store assistant, a sprightly, vivacious but diminutive Ghanaian gentleman. Cuff links? Cam with me, he says. Following him, we turn several corners, navigating between row after row of men's clothing. Deh caff links are all over the place he explains. Finally we arrive at the cuff link section, but there are three caff link sections he informs me. So he shows me where the other two are and then leaves. After making my choice, I pick two pairs both of which I fancy equally, I take them to the cashier to pay. Then I am told by the Pakistani lady at the till, that I could have both pairs for the price of one. A special promotion, she tells me. Oh good. Leaving the store, I wonder whether I should enter that crowd. Surely, there must be another way to double back in the direction of the station, past the station and on to M&S. And then I notice as I reenter the crowd that I am not having to push and shove as before, and I realise that previously, my discomfort within the crowd was my own fault. I had failed to adjust my usual hurried pace to the stroll of the tourist. Now that I have slowed my pace, I flow with the crowd and it isn't that bad after all. I too have become a tourist for today. Oxford Street is London's most popular shopping street. I see thousands of shoppers, but I do not see many shopping bags. Something to do with the credit crunch perhaps, the recession? Its not surprising then that the shops are offering "special promotions" in an attempt to lure shoppers in. After M&S, and another special promotion, although I couldn't help noticing that the extremely polite English lady who served me was wearing too much make up, I decide that it isn't yet time to go home. But I must avoid at all costs that raucous 'Free Tibet' protest march making its way through the junction of Regent Street. So I head for a cafe somewhere in Soho, having first stopped for a double cheese burger at Burger King, where, to get to the counter, I almost have to climb over the heads of a Somali woman and her brood of seven small children, the oldest of whom was about nine. At the cafe in Soho I have a latte, sitting in the sun. I'm listening to Magic FM on my headphones and I hear that the weather forecast for tomorrow is cold, wind, rain, sleet and even snow, although today is so warm and sunny that I don't even need a coat. You can't get more London than that with the weather. There is a noisy man sitting at the table next to me, shouting into his phone in a language that I think is German. Man, I'm feeling good. The smells, the sounds, the noises, the mix of different peoples, oh man, I love this city. If there is ever a melting pot of humanity, London is it.