Then yesterday I was visiting the John Lewis department store in Oxford Street looking for a 2014 pocket diary and I rediscovered the mysterious memory, or rather its replacement. There was once a plaque, bronze on wood, attached to the doorway of John Lewis, the side entrance on Holles Street. This must have been what I had remembered, but at some point it had been removed, explaining why I failed to find it again. Then in 2012 it was replaced by a City of Westminster plaque, and this is what I came upon yesterday.
|Replacement plaque erected in 2012.|
That was at Holles Street, a private residence at the time, but the house was demolished and the
|John Lewis Holles Street entrance.|
So I was in John Lewis today and also in Waitrose, its basement food shop, and I was thinking of paradise. I was thinking of paradise because that is what some friends of mine call Waitrose and John Lewis, and I do not disagree. Waitrose is certainly my favourite supermarket and I always feel in good hands when I shop for clothes or computers or just about anything else at John Lewis. The reason, though I did not know this at first, is that the John Lewis Partnership, which includes John Lewis department stores and Waitrose supermarkets all over the country, and the Peter Jones department store in Sloane Square, is a company owned by its employees; in fact its employees are not employees at all, they are partners - shelf fillers, check out assistants, buyers, department managers, no matter what they may be, all are partners. This came about because the founder's son, John Spedan Lewis, decided that not only should customers be guaranteed the quality of the goods they were sold, but that his employees should be guaranteed quality in their work and the way to ensure that was to hand the business over to them, to have everyone share in its fortunes.
That philosophy is explained in this brief biography of John Spedan Lewis and also in this BBC broadcast he made in 1957 when he was an old man. Spedan Lewis has rightly been voted Britain's greatest business leader in a BBC poll. Certainly the decency and the spirit of the man and his philosophy has been transmitted to the shop floor, and that explains why, even long before I knew all that, I thought along with my friends that pushing a trolley along the aisles of Waitrose was a transport through a kind of paradise.
And so how happier the association now that I have found Byron's plaque on the side of my favourite department store. Poor George Gordon never had the pleasure of shopping for Waitrose own-brand baked beans but he did have other delights, and now I will connect with these too next time I approach the check out counter.
Byron's version of paradise, one of them anyway, was Marguerite, Countess of Blessington. When she visited him in Italy he showed her a neighbouring villa, hoping to entice her to stay; the place was called Il Paradiso and he wrote this little poem, called Impromptu, his tribute to the paradise he found in her proximity.
The reclaimed Paradise
Should be free as the former from evil;
But if the new Eve
For an Apple should grieve,
What mortal would not play the Devil?