In Kaleidoscope Town
Let’s be clear, I hate shopping.
As far as I’m concerned, there are few experiences more unpleasant than being trapped between two people you don’t know for as long as it takes for a cashier to be free. Chances are the person in front will spend the next five minutes rooting through their bag for a voucher you know they’ve lost. You’ll be acutely aware of the body odour behind you. Someone’s child will run into you, the parent will eye you with suspicion, and as you stand there in your shame, buying something you don’t need with money you shouldn’t spend, it’s only natural to question whether there is any good in the world.
However, shopping in London is different. Maybe it’s the glamour of the city, or the pollution going to my head, but there’s something about foraging in our biggest urban jungle that makes me understand the hunter-like thrill of retail success.
Stepping off the train into a sweet cloud of petrol fumes, commuters’ aftershave, and humidity, I beheld Waterloo in the glory of a summer morning. Even with the sunlight streaming in it had its familiar dusty city look, and was busy enough to make a young woman anonymous.
With the better part of my day off still lying ahead, I took the Underground to meet my holidaying family in the artsy mess that is Camden Market.
Specialising in nothing you could ever need and everything you might want, this sprawling bazaar has no cosmopolitan air. It is without order, in places a dive, and brimming with goths, overmade lolitas, and representatives from every aesthetically counter-culture subculture there is a name for.
If a thing has glitter or lace involved, or could do, you’ll probably find it in Camden.
Navigating the narrow passages between stalls and up between the buildings that spectate on the noise and confusion, I found gardens in bottles and corsets in every colour. I saw jewellery made from circuit boards, and kimonos patterned with cranes. There were vintage clothes, some genuine, some inspired, and enough lighters to spark the next Great Fire of London. Here I selected a suitably tacky tourist piece, for which I was silently judged by the vendor.
When my brother had accumulated enough Star Wars t-shirts to start his own boutique, we moved into the food court, and perched ourselves by the lock with four portions of a randomly selected Chinese feast.
We watched as Malaysian tourists clustered together for photographs and eccentric couples blended into the alternative mix of the crowd. The natives, brandishing cash and bartering each other for change, sounded like a cage of squabbling birds.
I stroked the folds of my graduation dress, bundled up inside a grey plastic bag; my surprising find of the day. Nothing like the elusive business dress I had systemically combed Southampton in search of, but somehow more like something I might enjoy wearing. Tacky, maybe, but if you’re looking for something, Camden probably has it (somewhere).
A short story: when I was fifteen and going to prom, my parents bought me the most beautiful pair of shoes. I have worn them in three places: at prom, to a hotel wedding, and around the house. They are a pair of shoes I know I will keep for the rest of my life, in sentiment and shameful worship.
My guiltiest crush? Irregular Choice.
On our way back to the bus Camden Market went from great to glorious, because I found the boutique of my dreams.
It was an Irregular Choice outlet. Inimitably wacky, almost impossible to coordinate, and always beautiful, Irregular Choice shoes are, for me, as close as the sole gets to perfection. Mad and gorgeous, expensive and unique, they seemed an apt conclusion, and a metaphor of the Camden experience.
Editor: Joel Emmons