Omnia Omnibus Ubique

Back home people had said, “In London you must see Harrods.” So I sacrificed a day I could have spent wandering the National Portrait Gallery and found my way to Knightsbridge. I was twenty and could not have cared less about department stores or shopping, but from the outside Harrods was a palace of gold—ornate façade, baroque-style dome, and high windows like Versailles. I confess I was impressed. In the food hall, I didn’t know whether to admire the delectable cakes or the Art Nouveau tiles of peacocks drinking from the fountains of paradise. I opened my guidebook and for a few minutes lost myself in reading. I read that not only the Royals, but many of my heroes had shopped here—Oscar Wilde and Sigmund Freud—and that in 1921 A.A. Milne had bought a Harrods bear for his son, Christopher Robin. I thought to purchase something small but elegant for my mother—candlesticks perhaps—but when I looked up from my book, there were no clerks in sight. There was no one in Harrods at all. I wandered the extravagant aisles alone until a fireman in yellow helmet, turnout coat, and rubber boots found me. He asked what I was doing. “Nothing,” I said, suddenly understanding. This was the time of “the troubles,” when the IRA had taken its bombing campaign to England. When I innocently came out the front door—emergency trucks everywhere, red lights swirling, the streets now completely cleared and barricaded—a dozen somber agents and policemen turned, sharp and alert. Yet no one stopped me. No one questioned me. The men were well trained. They looked me up and down and in an instant surmised who I was—a harmless, lost, woolgathering Yank.

Richard Jones is the author of seven books from Copper Canyon Press, including The Correct Spelling & Exact Meaning. Editor of Poetry East and its many anthologies, including Paris, Origins, and Bliss, he also edits the free worldwide poetry app, “The Poet’s Almanac.” www.richardjonespoetry.wordpress.com