Wednesday, November 21, 2007

For Tylers

I moan too much and, being of an essentially sunny disposition, I'm not going to get cross about Gordon Brown losing our personal details and opening up half of the country to indentity theft and stupendous personal losses. I will, however, being of sunny disposition, point out the big upside of this story which is that New Labour's swivel-eyed determination to construct  a surveillance state seems to be at an end. Brown's dream of our own stasi are over. No, my real subject matter this morning is a shop in Notting Hill Gate. It is called Tylers, though we know it as 'the shop that sells everything'. At first glance it does not seem promising with a window full of artificial flowers and various indeterminate objects. Inside a series of tall, stacked aisles are organised according to a plan that still defeats me. But, trust me, you will find what you want. I always have. Yesterday I wanted something rather complicated - basically a bolt, the ends of which had to be sawn off. One of the staff waited patiently for my faltering explanation to end. He first offered me a length of threaded steel about three feet long, changed his mind, opened a packet of bolts, took out one, checked the size, took it to a vice, sawed, cleaned up, checked, laughed amiably at my lack of the correct expert vocabulary and charged me £1.25. Everywhere else in over-rich London, people snarl at me and try to gouge me for every penny I own. But Tylers is a shop from the past, a shop undiscovered by management insultants and marketing swine. It is a shop with ethos. It is also a startling anomaly. The surrounding stores are Tesco, O2, Boots, W.H.Smith and so on. The big, boring chains are, generally, the only shops that can afford the absurdly high rents around here. I can't imagine how Tylers survives, though it seems to be run by an old Asian family who may have had the sense of grab to freehold when they could. Or, perhaps, it simply makes a lot of money. This is quite possible if there a few thousand people like me. I now feel I need to go to Tylers every day. I think of some obscure thing I might buy and step through the dodgy automatic doors just in case it's in there. It always is. This can't be done with Boots or Tesco because I know exactly what's in there - the same things that are in every other Boots and Tesco. All shops should be like Tylers. But only Tylers is like Tylers. To one of my sunny disposition, it is an unalloyed delight. The news that Osama had exploded a nuke in Central London or Brown had lost all our personal details would send me straight to Tylers. It's safe there and I bet they'd have iodine pills and a radiation protection suit.


  1. I used to visit a similarly delightful store in Higher Broughton in Salford called WB Household Stores. It was run by a devout and quiet Jewish chap and all the products, whether they be duracell batteries or drill bits are stored in old brown boxes with their names on the sides. He appeared to have everything you would need and at low prices too. I think it is my favourite shop in the whole world. An oasis of practical help and good manners in the midst of the usual high street chains and surrounding urban menace.

  2. Are you using the word 'essentially' to mean that the quality of being sunny, while perhaps intrinsically important in shaping who you are, is nevertheless inaccessible or unknowable to us, somewhat akin to the Kantian concept of noumenon, that is, utterly beyond our experience as sentient beings?
    Just wondered.

  3. Funny you should say that, Neil. I think on the whole my disposition is beyond the reach of human knowledge. 'Sunny' scarcely does it justice. 'Deep' would be closer.

  4. By necessity. What would happen if we all stopped playing the game and revealed who we are, what we really think and... no, no, that wouldn't be a good idea at all, would it? Do they sell masks in Tylers? Do they sell identities?

  5. They certainly do, Neil - that's where I got mine.

  6. a threaded stud you wanted? I thought you mentioned you came from a long line of engineers - hmm, it must have been the Buddhist guy!

    yeah, I love those shops. next time you're in there, ask for fork 'andles.

  7. Bryan, that sounds like my kind of shop. I’ve always been a big fan of Robert Dyas - I’ve spent many a happy hour mooching around in there finding things to improve home and hearth and, therefore, life. It was a sad day indeed when they dispensed with the weeny pigeonholes full of assorted hardware - what a joy it was to buy a single cup hook, or half a dozen tacks! Still, much fun is still to be had within its hallowed portals, and, if you’re lucky, much assistance too. Not so long ago I found myself blinking incredulously as one of the helpful assistants opened a bag of plastic washers and, at much risk to himself, used a Stanley knife to carve one to exactly the size and shape I needed. He then refused to charge me! Astonishing, when having stand up arguments with aggressively belligerent shop assistants seems to be my usual daily occurence.
    J Cheever Loophole

  8. Ah yes indeed Cheever - it's amazing really that anything so closely approximating a Proper Shop hangs on on the high-rent high streets of London. We should all buy as much as we can in (Para)Dyas - our high streets would be bleak indeed if that company went under...

  9. I now feel I need to go to Tylers every day.

    "Back again," I said airily, and waved a K47.

    Tyler came towards me, smiling shiftily. “I was looking forward to it.”

    I stood there and admired the long line of his shelves. My eyes slowly panned the knobs. They were worth a stare. At certain times he has a habit of lifting one of them up, and peering at it in a speculative manner.

    What you see is nothing," he said. "I've got a screwdriver engraved on my butt and Swastikas on my balls.”

    I didn’t feel like giving odds on that.

    “You have a misconception of the purpose of my visit, Sir. I need identity cards, preferably bogus, a large number of counterfeit credit cards, an airline brochure giving details of flights to the middle-east, a Russian instruction manual for launching missiles, an aerial high-resolution photograph depicting Heathrow Airport, half a dozen small plastic zip-up bags filled with a white powder, surgical gloves, plastic syringes, a gas-mask and bio containment-suit.”

    Tyler considered that without any precipitation.

    “Is there a problem?” I said.

    He pulled at the bottom drawer of his shelf with a sudden and snap determination, let a pile of passports in different nationalities pass under my eyes, kissed me square on my mush, and set fire to a fag.

    "No problem at all!“

    So there you are. Who says corner-shops are all washed up?

  10. Even though I'm scared of Selena, I want to post about inexpensive shops managing to survive in otherwise gentrified surroundings. I noticed this last week. In Phila., the most expensive area in town is Rittenhouse Square. Walnut Street feeds into the square and it is lined with upscale shops and fine restaurants -- Le Bec Fin, Alma de Cuba, Susanna Foo's (look 'em up; they're the gold standard here) -- and YET. There's a great, cheap Italian resto there that I always visit with my kids: Di Pietro's. Great pizza, pasta, you name it. No entree over $10.

    So how do they do it? I keep wondering if the mafia has a card game going in the basement or something.

  11. Ms. Dreamy, you are as mad as a bag of frogs.

  12. Shops like Tylers are treasures and almost impossible to find in my neck of the woods these days. The oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi River is not that far away, however. It turned 155 years old this year, and still has original unsold stock I'm sure. Studebaker made wheelbarrows for them before he went on to make cars. Crocker worked there before he went on to build railroads (Central & Southern Pacific) and banks.

  13. This morning I had a BMW tyre repaired and refitted for £6 in Yorkshire. Brilliant job too and far cheaper than a Kwik Fit fitter. If Tyler's fitted tyres, could they beat that?

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