Real life

Is ours the oddest high street in the land?

26 March 2022

9:00 AM

26 March 2022

9:00 AM

The window of the new shop was as brightly coloured as a circus entrance, and stuffed full of items bearing no relation to each other, from chocolates and candles to vases and old chairs. The unusual name, too, made the place seem like it might have some mystical, hidden purpose.

The builder boyfriend wandered over the road from our house to explore this latest niche store to open up in the village.

When he came back he said: ‘Do you remember Papa Lazarou from League of Gentlemen?’

I do indeed remember the demonic circus character who featured in four episodes of the TV show. He would bang on people’s doors and kidnap women declaring: ‘You’re my wife now!’ He ought to have had no basis in fact, but sometimes things occur in this curtain-twitching corner of Surrey that put us in mind of him, if only because of their discombobulating randomness.

Papa Lazarou has been declared haram now, because he wore face paint. The writers of the hit series tried, I think, to explain that it was a circus costume, like a clown. But in June 2020 The League of Gentlemen was withdrawn from distribution on Netflix due to the character being considered ‘blackface’. I despair.

Papa Lazarou is a genius character because, as ridiculous as he is, he and the rest of the strange members of his ‘pandemonium circus’ have some sort of resonance in the daft but unnerving things that happen every day in small towns.


Like when a new shop opens with a very odd name and a feature window full of disparate objects.

We keep driving by this place staring at it because we long for some ordinary shops to open where we can actually buy stuff we need.

In this one small high street two of the most prominent shops are a dive centre (we are 50 miles from the sea) and an art gallery selling pictures of tigers that has not opened once in the four years I have lived here and which does not answer the phone nor reply to emails even when you message them begging them to sell you a painting of a tiger, because I tried it.

We have a Land Rover repair shop where the man once told the BB he only repaired Land Rovers for friends, a guitar shop with a grille across the door, and a shed centre which often has a board outside saying ‘Wanted – Lawyer!’ so you don’t want to go in there.

We have a down-at-heel pub where only local councillors are allowed to sit in one corner, and two mind-blowingly expensive Michelin-starred restaurants. Not much in between.

Thank goodness for the One Stop and, on the edge of the village, a farm shop. But for the most part the high street looks very odd because it is full of niche enterprises.

So off went the BB for a look at this latest retail offering, and came back to report that it was high end bric-à-brac, with faded lampshades for £90 and chintzy old plates for £250. But the main focus of the business appeared to be something so bizarre he couldn’t explain it. He had a postcard they had given him.

This bore a photograph of two red leather armchairs with some red cord draped over them. On the back of the card was a company name featuring two Ps, three Ls, three Os, a Z, and three As. It was not Papa Lazarou’s Pandemonium Emporium but it was as near as damn it.

And the product they were selling was brightly coloured fabric extension leads to plug your ‘unsightly’ electrical cables into. These fabric cables, for £50, did not hide the plastic cable coming out of the appliance in question, they simply connected to the plug of the appliance so on the end of the plastic cable you could have more cable that was not plastic, but made of brightly coloured cord.

The BB sat down on the sofa with this card in his hand and read it out loud, then reread it. Then I read it. But no matter how many times we read it we could not begin to work out how anyone had come up with this, nor made it into a business, nor attempted to sell it in a shop, never mind one on a village high street with virtually no passing trade.

‘Do you think it’s a cover for something?’ I asked. ‘Maybe Papa Lazarou’s out the back, plotting to kidnap women who go in there? Maybe he creeps up behind them with the red cord between his hands?’ But the BB said he thought it was genuine.

‘This place gives the permanently closed gallery not selling pictures of tigers a run for its money,’ I said, and he agreed.

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