Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The taste of childhood

I mentioned a couple of days ago that at least a portion of Australian expatriates in London essentially make up an "economically successful minority". We are basically talking professionals who live and work in London and probably make three or four times as much money as they could make at home. (Such are the rewards of living in a genuine world city). But of course if you grew up in Australia in certain ways, including at some times gut feeling, London never becomes home.

When one travels from one country to another life changes. And the little details of life change in unexpected ways. When you are in a place that is not the place that you grew up things like tastes and smells are different, and this always means that in some ways the place you are now is a little alien.

And part of this is the things that you find in the shops. Often they are almost the same, but not quite the same. This is especially the case for food items, and I think very especially the case with food items when you compare between Australia and anywhere else. Australia is a big place. The country features several climate zones. All manner of things are grown and made locally, and due to the tyranny of distance importing things is often more trouble than it is worth. In a lot of cases why really would you want to? The quality of the local product is usually extremely high.

When one lives in London one normally just gets used to it. There are subtle differences between the ingredients you use to cook food in London and the ingredients you use to cook food in Australia. You could slightly different food. It may be a little different but it isn't worse. It may once have been, but British supermarkets are now full of high quality ingredients.

But you still miss things. More than anything you miss the distinctive and most intense tastes of things that you regularly ate during your childhood. Often, this is the tastes of confectionary you ate when you were a child. And as there are in most places, there are particular types of chocolate bar and sandwich spread and other like things that are distinctive to Australia.

The Harvey Nichols department store in Knightsbridge has a certain noveau riche quality about it. I don't think it on the whole sells terribly interesting products (although there is plenty of good stuff sold there), but it has a certain catchet, and its management know how to cater to a certain clientele.

It is the sort of place that you expect to find footballers wives, hosts of reality television shows, and people who work in the public relations business, thinking that it is the height of sophistication to shop there. (Large portions of the television show "Absolutely Fabulous", were filmed in the store). I get the impression that newly rich expatriates might shop there for a while due to receiving recomendations from their secretaries, before moving somewhere a little more understated after being in London for a few years. (Harvey Nichols is certainly a place where actual Londoners shop, unlike nearby Harrods, which has been transformed into little more than a tourist attaction at this point). Selfridges is a much better store than either of them if you ask me. Being in Oxford Street possibly helps, as this is where normal people shop and they don't so much in Kinghtsbridge.

In any event, on the top floor there is a bar, a coffee bar, a kaiten-zushi restaurant, some other kind of restaurant the details of which I can't remember, and a wine shop (selling some very good stuff, including an excellent selection of Australian wines) and a food hall. Besides selling fresh and high quality meat, seafood, and fruit and vegetables, this also contains shelves of immaculately arranged packaged foodstuffs, most of them imported from interesting places and of high quality. Look at what it includes.

(Sorry about the variable quality photographs. The light was so-so, and I took the photos surreptitiously and quickly, as the proprietors of many stores do not like people taking photographs inside. As it happened nobody hassled me about it though).

And there's this:

(On previous occasions they had Mint Patties in the place that is half-heartedly filled with chocolate truffles. Disappointingly there weren't any today. I would prefer a Mint Pattie to a chocolate truffle any time).

And of course it is marvelous what a difference Milo makes (even if it is a crappy photo).

But despite all this, these are all peripheral to the key way in which Harvey Nick's sustains Australian expatriates in need.

All non-Australian readers in London with Australian friends should appreciate a key fact. If your friend is suicidal or just needs cheering up, the way to solve the problem is to go to Knightsbridge, and buy a packet of Tim Tams (even for £3.35), and give them to your friend. This will solve the problem immediately. Judging by the size of the Tim Tams section, I suspect that this is a major money making venture.

Amusingly, while I was there a young woman walked down that aisle, looked at the Tim Tams, looked at the price, and then took one packet off the shelf. She then looked like she was about to move away but the though "What the heck?" clearly went through her mind and she took a second packet off the shelf before heading to the cashier.

Oddly, though, I am not a huge fan of chocolate or sweet stuff, and although I will eat Tim Tams, they are not quite as effective on me as on most Australians.

What I would really like is a packet of Twisties. (They're the number one extruded snack, after all).

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