The retailers of Oxford Street have spoken - British summertime is officially over. A mere week away from the end of August and we've given up here in London. Nowhere can one buy a bikini, or any swimwear for that matter more suited to lying on a beach than competing in a triathlon. Now, I find this a little odd. Come March, driving rain and interminable grey skies, and one cannot move for suncream and flip-flops, but trying to buy holiday acoutrements in the holiday season...? Good luck! Taking a holiday towards the end of August is not particularly crazy, right? August is an easy month at work - no one is in the office; there's not much to do except drink endless cups of tea and gossip by the photo-copier. So why waste precious holiday allowance to miss that? Far better to go away just as everyone else gets back and chaos ensues as projects start up again and summer interns find themselves ousted from their 'hot-desks', as the rightful owners lay claim once more.
So, out I tripped one lunchtime in search of something to give me hideous tan-lines, and could I find such a garment anywhere? I searched all the obvious high street chains. Nothing. All the less obvious high street chains. Zilch. I resorted to the stalwart, mummy-favoured M&S. Zippo. Nada. Everywhere was all woollen coats and polo-necks, as if the new season's theme was "British summers suck, so lets pretend it's winter all year round with an easy to maintain single-season wardrobe". I didn't feel strong enough to brave La Senza, where all potential swimwear looked highly flammable (mental note: stay away from pool-side tiki torches in those, girls). Seeing no way out I took a deep breath and manned up - I headed to Topshop.
The Oxford Street Topshop is not so much a flag-ship store, as a store where one expects to find white surrender flags flying, as weary shoppers throw in the towel and vow to make their own clothes from used potato-sacks rather than do battle with this place ever again. Three whole floors (it feels like more) of crammed clothes racks, manic shoppers and assorted accessories. There are entire sections dedicated to denim, underwear, clothes for tall people, and clothes for small people. Harassed-looking shop assistants with crackling walkie-talkies scurry between the mainly female clientele, with armfuls of sparkly jackets and wet-look leggings. The shoppers themselves dart around with glassy-yet-focussed eyes, much like small children in a sweet-shop, not knowing whether to go for the sherbet dib-dabs or tackle the penny sweets first.
I manoeuvered my way through endless teenagers and young girls with big hair and panda eye make-up, stepping over the piles of clothes on the ground which had become separated from their hangers; the downed and fallen in this retail battlefield. The atmosphere is over-heated hysteria. It is impossible to look calm and collected in the Oxford Circus branch of Topshop, particularly in August with NO AIR CONDITIONING! What are the management thinking? Maybe they're hoping the heat, and the stress of searching for a size 12 black boyfriend blazer with rolled-up Miami Vice-esque sleeves, will floor all the shoppers, who'll head for the nearest reviving Starbucks and leave them in peace to rearrange the viscose-mix jerseys.
Well it worked with me. After locating the store's pitifully small and depressing swimwear display I cut my losses and headed for the escalators up to the ground floor, practically sprinting out into the light, trampling teens underfoot. And after the trauma of seeing so many high-waisted shorts in such a small space of time I didn't have the heart to continue my search. So I headed back to the office, where things weren't nearly so stressful.