Online shopping: I’m a convert

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The High Street catastrophe is well documented: we’re not shopping outdoors any more. Here’s why (in my mind).

This post comes fresh from a trip to my own High Street. I did things the old-fashioned way today and used my local shops. It was horrible.

These are the things I put up with every single time I shop the traditional way.

I end up putting the shop back together tidily for the incompetent staff. I only have to brush past a rail of T-shirts and they’ll shoulder off their too small hangers and slide to the fluffy floor.

Being considerate and anxious about some fully blurred-foundation-wearing, tarantula eyelashed manager accusing me of vandalism, I hang them all back up. On the right hangers and put them in size order. There, that’s better.

After arranging their shop as it should be, I leave. I daren’t risk dislodging any more clothes. And do I really want to try something on that’s probably been kicked about the shop floor by someone less attentive than me?

That’s the next hurdle: trying stuff on.

Do I really want that jumper/T-shirt enough to venture into a cubicle that smells of someone else’s BO and feet? And might have foot sweat or particles on the floor/mirror? A very easy ‘no’. Even the fact that other people have breathed in and out in that cubicle is enough of a repellent.

And another thing.

In the shop I’m looking at myself with my ‘shopping’ clothes on (smart, coordinated, a bit of make-up even). What if I want to wear those trousers with boots? Or flats? Or sandals? Well as I haven’t got them with me I can’t know if they’ll look OK. Best leave them. Ker-ching. No sale.

But there’s something even worse. Though it seems only to plague charity shops and I shop in these a lot.

What am I talking about? The undiscovered vocal marvel.

Some old geezer singing. Loudly. To some obscure rock song. Or some volunteer with aubergine hair who’s missed her calling as Cher or Tina Turner.

They drown out the real artist on the radio and even wander about the shop singing. You can’t get away from them.

I’m flicking through the skirts rail and suddenly the chap with the remains of his hair combed, greased and smelling of tobacco (my intolerance to fags and clothes that smell of fags has got worse since the ban) hurls out a bar of The Green, Green Grass of Home. God! How did you get there?

What he’s really after is for me to ask, ‘Are you a professional singer? /You’ve got a wonderful voice/aren’t you Tom Jones?’

And then he’ll corner me by the household wares and tell me about his claim to fame bumping into Rod Stewart on the Bakerloo Line once or something insignificant. I’ve got to get out of here.

The plus sides to online shopping far outweigh the benefits of the role of supportive community member in my immediate vicinity.

Bring me my goods in clinical boxes by postmen who are cheerful (mine are) and friendly but who don’t sing and I’ll probably spend a lot more money.

Death of the High Street? It had a good running.


Stupendous failures of mine

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Among other things, Drama School, waitressing, revenge and applying make-up.

Youth is full of plans and dreams. Like many young people I felt capable of anything. I was young, fit and loveable. People would be willing to donate their life to my life. It was obvious. Well, I’m older now…

As a teen I thought I might want to be an actress. Well my brother and sister had succeeded on stage, I shared their blood so obviously I could do what they could.

I didn’t even have modest aspirations. I applied to RADA. Learned a passage from one of Ibsen’s plays. So astoundingly beautiful and talented was I, I didn’t read the whole play. Why should I?

I recited it with a few subtle gestures. Probably in one of those unimaginative dramatic monotones. I was sure their silence was out of awe at my ability.

I didn’t get in.

I had the same rejection letters from LAMDA and worked my way down until even the local Tina Jones (or something) drama school didn’t want me.

My dedication ended there.

I did a term at a Drama college where I was swiftly outshone by other youngsters who were brave, creative and born actors. Some had read Ibsen’s plays.

The disappointment wasn’t because I couldn’t act but because I couldn’t do the thing I thought I could. Ahhh, so lacking in direction…

While living abroad I found I was quite good at working in a bar. Blimey didn’t I look cool carrying that round silver tray filled with drinks. I was hugely impressed.

I managed to get people’s drinks right. Three coffees, one black, one American, one normal. Two Fantas, one bitter Kas (has anyone else come across that? Medicinal and very refreshing.) Two waters, one fizzy, one still. Three wines, one milkshake, one brandy…

I got tips and people were nice to me.

When I moved to working in a restaurant, all I got was yelled at by the owner and sulky looks from the customers.

Bear in mind I was abroad. The customers were English, German, Spanish, French and Italian. One owner was Spanish, the other (the shouter) was Swiss.

I wrote down orders in English (often translated from French or German); it was all I could think of to do.

About the third time I did this, the Swiss man came out of the kitchen with my neat order sheet in his hand, teeth clenched, hissing at me that the kitchen staff didn’t understand English.

“Write it in Spanish. What do you expect them to do? They’re cooks. They don’t have time to find the dictionary and look up your English words!”

So now I had to translate orders told to me in French, German, Spanish, Italian and German into Spanish on the spot and make them legible to the kitchen staff.

Errrm, OK, pork chop = chuleta de cerdo; frites = patatas fritas; jelly = ? Jelly! What’s that in Spanish? Gelatina?

My Swiss shouter would bring out a pig’s trotter in a bowl of thickening liquid. He’d shout at me and force me to take it to their table. Just desserts. Punishment for my imbecile order. The customer would shout at me too. Maybe hit me. No, maybe I can persuade them to have fruit salad.

I’ve never been so blatantly hated before or since.

Back in England I failed at operating a switchboard. I connected callers to wrong extension on a daily, hourly basis.

I didn’t succeed at being a travel agent either. My job was to sell customers the holidays that made the company most money. I wanted to sell them what they wanted. My manager and I had a pep talk, then we had a consultation, a one to one, then I had a warning then I left.

When I was a temp in a solicitor’s office, some suited little upstart mocked me in front of other staff members. I did my job well but she frankly didn’t like me. It’s all yours shorty, you post your own letters. I’ve hidden the stamps and crumpled all the envelopes by the way.

So where am I today?

Well none of the above. Obviously.

I tell people I live off the fat of the land. I manage the family’s estate. I’m a poet’s muse…

My failures were painful at the time. When that young, we really have such energetic aspirations and no experience to support our desires. I thought I really wanted those things.

Some of the blame lies in lack of training, some in just being a young fool with no confidence and a lack of direction.

Bring back military training. I could have done with an officially-sanctioned slap by some uniformed swine. “You’ll never be anything but a second rate person…! Go scrub the mess floor with a toothbrush!” Literally or metaphorically, I seem to do that a lot now anyway.