I was sent on a prop-hunting errand today, so for reasons which will only become apparent if and when you see the show, I found myself in Hamleys looking for seven plastic retractable knives, a bicycle bell and a cowboy hat.
I did the usual slightly furtive hunt around the whole shop (I always worry that people will think "what is that man in his late twenties doing here?) before conceding defeat and asking for help. The first shop assistant I asked wasn't much use, either. "Don't ask me," she said, "I'm in a black T-shirt. The ones in the black T-shirts don't know anything. You need to find someone in a red T-shirt."
So I found myself hunting for somebody in a red T-shirt, which took me some time (I thought about asking for help from one of the many people in black T-shirts across the store, but realised the Catch-22 situation I was in and doggedly continued alone).
By the time I found somebody in a red T-shirt I had also convinced myself that there were going to be no retractable knives. I imagined that they had almost certainly been removed due to knife crime or something, and I was ready for an argument. "But you have plastic swords," I would tell them. "Swords can do a lot more damage than a knife." They would shrug and say that London wasn't so very full of sword crime at the moment. "But you have guns!" I would persist. "Guns are very dangerous! You even have laser guns, which are the most dangerous of all." They would look around for a way to talk to somebody else, but I would press on: "Moreover you're selling Daleks, not only the most evil creation in the universe but a science fiction villain that was clearly modelled from the start on the Nazis! How come you'll sell a child a futuristic proto-fascist with a death ray but not a single plastic knife?"
So I picked the smuggest-looking red T-shirt in the shop and asked him where the retractable knives were, gearing myself up for a fight. To my surprise, he said "third floor", and turned away, his job done.
I returned to the third floor. Surely I had already looked in that bit of the shop?
And then I got there and realised why I hadn't had a look before. The third floor is decorated in pink and labelled "girls". Yet indeed, in amongst the frills and dolls and barbies and cuddly dogs and pushchairs and wendy houses, I discovered the retractable knives I needed.
So that is what young girls are getting up to these days. Whilst the boys play with their wholesome fictional science fiction robots and laser guns, the girls are hiding in alleyways and pretending to stab each other. No wonder the country is such a terrible, mixed-up place.
Mind you, what can you expect from a shop which displays this kind of message to the under-fives: