I felt truly British today, as I pedaled my bicycle home from Argos, balancing a vacuum cleaner, two pillows, one kids’-toy-grocery-cart, and, of course, Sophie herself on my bike. We made it around the round-about alright.
The challenge is that Ben’s “furnished” apartment was actually only half-furnished. There were beds but no bedding, a dining-room table but no implements for cooking or eating, wall-to-wall carpeting but no vacuum cleaner. Ben filled in most of the gaps before I got here, but I still needed to fill in a few more. I don’t mind having no television, but I longed for a radio: it was just too weird to be in Britain and be missing the BBC. Thankfully, I stumbled across Argos, a sort of overweight stepchild of Costco and Ikea. The store itself consists of only bare counters, looking like some Soviet-style space, where customers line up at one counter to pay, then another counter to pick up their orders which arrive by conveyor belt from some mysterious backroom. What’s mysterious, to me, is that this small storefront sells more than 18,500 items. I don’t know how they all fit into the basement or backrooms and wherever that conveyor belt goes to.
They just barely fit into a massive catalog that Sophie has started calling “My book.” It’s sized like a telephone directory. We use it as a booster-seat so Sophie can reach our dining-room table, but she also likes to browse through that hefty thing. She likes to look at page 1613 which shows Argos’s various products featuring Elmo, Peppa Pig, Postman Pat, and Teletubbies, along with eleven beaming children relishing their toys.
Sophie has started getting lonely here: she likes looking at photos of other kids. She has even re-named her mirror reflection “Chloe,” after our two-year-old neighbor back home.
Long ago, as an adolescent babysitter, I was appalled when one father told me that his son’s favorite bedtime story was the Toys’r’Us catalog. I swore that no child of mine would ever mistake a catalog for a story. Now, Chloe’s mother tells me she’s reading a book called, “I was a perfect parent before I had children” and that applies perfectly to me.
Last night, Sophie insisted on reading the Argos catalog before bed. Worse, she insisted on taking the book to bed. In vain, I tried to distract her with the great literature we have around. Eventually, I simply accepted the inevitable. In the morning, I found the catalog still in her bed, open to page 807, wardrobe doors.