I shop for clothes once a year, and only wish my visits to the dentist were as infrequent. An afternoon during the January sales will find me in the drapery section of a small selection of stores kitting myself out for the twelve months ahead. When I return home with my bag of rags the current consort will invariably remark that it didn’t take me too long. I’m a functional shopper, except when it comes to books; I could spend a whole day in a bookshop and come home enough reading material to last two pandemics.
The concept of retail therapy is beyond me, why someone would shop for pleasure is an alien concept. Although I do remember once shopping therapeutically. I was having a particularly difficult time at work and, during lunchtime one day, I took myself to the local shopping centre to buy some lunch and escape from the office.
As I wandered around aimlessly munching on my ham and cheese roll, I spotted a pair of lovely Italian shoes on display in the window of a shoe shop. They were beautiful, with shiny black leather uppers and tan leather soles. After I finished my roll, I popped in to try them on. They slipped on to my feet as if they belonged there forever.
An attentive assistant was glowing in her assessment of how well they suited me. Unfortunately the price tag put them beyond my reach. With three small children at home and a mortgage to pay I couldn’t justify spending that kind of money footwear. I handed them back to the assistant who put her head to one side and looked at me as if I was a sad puppy. She asked if I would like to try another, more economically sensitive brand, but it was the Italians or bust - nothing else would soothe my existential angst. I moped my way back to the grey walls of the workplace, resigned to spending the rest of my life in the mediocrity of leatherette and rubber.
However, a few weeks later the work situation improved dramatically. I felt like dancing and singing and buying Italian shoes, which I duly did. I called to the shop on my way home and the same sensitive assistant boxed and wrapped my Mediterranean footwear, we were both delighted with my purchase and agreed I was worth it.
As things turned out, the shoes were not as fond of me as I was of them. After a few outings to weddings, funerals and similar formal occasions the reality of their dislike dawned on me, painfully. My gorgeous sleek black Italians turned out to be a pair of straitjackets that seemed to tighten at every perambulation. I eventually gave them to a friend endowed with a more dainty pair of crubeens than me.
Had my dalliance with the Italians worked out I might now be an avid proponent of the therapeutic benefits of shopping, I might even have developed an online presence earning a fortune as an ‘influencer’. Yes, an influencer for the golden oldies, advertising a range of comfortable clothes for those who need comfort rather than speed in all things. But alas and alack, the pair of elegant Mediterranean straitjackets choked off those possibilities before they had a chance to germinate.
The current consort shares my utilitarian approach to shopping. However, we have reared daughters who savour every element of the process. They smack their lips at the prospect of a trip to the shops going into a trance as they saunter their way through the aisles, stroking fabrics here, taking a sample spray of perfume there, holding garments up to their necks and flicking their hair back as they swivel in front of full length mirrors trying to establish whether or not the item does anything for them.
There is a distinct sense of completion when they arrive at the checkout desk. Parting painlessly with card or cash they watch, mesmerised, while their latest acquisition is wrapped and bagged. And as they leave the emporium, arms draped in bags, they pause here and there for one last look at items that caught their eye but didn’t quite make the shortlist. They touch them reassuringly as if to say, “I will be back for you, darling, just you wait.”
In these lock-down days the shopping experience is reduced to a two dimensional screen transaction - that is until the white van appears at the gate signifying that a full session of retail therapy is about to be delivered in one shot. As the driver slides open the side-door of his vehicle the excitement reaches fever pitch inside the house where shaking hands struggle with the lock on the front door. As the man approaches the porch the parcel is taken from him with the minimum of ceremony. After a whooping dash down the corridor the wrapping is torn open, the fabric is stroked , the garment is held up to the neck and the soothing effect of a completed session of retail therapy ripples through the house.
I’m happy to wait for the January sales.
First published in the Farming Independent on Tuesday, February 16th 2021