How Much?!

By cjohnson | May 20, 2006 8:17 pm

Well, went on part one of my Journey Around My People: shopping in Central London. Was not looking for anything in particular, but although I know it is true from past experience, it never ceases to amaze me how much stuff costs here. Have all the salaries gone up by about 30% since I left? I don’t think so…have they? For starters, the Guardian, which as you recall since last year has been seriously modified from its perfectly-fine format (yes, I ranted about it), costs 0.70p during the weekday! And the Saturday edition today was £1.30!! I’ve no idea how much the Sunday paper will cost….. are they just going to ask for a gallon of my blood, perhaps? (People in the USA….just multiply by roughly two to get the after-tax dollars and cents.) Do you get more for this extra money? More sport (everywhere… bl**dy football, and gossip about footballers and football managers and football club owners and footballer’s wives – this is supposedly real news) and really huge colour pictures.

Another example. Guess what the minimum price of a single ride on the underground (the subway system) is now. Just one stop. £3.00. No, I’m not making that up. I burst out laughing at this at the airport, and people looked at me as though I was nuts. (I sometimes forget how easy it can be for people to tell. Got to hide that better.) Now I know that there are ways around paying that, by bundling things into travelcards, and “oyster cards” and the like, but…it is still symptomatic, imho. I don’t mean to gloat here: We have our own problems with pricing of some things in LA (for a house, you pay an awful lot for basically a wooden box in LA), and as for the transport prices: On the plus side, the coverage, connectivity and frequency of the whole transport system in London seems really excellent compared to how it used to be not so long ago when you were (still) paying through the nose get around the city.

Half-decent sandwich? Decent cup of tea? Indifferently-made cup of coffee? Fork it over, guv’nor. Yep, it is still an expensive city, and getting worse (in that regard) by the minute.

Well, with that in mind, I headed off to Liberty’s for a bit, to just look at stuff. Reason? Well, gift ideas, or just general amusement to see what sorts of things people will be convinced to buy. Sometimes, you see nice things, I must admit. That’s how they get you….they mix nice things in with the pointless dreck, and you can end up buying a bit of both in your bid to bring home the good stuff. Then I went to the new Habitat on Regent Street, as I like to visit such shops selling pretty good home furnishings. I saw several things. Although I hasten to point out that I don’t have the cash flow to afford a ton of this stuff (sorry girls), I must admit that, puzzlingly, a lot of interesting and reasonably well-made “design” stuff can be comparably or sometimes even better priced here than in some stores in the USA. I think that maybe the gap on the high street between the 1980s Argos catalogue (never mind if you don’t know what that is) and the really high end stuff was filled here earlier than in the USA, and so there is a better range of good-to-pretty-good stuff to be found. Maybe not…I have not done a thorough survey. I’m a theoretical physicist, remember: What the bleep do I know? But based on the tube price and the price of a cup of coffee in a cafe you would imagine that your typical Design Within Reach type stuff (basically, affordable to pretend-affordable pretty well made authorized knock-offs of well-known designs by known designers) would be astronomically priced over here. It is not neccessarily so – there is quite a continuum of good stuff. I’m not sure why, but seeing what stores like Pottery Barn, and even Target, etc, are doing, I think that the USA will have caught up soon if it has not already. Anyway, still just looking. Wallet deep in my bag. I can’t transport a lot of this stuff anyway.

london shoppingA lot of the stuff is just silly, but this is the entertainment part of it all, remember. Some of it I like because it is interesting to see fun use of geometry. Good to see mathematical forms out there in the wild…maybe brought into people’s homes. People appreciating mathematics a little without even noticing it. They or their children might count the sides and edges, notice some patterns. You never know where that might lead. Oh, and it can just look nice for the sake of looking nice. Why not? The hanging shade to the right for example. I really like it. I love it, in fact, but I’ll keep the love in the store since I’m pretty sure that it is one of those things that -if I had more money than sense- I would buy and rush home, only to find that it sparks a “what was I thinking?” self-inquiry which I could do without.

So let’s examine it for its own sake and not worry about where we’d put it. It’s basically a very very fancy version of a stellated regular dodecahedron. Having spent a lot of time in the past making all sorts of similar shapes -from as few as four sides (tetrahedron) to as many as 30 (triacontahedron – love those…from my problem years obsessing over the golden mean…still my favourite number, perhaps), I can appreciate this new turn on an old chestnut: The foldy-fiddly-spirally touches on each face? Good on yer, mate. (To whoever designed it).

london shoppingThis stand-alone corner lamp (on the left) was also tempting. Nice piece of geometry to bring home, too. I could make this work. I have just the corner, sitting empty right now. I think of a hexaflexagon when I see this. Anyone remember what that is? I spent hours making and playing with those, and am not yet fully convinced that they are not traversable wormholes…… Never mind if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Just read or give your kids a copy of Martin Gardner’s ” Hexaflexagons and Other Mathematical Diversions : The First Scientific American Book of Puzzles and Games”, and when you (or they) come back for more (or even if they ask for a barbie doll, video game, or tonka truck),
read (or give them) his “The Second Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions “.

normal foster world trade centreThe lamp also reminds me a tiny bit of the elegant design that the architect Norman Foster (yes, he of London’s new “gherkin” building) put in for the World Trade Centre site in New York. (That is the one that should have won the competition, by the way. By a mile. Not the monstrosity that they are going to put up instead.)

On the plus side, it was good to get out there and see the old town again. My old stomping ground. It took only about an hour before I was getting back into the swing of walking on pavements (=sidewalks, for the USA reader) which are crowded, and with everyone in a dreadful hurry and trying to cut across your path. By the end of that hour, I was just like everyone else, scowling slightly with a slightly pissed-off expression, complaining about stuff, mild background shopping-headache. Ah….London….the good times return!



Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

See More

Collapse bottom bar