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August 13, 2003

Shopping bag

Maggie Alderson muses about a thirty-year old Biba shopping bag she has enshrined on her office wall. Somehow that simple object evokes the dreams of her youth, the passage of time and memories of her mum:

I went down to London on the train with my mum and my sister especially to visit the place. I can still remember the double staircase that swept down into the cosmetics hall and the general air of feeding frenzy. There were bellhops in satin uniforms who operated the lifts, bentwood hatstands that displayed accessories, and make-up counters where you were encouraged to try the make-up on your face. We all did.

On the top floor, the famous Rainbow Room supper club had been returned to its former splendour and was a very fashionable place to dine. When we got there, however, it was a total shambles - there was only trifle left for lunch. My mother, who had been anticipating a slap-up treat, was appalled. Suited me.

Flea-readers may not be surprised to learn of the jumble of artifacts at Flea Towers. A recent visitor said the place reminded him of Freud. There could hardly be a higher complement to the nobility of clutter. My antiquities are not yet so grand as Freud's. To my right is a doll of Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos riding a mule with that Zapatista Maid Marian Ramona. Next to the right-speaker above my desk are a statue of Thoth, a smaller statue of the Ape of Thoth and a replica of the Christ figure which adorns the staff of John Paul II (you can see it in a photo toward the bottom of this article). Next to the left-speaker is a lion-head decoration from some lost piece of Regency furniture, a replica of the One Ring and a silver statuette of a Hindu goddess purchased for me on the grounds she would be "handy around the house." To the immediate left of the monitor is a Welsh flag, an American two-dollar bill (yes, for good luck) and watching over these and the hundred other objects is a statue of Cthulhu.

I am not sure why I have all this stuff but it is bound up in the same associations Alderson has with her shopping bag. They are symbols and fetishes. Cosmological post-it notes which remind me are particular friends and relatives and some of the places I have been. Every once in awhile it is possible for our personal amulets to speak to other people. I had not, for instance, heard of Biba until I read about an ordinary shopping bag whose glamour meant a lot to a young woman back in 1971 and which could not now be had for love or money (though a quick check of eBay reveals a variety of Biba-themed items). Barbara Hulanicki was a big deal in the late 60s and early 70s, taking over Derry and Tom's Department Store and its famous roof gardens. It is one of those funny connections that I am almost positive I had read about the department store and the Kensington roof gardens as a teenager. They feature in Michael Moorcock's cluttered masterpiece Cornelius Chronicles. Jerry Cornelius was most definitely a Biba-shopper.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at August 13, 2003 09:57 AM