Outtakes: This demi-paradise
Martin Plimmer is too old for Hamleys house of horror
Saturday 06 December 1997
Hamleys is to toys what Foyles is to books and Ypres was to munitions. The Regent Street store is a circuitous building of infinite floors and stairways designed by MC Escher. Add to this the cast of Metropolis and you've got it (except that the cast of Metropolis didn't have to carry boxes of Bumble Ball Bolters and shout "No you can't!" all the time). Not that Hamleys is big. If it was big, it would have space. It's just endless. However far you walk, you keep coming back to the same point, shuffling around in a turgid human maelstrom of 8,000 souls, searching for something you don't want, which isn't actually on this floor anyway, being carried slowly but inexorably upstairs or downstairs (whichever way you don't want to be going). Then a balsa wood boomerang hits you on the ear and you think "I've been here before. Or maybe it was the other ear." To make it cosier, they've lowered all the ceilings. "Can I have a boomerang?" "No you can't!" This is exactly the same boomerang thrower who threw boomerangs when the store opened in 1760. Hamleys never changes. It's still enchantment- free. Every year, there's the same bubble gun girl and the same Bubaloo Bird operator. Mummy's still reliably kissing Santa Claus, someone with a Stephen Hawking voice is still yelling "Red alert! We're under attack!" and Thomas the Tank Engine is still going nowhere. And there are still, like a row of Les Dawsons, the Cabbage Patch Dolls - not a 1980s fad after all. "Can I have a Cabbage Patch Doll?" "No you can't!"
The important thing is never to stray into Dolls. That's unnerving. There are dolls of every race, colour and skin type, including vinyl. Many of them are more life-like than you feel. Modern dolls pout and puke and pee. Barbie will show you her breasts on a first date; some of them are genitalia-correct and will go the full Monty. "I sip, I slurp, I wet", therefore I am. One of the dolls has a disturbing sticker on its box which says "It's real". Hamleys claims to be the finest toy shop in the world. Most expensive would be nearer the mark. There are dolls here that cost more than a Third World orphan. The going rate for freckles and curls designed by Sylvia Natterer is pounds 1,000 a foot. You could spend your entire holiday savings on a dwarf Dolly Parton. It almost makes you feel sorry for rich people. Stick to Moon mud. I don't know what it is, but it's scented and it glows in the dark, and it's made out of polypropypinkyorangeygreenylene. It's harmless and it's cheap. "Can I have a Sylvia Natterer doll?" "No you can't!"
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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