Bicycling with a Vacuum Cleaner

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.


7 responses to “Bicycling with a Vacuum Cleaner

  1. Recommended (by me) BBC Radio:

    Friday afternoon: FiveLive: Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo discuss new movies. Primarily an exercise in personality, as disagreeing with Kermode about movies is often mandatory, but his rants are gleefully vitriolic.

    Friday evening: Radio 4: The News Quiz with Sandy Toksvig or The Now Show with Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis. News Quiz is a round up of the top stories in the news, with satirical focus. The Now Show is similar, but more ludicrous, and with musical interludes.

    Saturday Morning: 6Music: The Adam & Joe Radio Show: Alt-Popular music interspersed with random banter from a duo who were mildly famous on Channel 4 for being young and pop-cultural. Older now, but still charmingly irrelevant and mildly irreverent. Very much an audience-participation thing.

    Sunday Afternoons? Maybe? Radio 4: I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue: Panel show about bad puns, bad innuendo, and bad renditions of old and/or popular songs. So, so wonderful. Featuring vintage comedians and keen minds.

  2. shanalyns

    How funny! I can’t believe you found Argos and their catalog. About 5-6 years ago another sales rep and I sold them about 400k worth of content management software so that they could build that catalog automatically. I spent like a month building a proof of concept for them before visiting them on a crazily short trip to the UK. My boss and I flew into Heathrow and landed at 6:00 AM, had a meeting with our UK reseller at 10:00 AM in Swindon in which I learned that the pride of Swindon was its “Magic Roundabout”. They claim it’s the world’s most complex roundabout– five roundabouts come together in one giant circle. We then drove to Manchester, and had a 3:00 PM meeting with Argos there. We then drove back to London and checked into the Hilton Paddington and had a very late dinner. We were back on a plane to the US by 8:00 the next morning and landed in time to make it into work for a bit of the afternoon. I was jet lagged for like 3 days afterwords.

    • elewinnek

      Shana, I love it that you sold the software than enables Sophie’s bedtime story. She’s still sleeping with it. She likes to look at page 1601, cribs containing sleeping babies, but sometimes ends up over on the coffee-pot page or batteries or equestrian equipment or something. And so far we’ve only experienced a triple roundabout, not a pentuplet, which sounds absolutely horrible.

      • shanalyns

        Yeah, I came out of that roundabout dizzy. 🙂 I’m glad Soph likes the Argos catalog.


  3. amysilverman

    i find that there’s nothing more soothing than a good catalogue! when i was a kid all we had was the S&H stamp catalogue and Labelle’s. so much better now.

    i’m glad i finally had a chance to catch up with you and sophie as you make your way across the pond! such great observations and insights. ah, james — my favorite. i’m only sorry you won’t be in california next month when we come for our annual vacation. maybe the sophies can meet next year.

    • bencycles

      absolutely, let’s meet next year.

      • elewinnek

        oops, I meant to comment as elewinnek and didn’t notice that my husband bencycles was still logged in to this computer. Oh, well, Amy, I’m pretty sure that my husband will look forward to meeting you & Annabel & Sophie & Ray too.

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