Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Label fable

The Thames, in London near the Wobbly Bridge, is a tourist Mecca. Rightly so. As I've explained before, on the south side you have the Tate Modern, with Shakespeare's Globe just nearby, and looking north you see an immense view of Wren's masterpiece, St Paul's Cathedral. These days, the place is absolutely heaving with visitors from around the world. Welcome as they are (and I am always hopeful that our many visitors all have a positive London experience and leave with fond memories and a desire to return), it can be awkward moving around in such a crowded place. Invariably, those of us who live and work here can be caught trying to walk upstream into a tourist tide. Not easy.

Just yesterday, I was nearby trying to get to Southwark Tube station (Olympic Games visitors might want to note that this is pronounced "Suth-erk", with a soft "th", as in "the", and the stress on the first syllable), but picked my moment badly. I came up against an overwhelming mass of apparently German youths, presumably heading for the Tate, and given that I'm not that enormous and some of them were, I felt it better to move to one side and let the thronging horde pass unimpeded. Who cares if I was late? At least my delay gave me the chance to observe them as they wandered on.

As they streamed by, one thing that struck me was the labels in their clothes. Summer has landed abruptly on London and it's currently swelteringly hot, leading most people (except my eccentric commuting friend perpetually attired in whaler-friendly yellow sou'wester) to don lighter clothing. The swarm of Germans were no exception, and as they herded past I observed a myriad of t-shirt labels, all poking up jauntily from the backs of collars. A young blond lady was wearing a pink, sleeveless vest-top type thingy (I'm an obvious expert in describing clothing; perhaps I should write for fashion journals). At the back, I could clearly discern washing instructions on a small tab of white nylon.

One of her bulky Teutonic fellows was also attired in a vest-top thingy (sigh), although his was green and tight, showing off fine, toned and muscular phsyique, similar to how my own isn't. But he shared his friend's stuck out label, which was jigging gently as he walked. Why weren't any of their fellow group members helping these people?

As I walked in the crowd, a fluid thing hefty in number and anxious to tour as tourists do, I became increasingly aware that people everywhere were similarly afflicted. Labels, present in great quantities in all directions, sticking out of the backs of vest-tops, t-shirts, jumpers (because this person hadn't spotted that London was a sweltering twenty eight degrees celsius and felt that an item of fashionable and snug knitwear was just the thing). At least sou'wester-man knew how to keep his labels neatly tucked away. It wasn't just tourists either. London's army of workers were similarly afflicted in many instances, my favourite example of which was an attractive twenty something woman not only helpfully informing me that her blouse should be hand-washed only, but also that her shoes, retaining their newly purchased sole-sticker, had leather uppers and man-made heels (which I believed because those heels were not natural).

Perhaps I'm no fashion expert, as I've mentioned, but please, London! Let's all try to get dressed nicely shall we? We've got an Olympics to host, and people will see.

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