Posts Tagged ‘shopping’

The to-do lists are long, the ticks against the items are few. By this means I know I am making pathetically slow progress in the run-up to Christmas.

It’s the same every year and I refuse to get in a lather over it. Not much of a lather, anyway. Not yet.

The small amount of shopping I have done has been achieved locally and with notable success, I’m happy to say.

I have only once ventured off limits and ordered something online, and that was because I was seduced by an email advising me of an unrepeatable offer on a bagatelle board.

I bought one last year for the grand-boys and they love it. Time for one for the grand-girls, I decided, especially at this bargain price. They’re really far too young for it, but it’s a family game so their parents can enjoy it while little fingers grow and the competitive spirit is nurtured.

I enjoyed a frisson of smugness when I ordered the bagatelle board in early October. One tick on the to-do list already!

By mid-November it hadn’t arrived so I rang the company and was told the boards were ‘in manufacture’, which I translated as ‘being made’, and I should have received an email advising me of the delayed delivery.

I haven’t received one, I said. Oh, the girl said, carefully not apologising, and adding that my board would be with me by the end of the week.

It wasn’t, but it came at the end of the following week. It was a large and heavy parcel and the delivery man gratefully handed it over to Geoff while I scrawled ‘Sdfdjlpgkl’ with a piece of blunt plastic on to a blank screen, a curious procedure that proved the item was now in our safe keeping.

Five days later, another delivery man called at the door with an equally large and heavy parcel. Geoff dealt with it all this time, inscribing ‘Gfjghfjklq’ on the screen and waiting for the man to leave before calling out to ask me what I’d ordered this time.

I’ve ordered nothing, I assured him. That’s odd, he said, because I haven’t ordered anything either.

We checked on the label that it really was intended for Hill Towers and noticed that while indeed it was, the sender was the same company that had supplied the bagatelle board.

Then we tumbled to the fact that as both parcels were the same size and weight, this second one undoubtedly contained another bagatelle board.

Now we are up to our necks in a First World problem. Do we unwrap the parcel and double-check its contents, thus leaving ourselves with a re-wrapping palaver if the thing has to be returned? Do we heave it along to a post office, queue for 45 minutes and just hand it over and say ‘Help’, with a tearful whimper? Do we call Ms Unhelpful at the firm that sent it and ask her to sort it out? Or do we hang to it and wait to see if any more grandchildren are born?

It reminds us of the time someone else’s case of wine was delivered to us by mistake. It took over our lives while we tried to organise its removal. During the days it sat in the hall, like an unwelcome visitor that wouldn’t budge, it bruised our shins and seriously tempted with its ‘Drink me’ allure.

Take my word for it, none of this inconvenience happens when you stay in control and do your shopping locally.


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IT crossed my mind to write this week about Britain’s role in Europe and the forthcoming referendum, especially since the world seems to have stopped turning to enable everyone else to concentrate on this riveting topic.

The thought lodged just long enough for me to yawn and then rapidly fling my brain into reverse to extricate myself from that cul de sac of endless rhetoric and debate and to think instead of weightier matters, such as hairbrushes and manners.

Amazingly, those two do fit together, and this is how. My sister went to a chemist’s shop, the sort that sells everything from chocolates to children’s clothes, with the intention of buying a new hairbrush for her holiday trousseau.

Imagine her surprise when she arrived in the hairbrush department to find a man actually trying out one of the brushes, pulling it through his long hair while his female companion looked on.

My sister was so shocked she felt compelled to say something. Batting down her instinct to say “How could you do that? Don’t you realise you’ll be depositing heaven knows what in there for someone else to discover?” she uttered an anodyne version, along the lines of “I know which hairbrush I won’t be buying.”

The man, sporting a bouffant style in 20 shades of grey, replied that he’d recently washed his hair and she could smell it if she liked. She didn’t like.

Now that man’s behaviour is very odd, don’t you think? It’s actually beyond odd. It’s rude and thoughtless and falls into the category of “Blow you, matey. You can’t stop me, so lump it.”

It’s the same attitude that is resulting in the country disappearing under piles of litter – see our roadside verges and weep – and paths and hedges being strung about with bags of dog poo, flung there by walkers unfit to be in charge of a dog.

Too many people seem unwilling to take responsibility for their own behaviour. It’s all about me, me, me, out of my way – and absolutely anything goes.

Pavements are like mini-war zones as mobility scooters hurtle along scattering pedestrians into the gutter or into shop doorways to save their shins, and anyone left standing is soon mown down anyway by packs of schoolchildren concentrating on either eating or texting or, more often, both.

The same ‘Blow you, matey” can be seen in supermarket car parks where a thoughtless few who can’t be bothered to return their empty trolleys to the nearest bay abandon them to obstruct drivers and get blown about.

None of these miserable, small-minded, anti-social acts amounts to a crime. No-one is going to have their collars felt by a bobby on the beat, in the manner of the 1950s, because our bobbies have more on their plate than that sort of thing. But that is exactly why some people push the boundaries of politeness and don’t give a fig. They know they can behave badly and get away with it.

None of it matters hugely, in the whole scheme of things. My sister went elsewhere to buy her hairbrush, we can join litter-picking forces and clean up our environment, we avoid pavements when the schools are emptying for the day, we park shopping trolleys in the right place when we find them in our way.

And so on and so on. Small restorative acts that become instinctive can work for everyone’s good simply because, actually, we do give a fig, matey.

Now, what was I going to say about Europe . . .

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WHENEVER I see, hear or read anything about the annual parental torment of Prom Night I thank whoever is responsible for having made me so old that my daughter had left school before such events became a fixture.

And yet years ago I did endure a sort of torment, albeit one that didn’t require me to help dream up a brilliantly original mode of transport to get my little darling to her date with destiny.

It was her leavers’ ball. Yes, of course you shall go to the ball, Cinders. Never mind that it is unlikely to be any different from what we called a dance in the dark ages, and never mind at all that you have nothing to wear. We can have enormous fun together as we seek something that meets the approval of you and, therefore, your fashion-conscious, judgmental friends, and never mind your impossibly dowdy mother and father, when we only have enough money in the bank to pay for tonight’s supper.

Cinders and I drag into the nearest large town and ‘do’ the shops, enduring hot changing rooms and heartless mirrors. Of course my daughter looks lovely in everything she tries on – it happens like that when you’re 18, slim, with long, blonde, wavy hair – and of course she thinks she is simply hideous and absolutely nothing is right. “It’s a disaster, Mum,” she moans, “I look awful.”

Whatever I say has no effect or, more often, the wrong effect.

We spend the afternoon engaged in this soul-destroying activity, and by the end we have stopped speaking to each other. It happens like that when one of you is a right-on savvy teen and the other is a has-been (or a never-was), feels at least 100 and would happily settle for being Coco the Clown if it meant getting out of this shopping nightmare.

We do, at 5.29pm, with happy-at-last Cinders clutching a bag containing a plum-coloured piece of velvet that she insists is a skirt. “That cannot be a skirt,” I say, in my weary-mother voice. “That’s a pelmet. And anyway, who wears a pelmet, sorry, I mean a skirt, that short to a ball?” I splutter those last few words, which puts an end to all communication, even the raising of contemptuous eyebrows, for at least six days.

The following Saturday I paste on a smile and we devote more hours to finding a top to go with the skirt, and the Saturday after that it’s the shoes.

Miraculously, we repair our mother-daughter relationship and the velvet pelmet goes on to make a number of further appearances that have nothing to do with me, being well out of my sight at university. I believe it graduated with a low-grade degree in Politics, Philosophy and Extreme Shortness.

Now Cinders and I look back on that testing experience as a learning curve that took us both way off the scale.

Nobody warns you about the agonies of shopping with your teenage daughter. They just bang on about the other rites of passage of motherhood: the tightrope-walk you take to achieve the potty-training miracle, the letting-go of the hand on the first day at school and the shoulder you provide through the heart-sinking ups and downs of friendships. But there’s no flashing danger sign over ‘The Shopping Experience’.

It isn’t easy being a mother, but I take solace from knowing that the hell must be worse for every girl preparing for a prom night, or a ball, in the company of a mother who has aged to decrepitude and has aspirations to be Coco the Clown.

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I’M writing this on Cyber Monday, the day when we apparently go loopy on the internet, buying Christmas presents until we pass out with the effort and our credit cards melt away down drains.

Just imagine, some of the people indulging in that charming Christmas custom probably also took part in Black Friday, its ugly big brother’s pre-weekend festival of hysterical consumer excess. They must be exhausted, poor souls.

What fun and how incredibly Christmassy it all sounds. As run-ups to a big event go, it’s not exactly edifying or inspiring. No two days could possibly illustrate more plainly how we’ve so catastrophically lost the plot and allowed the spirit of Christmas to pour away through our grabbing, materialistic hands.

Thank you, America, for those two unfortunate imports – those two days of spending and greed and those unforgettable, unedifying visions we are left with of bargain hunters turned into crazed demons.

There are two reasons I don’t have any desire to participate in either of these events, now firm fixtures on the nation’s pre-Christmas calendars. One is that I do my best to shop locally and make my pound benefit my own community as much as it possibly can, but the main one is that I can’t think of a single thing to buy.

The Hill Towers present list for Christmas 2014 is blank. It is my task (well, you didn’t think it would be Geoff’s, did you?) to fill those 25 white spaces beside 25 names with spot-on thoughtful gift ideas, for recipients ranging in age from two to 92 and in character from country mouse to jet-setting businessman.

Sadly, my thoughts on Christmas have entered their early-Advent stage of shocked disbelief it’s all happening again so soon after the last one, and they refuse to budge from their ’can’t do it, won’t do it’ position. This means we have to wait in hope there will be a significant change in gear to fast forward, or else …

I thought at the weekend that I might have made a breakthrough and could possibly fill in a couple of the blanks on the list. I had two phone calls in the space of a few hours informing me that raffle tickets I’d recently bought – in a charity shop and at a Christmas fair – had yielded me prizes. Wow, I thought immediately, that’s two presents sorted.

No such luck: one prize was a piece of jewellery (I use the word loosely) that no-one would ever thank me for giving them, and the other prize was two packets of chocolate biscuits. “They’re tied together with a lovely piece of ribbon,” my kind informant enthused, in case I might be feeling less than thrilled. She was delighted when I asked if she’d be able to pass them on to her local food bank, although Geoff looked a bit hurt when I told him they wouldn’t be coming home.

“I’ll make you some biscuits for Christmas! You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” This was said in my best ’infectious enthusiasm’ voice.

He didn’t appear exactly brimming with joy at the prospect, but the fact he didn’t beg me not to was all the encouragement I needed to make the first entry on that present list. Now I’m thinking that if I make enough biscuits, say 500 or so, then I could solve the whole 25-strong present crisis in one burnt, misshapen, love-infused and well-intentioned fell swoop.


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Geoff is convinced I attract odd things. He insists he doesn’t mean himself, but odd things that crop up in my life.

“It could only happen to you,” he says each time I report some bizarre incident in which I’ve become involved.

After the latest incident of weirdness, I had to agree with Geoff that ‘odd’ does seem to be my specialist subject.

I had called in to a phone shop to seek advice. I was the only customer in a large space lined with racks of phone covers in a thousand tasteless colours and bling-tastic designs.

A young man undertook to go and seek answers on my behalf from his boss, who, I guessed, was resting in a darkened room upstairs. I could understand the need for that.

This left me with the other assistant, a young woman sporting a remarkable example of the art of extreme coiffure. She had about five different hairstyles going on – a little bit up, a little bit down, some close-cropping at the sides, a few stray extensions doing their own thing, and a thick peroxided fringe sticking forward like a sun-drenched jetty.

She was busy on her phone, calling her stockbroker perhaps, as they do. I waited the other side of the glass counter, feeling my age and wondering if this girl and her colleague had ever thought, during their schooldays, “When I grow up I want to work in a phone shop that sells 20,000 different covers in migraine-inducing shades.”

Suddenly, the girl downed her phone and opened her glossy lips to exclaim, “Men!”

“Man trouble?” I asked, adopting what I thought might be a passable ‘down with the kids’ tone of voice, with matching concerned face.

There followed an outpouring of the most personal nature as the poor girl told me her tale of woe.

Browsing customers flowed in and out of the shop, but nothing and no-one interrupted the impassioned story of a scoundrel of a boyfriend in whom my new young friend had lost all trust.

“I’ve been with him two years,” she concluded, shakily, “and now he’s started playing around. He says he’s not and I should trust him, but I can’t. Do you think I should kick him out?”

Being an agony aunt is not something I’ve ever considered as a sideline, but as this tortured soul was speaking so obviously from the heart I gave it my best shot.

I told her that it couldn’t possibly be my decision but if she felt the relationship really was doomed then there was no shame in ending it and being unattached for a while.

I might as well have suggested she should crawl on hands and knees to Timbuktu towing a dustcart with her teeth. “But I couldn’t! I don’t know what it’s like to be on my own!”

She was shocked, dismayed at the very notion of being a singleton, not least, as she had already told me, she’d never been without a boyfriend from the age of 12. A matter of pride, then.

I had the strong impression by now that she was intent on staying with the cad. No conscious uncoupling for her, just more humiliation and unhappiness.

I wished I could have done more, but across a counter in a phone shop didn’t really empower me to come over all mumsy and protective of a girl with terrifying hair and the longest, most elaborately painted talons I had ever seen.

All I could do was wish her luck – and know that she’d need it.

It was all most odd – and Geoff rests his case that it only happened because I was there.

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It’s high time we got you some new shoes, I said to my mother. The words and the tone of voice whisked me instantly back to my childhood, when Mum would say the very same thing to me. There is a lot of that role-reversal going in my life these days.

In those far-off times when mother knew best, a trip to the shoe shop meant travelling into the next county, to the city with glamorous shops and window displays that sparked dreams of other worlds, or certainly of a life less rural and muddy.

Naturally, the dreams stopped outside the shop. Inside, once my feet had been irradiated by the machine that did the job of a tape measure (how imaginative technology was in those days), clumpy brown shoes of a sensible design were produced. The choice was simple: one size up from last time and no argument.

With the boot now on the other foot, to coin a most apposite phrase, I hooked Mum’s arm into mine and off we set to get her re-shod, sensibly.

Mum has sweet, neat feet that haven’t veered off unbidden in odd directions or splayed or developed anything nasty in all their 92 years, so choosing something to replace her seen-better-days suede moccasins should not have been difficult.

It was. It was a horrible, hateful, depressing experience and I can feel my blood pressure rising as I simply start to write about it.

It was a posh sort of shop, its stock of a Germanic persuasion suggesting ‘sensible’ and ‘comfort’ with enough style to avoid being dowdy.

We very quickly spotted the perfect pair. I looked around to catch the eye of a salesgirl, woman, person, whatever we’re meant to call them, and smiled my best merry smile as she approached us. I got nothing back. Not a flicker of interest.

Ms Personality-Bypass trailed off to fetch a pair in the right size. She then stood back and stared as, bent double and trying not to groan audibly with the effort, I used my thumb and forefinger as a shoe-horn to ease Mum’s foot into the first shoe.

May we have that sloping stool thing do you think? I asked Ms P-B, who was standing right in front of it. It would really help, I added, to encourage her as she half-kicked, half-tugged the thing into place.

Next I requested a shoe horn, which, after I explained what it was to Ms P-B, she managed to produce.

The shoes were now on and Mum declared them to be ideal. What do you think, I asked Ms P-B? Are they a good fit? Can you feel if my mother’s toes are in the right place?

Ms P-B finally spoke. “We don’t fit shoes,” she said. “We leave it to the customer to decide if they feel right.”

Of course I should have left. I should have gathered up my little mama and stalked out. Except I couldn’t. Such a gesture loses its impact when everything takes for ever and explanations have to be shouted.

I gave myself the slight satisfaction of remarking snappily to Ms P-B that her job must be considerably lacking in satisfaction, but she didn’t appear to care.

By this week, I would guess she’s either progressing rapidly up the managerial ladder or she’s given up the idea of a career in retail and volunteered for her preferred option of doing absolutely nothing in a darkened room. I do hope it’s the latter.

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There are few things more likely to make me feel my age than being in the company of my small grandsons. Whether it’s running races up and down the garden, heading a football for them to catch, playing the part of a dinosaur (excellent bit of typecasting) in a complicated game devised by Joe, aged four, or shopping for their meals, I feel positively prehistoric.

The physical antics are just about doable – as long as two-year-old Zach doesn’t choose to clamber on my shoulders more than half-a-dozen times – but it’s the shopping that is my absolute nemesis.

I achieved a list-full before the boys and their parents arrived to spend a week’s holiday with us. My daughter’s helpful suggestions formed the list and to say it was an eye-opener would be an understatement. Once again, I am faced with evidence of how much the world has changed.

It must be an enormously lucrative market catering for all these anxious mums seeking the miniaturised, organic version of what they themselves were brought up on, and agonising over the salt content of cereals, breadsticks and hummus, that staple of so many of the soon-to-be brains of Britain,.

Shopping list in hand, I nearly drove myself potty (pun not intended, but probably used subliminally under the circumstances) as I garnered a modest half-tonne of fruit and fresh vegetables from the greengrocer’s shop. Will non-organic sweet potatoes do, I wonder, and what about the celery, which was probably grown within five miles of a motorway? Those tomatoes, they won’t be au naturel, that’s for sure.

Then came the carrots. The only option was non-organic ones, so what should I do? Take a chance on the ordinary ones or leave without any and see the boys’ tearful little faces turn on me with the words “failed again” lingering on their lips.

I bought the non-organic carrots and lopped a big chunk off the top of each. It’s probably an old granny’s tale that the pesticide gathers in the first couple of inches of a carrot, but I am easily scared.

I wouldn’t want to give the impression I am cynical about organic versus non-organic, so let me make it clear that I am not. Far from it, in fact. It was just that on this occasion, assuming responsibility for stocking cupboards in advance of the arrival of the Little People and their appetites, I was frazzled and daunted as I sought to do the right thing at the same time as hauling it in and piling it high.

Peanut butter? No, that’s quite wrong. It’s cashew butter, stoopid. Later, at home, my purse weeping, I taste a little for the first time in my life. Oh, it’s divine. I could live on that – at least until I either exploded or went bankrupt.

Breakfast cereal is dodgy territory, too. Joe eats grown-ups’ porridge, so that’s OK, but Zach favours Ready brek. I bought a box of it, enough, at a guess, for about 98 breakfasts, only for him to announce importantly on his first morning that he didn’t want that any more but would prefer “podge like mine budder”. So podge he had, just like his brother, and the box of Ready brek remains unopened.

I’m considering whether to disguise it in some way and offer it to Geoff as a tasty alternative to fresh air, which is his favoured breakfast, or press it into service for what I presume must have been its original purpose – grouting. I think the grand-boys would be happy to help me mix the first bucketful.

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