It seems to be an unwritten rule for London’s non-London students that when your parents visit, you go to Oxford Street.
This is because no matter how much you try and convince yourself you are now a true, suave, luxurious Londoner, whenever your parents come you once again return to the spotty teenage being of your youth.
Your parents coming means being reminded of the self you left behind when you came to London, the self who sat at the front of the class, the self who buys jumpers in Debenhams.
And this is exactly who Oxford Street serves: the people who are not cool enough to actually live in London. The sort of people who just want to shop in a larger version of the H&M they have in their home town, and have lunch in a Pizza Express.
Oxford Street is the shopping equivalent of students moving to London: everything’s bigger and busier, but you live the exact same way, never quite being one of those Mayfair cool kids.
John Lewis is the epitome of Oxford Street, especially at this time of the year. With the Christmas lights and window decorations, this is a place to draw in the tourists, to show what London has to offer. It’s bigger and better and has all the promise of a Christmas movie to bring you happiness; but, much like its Christmas advert this year, it is distinctly disappointing.
I have heard it be said that casinos will turn their lights on bright and their music on high, so that not-so-happy gamblers will not realise the time of day, gambling on forever in a hysteria of hope which leads only to disappointment. It is the exact same in John Lewis, as this monstrosity of a shop blares Christmas music and blinds you with sparkling Christmas decorations, so that you are forever kept in a kind of hallucinogenic state of holiday happiness that will keep you looking through kitchen appliances and corded trousers until you’ve missed your train back to Wakefield. This John Lewis is a place which will always promise more style, more comfort, more homely happiness, it is a deceitful game to ensure you stay forever. This John Lewis store is the kind of place you ‘pop into’ before lunch, and end up staying for three days.
Fortunately enough, once you are tired of trekking about the consumerist abyss that is John Lewis, you will fortunately find multiple restaurants and cafés that will ensure you never EVER leave.
This is what happened to me when I was faithfully going through the motions of a visit from my parents, and how I came to the John Lewis Café.
The Café on the top floor of the building is perhaps the redeeming feature of the shop. It provides an above-average view of many greyish rooftops, has plenty of light, and does a damn-fine red velvet cupcake.
This is not to say it doesn’t have its faults. Like the rest of Oxford Street, it is overrun with people, but this is made up for by efficient staff and plenty of space. Moreover, it isn’t the cheapest place on the block, but given the only time you will ever go there is with your parents, they should be paying anyway! Finally, the red velvet cupcake did admittedly have an overly firm sponge, but alas, nothing in this world is perfect I suppose.
So, next time you are wandering around Oxford Street, stuck in an enlargement of your old life, returning to the self you thought you’d left behind, go to the John Lewis Café for a sit down. It may not be Mayfair, and it may be full of people who wear Ralph Lauren, but it’s a great place for those of us who will never be true Londoners, a place we can feel at home.