The thing about... The V&A shop

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Have you bought your tannenbaum yet? Have you gone through that Victorian ritual of cultural plagiarism that results in the deaths of millions at Norwegian spruces every year? Have you dragged your prey into the living room, taken the paint off the door jambs and scattered needles across the shag-pile where they will defy the Hoover for months?

Good. But it's looking a bit bare just standing there, isn't it? All that green must look rather spartan among the knick-knacks and the cards on the mantelpiece. What you need is some baubles. Many people head for Woolworths or the market and stock up with a job-lot for a fiver. Get the kids to sling them up, sing a couple of carols and bobsleigh's your uncle.

Or, of course, there is a higher plane of Yuletide decor, and it can be found at the V&A.

The thing about the Victoria and Albert Museum is that nobody can fault the taste. The place is stuffed to its elegant rafters with shiny things and curlicues and silverware worthy of Ivana Trump, but every piece draws gasps of pleasure from the design-weary public. And its shop is one of the most impressive in the country, arousing lust in all who cross its threshold. Christmas at the V&A shop is a bygone dream. The central aisle is given over to the things you put on Christmas trees: those dangly, spangly and generally OTT evidences that rococo is alive and living in our hearts.

These are the glass balls, plaster cherubs, antiqued gold acorns, silken tassels, patterned boxes, crackers, trumpeting angels and spun-silk confections that hang on trees in, say, a Merchant Ivory production of Flambards. They go with spiced wine in tiny silver cups, children from the village singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and the entire servants' hall lining up for their Christmas boxes.

And they are objects that only the artistic rich will buy. Only the artistic rich have the kinds of houses that won't look tawdry by these evidences of exploding fecundity. An ivory-and-gold lozenge five inches deep (pounds 6.50) needs a tree at least 10ft tall to carry it, which in turn dictates higher-than-average ceilings. Rows of cherubs plucking on harps and blowing on pan pipes don't really go with Ikea seating and fitted carpets.

More important, though, are the costs involved. The thing about the V&A Christmas decorations is that they'll set you back a groat or two. I'm not saying that they're bad value for money - these are seriously gorgeous examples of their type - but the cheapest item, a robin with real feathers, costs 75p, and those velvet-and-brocade-covered balls run to pounds 6.50.

A red-and-gold dressed Morgana le Fey-style fairy retails at the humbugging price of pounds 37.50. A five-minute trolley dash could easily leave you with little change from pounds 300, and this for fripperies which will be used for three weeks a year and half of which will emerge mysteriously broken from the attic next winter. Then again, those dangling cherubs with musical instruments (pounds 1.25-pounds 2.25) would look lovely hanging from bushes in your garden in summer, and the cardboard boxes covered in medieval tapestry scenes are terrific for reducing toddlers to tears. Go, enjoy, wish you were rich and maybe buy a jolly little putto for the bathroom.

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