Go on, dare to ask – even if it turns out to be far out of your league

One set of shelves turned out to cost almost as much as a studio flat. Plus, what we can (and can't) learn from pictures of North Korean soldiers in high heels

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The Independent Online

London’s Pimlico Road is not actually in Pimlico, despite the guidebooks that sometimes tell you it is. It’s in the far plusher, far more washed-and-brushed and, naturally, far more expensive Belgravia. It has a farmers’ market on Saturdays that attracts some of the most elegant and best-coiffed dogs in London; I saw my first Weimaraner there, and my first Labradoodle – trailed, of course, by their equally elegant and well-coiffed masters and mistresses.

Most of all, though, it has antique and design shops, including Lord Linley’s showroom, which usually has the Union flag flying. Pimlico Road is not somewhere that usually detains me. I generally take the lofty view, from the upstairs of a bus.

One day, though, I decided to walk and window-shop, just for the hell of it. I paused at a window that was more mid-century modern than classically antique, my eye caught by something whose like I had never seen: a sort of long, slim, single-shelf in polished wood, which attached invisibly to the wall. It was the sort of thing you don’t know you’ve always been looking for until you find it. I walked up and down a while, plucking up the courage to go in.

Such shops have two distinguishing features: the need to ring a bell and the absence of price tags. (If you have to ask... ) So I went in and asked anyway. I started with a disarmingly ignorant “What is that?” followed by “Where is it from?” Despite looking vaguely Scandinavian, it turned out to be Japanese. Japanese antique. And the price? Well, we were talking so far above what I could or would have paid that there was no point in concealing the fact, or even trying to bargain. So we had a mutual appreciation of this “museum-quality piece”, and I left with a surprising amount of dignity intact.

A few doors along, and by now absurdly up for the challenge, I spotted an utterly gorgeous set of shelves – the perfect dimensions, so it seemed, for a whole wall of our sitting-room. It turned out that they were by an Italian designer – “museum-quality”, again – and cost almost as much as a studio flat. I was relieved, in a way, that they were so far out of my league as to be unattainable, ever. To which frank admission, the assistant responded by saying that you wouldn’t really want to put books on them, because then they’d look like just more bookshelves – which almost seemed to justify a return to Ikea. 

Miss DPRK in training?

Of the many bizarre images to come out of the DPRK (aka North Korea) recently, the young women soldiers, in uniform, wearing very non-regulation platform heels, have to be at the extreme end of the spectrum. What message, I wonder, was this picture supposed to convey. Was it evidence that North Korea has a shortage of army boots for women? Or a hint that it would like to send a contestant to Miss World? Was it trying to say that, deep down, North Korean women are no different from women everywhere in their enthusiasm for shoes, or a boast that you can buy unsuitable footwear in North Korea, too? 

Could it perhaps have been  propaganda from South Korea, consoling itself that the North Korean army is a joke? Or might the picture rather have been dreamt up by Pyongyang to communicate to the world that all its apparent militarism is a façade and North Korea means no harm to anyone? The pity is that we’ll probably never know