I inhale deeply. I can’t quite believe we are about the do this. How did we get this far? Why did we ever think this was a good decision? What came over us? I rack my mind to remember the mission, the purpose which led us to this terrifying juncture. I remember and try to stop shaking. I steel myself and look ahead, both fists clenched, scared but determined to see this through.
The huge castle like doors open and out bounds a large imposing furry figure and what looks like a ringmaster. LG jumps, her bottom lip quivering, as both the door guardians loom and gesture for us to enter. I exchange nervous glances with my troops. ‘Stay focused,’ I tell them all, and bravely we all step forward into the breach.
Suddenly the air is filled with loud music and a melee of colours, sights and smells. My senses go into overdrive. I search frantically, trying to read the jumble of letters on the large sign just inside the door. I see it. Marvellous Marvin’s Magic, Ground Floor.
I hold on tightly to LG, Mr GGL holds on tightly to LB and we start to weave our way to the back of the store. Suddenly, a polystyrene B52 glider swoops overhead, missing my face by just centimetres. I start to lose my balance and stumble into what appears to be a rainbow, but on closer inspection is a display of My Little Pony the likes of which have never been seen. Row upon row of the smug little bastards. I recoil in equal amounts of awe and horror and quickly draw LG’s attention to something else, before any of those overpriced equine twats end up coming home with us.
We keep going, but soon face another near decapitation – this time at the hands of a large inflatable frisbee. The man responsible for lobbing it at us looks possessed, consumed with power and (probably) incredulous that he gets paid for assaulting passerbys. I swear I see his eyes turn red as he surveys the carnage he is about to reek upon the unsuspecting families, tourists and those who have accidentally wandered in thinking it might be ‘fun’. LG and LB start shouting gibberish, no longer able to form words or sentences that don’t include ‘I WANT’ or “CAN I HAVE.’ The vowels and consonants blur into a babble and I lock eyes with my husband, who by now has half a head covered in glitter and is carrying 13 shopping bags picked up in a panic as we entered.
We see it. Marvellous Magic Marvin’s stand. There’s a man, performing a lacklustre magic trick with the pizzazz of Nick Grimshaw in a chill out room. LB’s voice reaches fever pitch, hitting a new octave so high it causes passing dogs to wince in fright. We watch the magic man – lets live the lie and call him ‘Marvin -‘ as he shows the audience (just us) a trick involving a couple of fake coins and a prosthetic thumb. He finishes without a flourish and as we try and get his attention, he notices a colleague (let’s call her ‘Tina’) head past the stand and out of a cleverly hidden escape route which looks like part of the wall. We ask Marvin if he has any tricks suitable for a 4 year old and he mumbles ‘coin,’ gestures to a stand behind him and shuffles after Tina rubbing his crotch and dreaming of a quickie behind the giant Thomas the Tank in the stockroom. The coin trick is for ages 8 and up and costs £25. We’ve been defeated.
Or have we? My husband wipes the glitter from his face, discards 11 of the 13 bags in the Ben and Holly section (find your way out of that Nanny Plum) and begins to scan the shelves, looking only at age ranges and anything under £15. He finds it. 250 tricks in one box, ages 4 and up. Bingo. And as a Brucie bonus it’s the only box marked as £10 in the midst of 300 identical boxes marked as £25. We are delirious with our triumph. There’s only one thing left to do, but it involves going to the third floor. Buoyed by our success we decide to push on. We hit the escalator running.
It’s all a bit of a blur. There’s Lego, Brio, Playmobil, Duplo, Peppa Pig, Bing, Bob the Builder, and a whole section of Disney which could wipe out the bank accounts of any parent foolish enough to linger for more than 2 seconds. Kids fly past atop Trunki’s screaming ‘MOVE’ and ‘BUY BUY BUY!’ It sounds like the trading floor at Goldman Sachs, with roughly the same amount of money exchanging hands and a similar level of coke induced zombies wandering about (except not coke but Coke™). Somehow, we make it to third floor. Build a Bear Workshop. We’re on the home straight.
If you’ve been lucky enough to escape Build a Bear workshop and need a synopsis, let me attempt to capture the essence in a (rather long) sentence.
Build a Bear workshop is a gimmick in which your child chooses the carcass of stuffed toy, queues for hours to help a bored 19 year old stuff said carcass and put a tiny fake heart inside it, before joining another snaking amusement park style queue to pay for the teddy he/she ‘made’ whist being sold shoes/ clothes/ genital jewellery for the now stuffed toy at a premium price of £50 per item.
We bought Belle bear (??) and some size appropriate nipple clamps and started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was nearly over. We just had to make it past the shitstorm downstairs before we rejoined society and could start our lives all over again. Surely the journey out would be smoother than the one we had encountered so far? Alas, we hadn’t bargained on the Transformers section and the terrifying collection of baby dolls littering the descent and causing endless squabbling/ moaning/ whingeing/ tantrum-ing.
I catch a glance of my face in the reflection of a nearby mirrored Ninky Nonk. I had aged at least ten years. How long had we been in here? Hours? Days? Weeks? Would we ever leave? How could we secretly discard the two bags of toys we had collected over the last two floors, kept in the bags just for a quiet life with no intention of ever letting them cross a cash desk? Who knows. After all, this isn’t just a toy store.
This is Hamleys.