Whilst the majority of the British population were parking themselves in front of their televisions to watch England's much anticipated, yet still lamented, defeat by Germany in the football World Cup last weekend I sought sanctuary in a place I hoped would be empty and calm. London's shops have been a notable refuge during the football matches of late, whilst the pubs, bars and even electrical shops selling plasma screen TVs, have been filled with heaving masses of groaning and yelling. The minority of us uninterested in watching our national over-paid sportsmen chase a ball around a South African field have had easy access to mid-summer sales and peaceful browsing in usually packed shops. Last Sunday, in search of an air mattress to sleep on in my new flat until I could actually buy some proper furniture, I made for the mecca of all things homely and civilised - Peter Jones.
On a visit to this uber-department store I had once overheard an amusing exchange on the escalators. "Do you know Peter Jones?" said one man to another, as if at a cocktail party introducing his companion to President Obama. The companion replied that regretfully he did not. The first man gestured to the six open-plan floors of clothes, electronics, furniture and glassware and continued, "This is it. Well, it's like an up-market John Lewis." I stifled a giggle behind this confident knower of Peter Jones, for in one way he was right but in another very wrong. Up-market though it may be, Peter Jones IS a Jones Lewis store. Several years ago when all the other John Lewis stores across the country lost their individual names (farewell "Jessops of Nottingham", adieu "Cole Brothers in Sheffield"), to all be known as John Lewises Peter Jones retained its name; so iconic was the store in its own right. It has sat on Sloane Square since the late 19th century, and despite undergoing numerous cosmetic surgeries is still a significant part of the Chelsea landscape.
Each department, from lighting and ovens in the basement to the imaginatively named "Top Floor" restaurant on, er, the top floor, is staffed by polite, well-spoken "partners". Due to the partnership structure of the company, in which all employees are share-holders in the business, no one is referred to as a shop assistant here. Displays are clean, bold and unfussy, leading one to believe that a single, vast television with surround-sound and an ipod dock is really all one needs in one's life to be happy. I found my air mattress in a deserted bed department, and no sooner had I found exactly what I was after a partner appeared at my elbow to offer assistance and to relieve me of my money. Had I not had time to browse the other floors I could have left with what I came for in 10 minutes flat - now that really is a score of which to be proud.
A wander around Peter Jones, amongst the yummy Chelsea mummies and daddies and tweedy proper English ladies, is the perfect antidote to World Cup hysteria. High piles of thick towels, huge racks of shiny saucepans and clothing from ballgowns and Ascot-worthy hats to yoga pants and tennis whites. All so calm and quiet, and abundant. There really cannot be much one needs in life that cannot be purchased from Peter Jones. Except maybe a decent national football team.