I start off really well. I look at my little map, and peer at each exhibit, and carefully read all the little cards.
Chalice made from silver, Dutch, 16th century
Plaque depicting Holy Trinity, Italian mid–15th century
Blue and white earthenware bowl, early 17th century
That bowl’s really nice, I find myself thinking in sudden interest, and wonder how much it is. It looks quite expensive. . I’m just peering to see if there’s a price tag when I remember where I am. Of course. There aren’t any prices here.
Which is a bit of a mistake, I think. Because it kind of takes the fun out of it, doesn’t it? You wander round, just looking at things, and it all gets a bit boring after a while. Whereas if they put price tags on, you’d be far more interested. In fact, I think all museums should put prices on their exhibits. You’d look at a silver chalice or a marble statue or the Mona Lisa or whatever, and admire it for its beauty and historical importance and everything — and then you’d reach for the price tag and gasp, “Hey, look how much this one is!” It would really liven things up.
I might write to the Victoria & Albert and suggest this to them. I am a season-ticket holder, after all. They should listen to my opinion.
In the meantime, let’s move on to the next glass case.
Carved goblet, English, mid–15th century
God, I could die for a cup of coffee. How long have I been here? It must be. .
Oh. Only fifteen minutes.
When I get to the gallery showing a history of fashion, I become quite rigorous and scholarly. In fact, I spend longer there than anywhere else. But then the dresses and shoes come to an end and it’s back to more statues and little fiddly things in cases. I keep looking at my watch, and my feet hurt. . and in the end I sink down onto a sofa.
Don’t get me wrong, I like museums. I do. And I’m really interested in Korean art. It’s just that the floors are really hard, and I’m wearing quite tight boots, and it’s hot so I’ve taken off my jacket but now it keeps slithering around in my arms. And it’s weird, but I keep thinking I can hear the sound of a cash till. It must be in my imagination.
I’m sitting blankly, wondering if I can summon the energy to stand up again, when the group of Japanese tourists comes into the gallery, and I feel compelled to get to my feet and pretend I’m looking at something. I peer vaguely at a piece of tapestry, then stride off down a corridor lined with exhibits of old Indian tiles. I’m just thinking that maybe we should get the Fired Earth catalogue and retile the bathroom, when I glimpse something through a metal grille and stop dead with shock.
Am I dreaming? Is it a mirage? I can see a cash register, and a queue of people, and a display cabinet with price tags. .
Oh my God, I was right! It’s a shop! There’s a shop, right there in front of me!
Suddenly my steps have more spring in them; my energy has miraculously returned. Following the bleeping sound of the cash register, I hurry round the corner to the shop entrance and pause on the threshold, telling myself not to raise my hopes, not to be disappointed if it’s just bookmarks and tea towels.
But it’s not. It’s bloody fantastic! Why isn’t this place better known? There’s a whole range of gorgeous jewelry, and loads of really interesting books on art, and there’s all this amazing pottery, and greeting cards, and. .
Oh. But I’m not supposed to be buying anything today, am I? Damn.
This is awful. What’s the point of discovering a new shop and then not being able to buy anything in it? It’s not fair. Everyone else is buying stuff, everyone else is having fun. For a while I hover disconsolately beside a display of mugs, watching as an Australian woman buys a pile of books on sculpture. She’s chatting away to the sales assistant, and suddenly I hear her say something about Christmas. And then I have a flash of pure genius.
Christmas shopping! I can do all my Christmas shopping here! I know March is a bit early, but why not be organized? And then when Christmas arrives I won’t have to go near the horrible Christmas crowds. I can’t believe I haven’t thought of doing this before. And it’s not breaking the rules, because I’d have to buy Christmas presents sometime, wouldn’t I? All I’m doing is shifting the buying process forward a bit. It makes perfect sense.
And so, about an hour later, I emerge happily with two carrier bags. I’ve bought a photograph album covered in William Morris print, an old-fashioned wooden jigsaw puzzle, a book of fashion photographs, and a fantastic ceramic teapot. God, I love Christmas shopping. I’m not sure what I’ll give to who — but the point is, these are all timeless and unique items that would enhance any home. (Or at least the ceramic teapot is, because that’s what it said on the little leaflet.) So I reckon I’ve done really well.