Do you remember when you first discovered shopping was a legit pastime? The freedom! The choice! The thrill of handing over your hard-begged cash for something you had chosen yourself! It happened to me when I was about eleven, once we got too old for building dens and rolling down hills. Instead, we started spending our Saturday afternoons wandering around the local shopping centre discussing the issues of our youth: whether or not we’d get real jobs one day (we would), or if it’s possible to get pregnant from giving someone a blow job (you can’t), or whether we’d ever get married (the jury is still out).
In the early days we blew our pocket money in Superdrug and Tammy Girl’s polyester wonderland. Later, hours would be spent poring over the singles chart in Woolworths. (Like many ’89ers, my first ever CD was Steptacular by Steps. I don’t count ABBA Gold, which was technically my mother’s, even though I listened to it before bedtime for six months straight on my Discman because I had a weird crush on Benny Andersson when I was ten.) Plastic ‘skins’ for our Nokia 5100s were considered at length, and a decent fraction of our dwindling childhood was lost in The Body Shop, where we would moisturise ourselves senseless with all the body butters before begrudgingly purchasing a sickly-sweet chapstick out of politeness.
But while I have many happy memories of trekking round Milton Keynes shopping center in my teens, I swear nobody does that shit for fun any more. Clothes shopping is no longer pleasurable. Time is too short or funds are too low or the lunch you just ate was too big. There is too much choice, and everything looks the same. The worst part of shopping for clothes is trying the fuckers on. Changing rooms are little cubicles of ugly that will bring out the worst in everyone. Overhead fluorescent lighting gives skin the sickly pallor normally associated with liver disease, and would probably manage to make even Sleeping Beauty look like a lifelong insomniac. Why retailers insist on ugging everyone up to the max I have no idea; if I had a shop I would make it my top priority that people trying stuff on felt like hot fucking shit. Fun house mirrors, soft lighting, really fit blokes manning the changing rooms to do double-takes when people emerge from their cubicles… Maybe I’ve missed the point, but why in the world would anyone spend half a month’s rent on a dress if it made them look like a pickled hag?
The other big problem with shopping in real life is salespeople. Whereas there are undoubtedly a lovely few working in retail today, 90% of those I encounter are bored teenagers, sullen jobsworths or nauseatingly breezy people who are blatantly on either crack or commission. These overly helpful ones are the most irritating of all. You tell them you’re fine, thanks, but if you accidentally make eye contact with them they come bouncing back like a boomerang. Then you feel like a raging arsehole for being horrible to them, even though you’re not really horrible, you’re just in a bad mood because the last changing room made you look like Iggy Pop after a heavy night and you want to be left alone to stew in your ugliness.
Once I was in Agent Provocateur trying on a bra. (It was actually the outlet in Bicester Village, seeing as there is no way I would (or could) spend £350 on a feathered bootlace and a doily with straps, but it still isn’t cheap. Usually even in the sale their shit carries the kind of price tag that makes most people stiff (!) with fear. I had, however, uncovered a bargain, in deep red silk with lace edging. It was beautiful). Because it was still a bit of a splurge, I tried it on, but was interrupted when a sales assistant, bedecked in fluffy mules and a pencil skirt that made her arse look like two ferrets in a sack, burst in through the velvet curtain. Totally uninvited. My tits were out and everything, but luckily she wasn’t looking at those because it was the day after my first ever Hula-Aerobics class (don’t ask) and my entire midsection was covered in purple bruises from the weighted hoop. She completely freaked out, clearly thinking I was a tragic victim of domestic violence, until I reassured her that in fact I was an amateur hula-hooper and my injuries were self-inflicted. Dramatic as fuck though.
Because actual shopping brings on a strange and powerful urge to lobotomise myself with a clothes hanger, I now buy 99% of my stuff online. This opens up a whole new avenue of predicament. Obviously you have to actually purchase things before you can try them on, so by the time they’ve got to you they’re sort of yours already, so it can be hard to send back pieces you’d ordinarily reject in a shop. Consequently, I now have more clothes than I could ever need, and still I continue to buy more. ASOS in particular seems to see a lot of my wages, and I’m on first name terms with the DPD delivery man who does our office building. Colleagues, not used to this approach to shopping, look on in amazement as huge boxes of stuff are delivered almost every week, wondering if I’m whoring myself out after hours or racking up thousands in credit card debt. “It’s just to try on!” I protest, “I’m not keeping all of it. Most of it will go back.” And most of it does. Apart from occasionally, when something dreadful happens and everything fits perfectly. Those are the months I end up living on powdered soup and looking up the going rate for bone marrow.
But of all the kinds of shopping there is, grocery shopping is the worst. The supermarket is a desolate, frigid place, where the only fun things to be had are the kind of calorie-laden foods that will probably kill you, or at the very least leave you pudgy and incapacitated by guilt. And there is no getting out of it, because food is quite tricky to live without. You can’t rely on outdated cans of Heinz tomato soup from the corner shop for the rest of your life. The problem with groceries is that no matter how organised you are, some shit just isn’t going to stay fresh for very long, so if you want bread or milk or vegetables you are committed to dropping in to one of these pits of despair at least twice a week. Twice a week for the REST OF YOUR LIFE, or at least until you become decrepit enough to qualify for Meals on Wheels, which I think is a fucking brilliant idea. I wish they had them for lazy bitches like me as well as the elderly, but sadly the closest I can get at the moment is Sainsbury’s home delivery. A couple of weeks ago I made an online order because I live up two flights of stairs and usually pick groceries up on the way home with my bike, which means that essential but heavy things like potatoes and wine often fall by the wayside. (Quite literally, on one occasion, when one of the shitty carrier bags swinging precariously off my handlebars ripped and spewed its contents all over the road. I’d even taken the precaution of double-bagging it, but seeing as each flimsy orange abomination is about as thick as a gnat’s foreskin, even multiple layers weren’t enough.) Considering that a Sainsbury’s Local or Micro M&S or Weeny Waitrose is never more than a few hundred meters away in London, having goods delivered to one’s door seems ludicrously lazy and extravagant. I justified it by ordering a lot of very heavy things: 32 cans of Diet Coke, 14 bottles of tonic, 24 big bottles of fizzy water and a LOT of booze. Then I waited for the buzzer, smug in the knowledge that it would be the luckless deliveryman schlepping all this shit up to my flat rather than me.
Of course, the delivery bloke turned out to be about 5ft 6″ and getting on for sixty, so I had to offer to help carry everything up to avoid looking like a gold-plated twat and also possibly being responsible for someone having a heart attack. “He only had six months to retirement,” they’d tell his grieving friends and family. “But this one job pushed him too far. It was the 24-pack of 7UP what did him in.”
And nobody wants that on their conscience.
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