The other day I went into the West End for something from House of Fraser.  Now, I do not frequent the department stores in the West End.  Let me clarify.  Department stores give me the heebie jeebies. I don’t object to having everything I ‘need’ under one roof,  but shopping is an activity I find extraordinarily tiring.  Nothing exhausts me like shopping does.  Within an hour, my shoulders are tight and hunched toward my ears, I am tense, moody and my legs are aching. Even the weight of my handbag is too much, and I carry that around every day with no problem. I would attribute it to being unfit, but the truth is I do other stuff that would be considered more strenuous and I am fine.  For example I can be on my feet preparing a meal for 60 people over the course of three days (including food shopping, table setting, furniture moving and house decorating) and not bat an eyelid.  I am obviously tired at the end of the day, but nothing like after an hour of shopping.  Even food shopping doesn’t tire me like other kinds of shopping.  

I don’t really know what it is.  D can shop for a whole day, merrily going from shop to shop as her bags get heavier and more plentiful.  When she comes home, she is full of energy and anxious to show me all her purchases and try them on again.  We have been to Bicester together where I basically sat on a bench from midday onwards and waited bleary-eyed for her to declare  her shopping day officially over.  I find Bicester a weird place actually.  I have been there a few times, mainly to buy presents.  I don’t wear designer labels because I feel that £80 for a sweatshirt is absolutely ridiculous, and I don’t care if Tommy Hilfiger hand stitched the logo on himself, a grey sweatshirt is a grey sweatshirt. As the title suggests, it is an item of clothing you sweat in.  End of.  Similarly, handbags which cost the same as a small car – stop it.  I cannot get my head around it.    Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes.  Shopping.  I don’t like it and I can’t work out why.  Is it the tension associated with finding what you are looking for?  Is it the lighting?  What is the deal?  I am baffled by my inability to shop.  It isn’t that I am afraid to spend the money.  I shop online all the time, and have no qualms about it.  I walk all the time without experiencing the lower back pain and depression I associate with shopping.  Maybe it’s rooted in my childhood experiences of shopping.  Trailing around after the designated adult with them sighing and saying “She’s too tall.  She’s only 11 and already all the clothes for children don’t go anywhere near her”.  “Sorry, her feet are too wide for Mary Janes”.  I think that’s probably it.  I don’t feel in control when I go shopping.  It is an area I have never been able to achieve (or even feign) competence in.  I feel at the mercy of others.  The uppity shop assistants, the clothes designers, the people who decided that sleeves went out of fashion eighteen years ago and never sent out a memo.  A warning.  Nothing.  Oh sleeves how I miss you so.  The people who decide that people who are not a UK size 14 or under should not be allowed to dress.  I have to say, things are much improved from when I was a teenager trying to find a way to dress to express my personality.  Fortunately my personality was compatible with what was available in my size.  Or is it the other way around?  Did my personality evolve based upon what clothes were available in my size?  OMG, existential crisis…..

So as I was saying, (wow this is digression central today – apologies).  The West End.  House of Fraser.  The beauty department.  (I won’t start on how I feel about the term beauty department). My aunt heard my brother was coming to Athens and immediately got on to the phone to my mum to ask me to buy a cream that you can only get at House of Fraser.  I walked into the store and the assault on my senses was immediate.  I coughed.  Once nervously and the second time wheezily, wishing I still had my old inhaler.  The smell of perfume and other chemicals was heavy in the air.  The lighting had a faint pink tinge to it.  It is designed to highlight all your flaws so that the ladies and gentlemen behind the counter can see them, point them out to you, and then suggest how many of your hard earned pay cheques you will need to part with to correct them.  For those of you who don’t know already, the ground floor is filled with concessions.  I looked about feeling slightly dizzy from the smells and lighting.  It is like a labyrinth in there, names leaping out at you, some recognisable and others not.  I couldn’t find the concession I was looking for.  It wasn’t just the lighting & smell I was struggling against though, it was also the men and women stationed every 20 yards or so, trying to spray, spritz, pluck and/or tweeze me into submission.  They are there with make up literally caked onto their faces, cheeks and lips red, eyes smokey, hair scraped back off their faces, wielding their perfume/eau de toilette, eyebrow lifting, cheekbone highlighting, lip-plumping weapons and pointing them at you.  You turn to avoid one of them and bump into another one, with an equally menacing smile, “Hello Madam, would you like to try…”.  I am at this point feeling sweaty and hunted.  I want to drop to the floor and army crawl my way out of the shop.  Only the thought of my aunt waiting for her cream at Athens airport keeps me going.  As I whirled around, fear and panic in my eyes, I spotted a skinny man who appeared not to be holding anything.  I rushed up to him.  I think I alarmed him, but you must remember I was feeling chased and hunted like a contestant in the Running Man at this point.   I approached him and asked him about the concession I was looking for.

“Oh we do not estock them here any more” he says in a heavy Spanish accent.  “They have a concession at Bond Street Tube estation. Do choo know where pret-a-manger is?  It’s just near there.”

Thank you very much Mr camp Spanish man, I appreciate you liberating me from House of Fraser.  Dodging a couple more sprays and perfume attacks, I made my way out onto a rainy Oxford Street.  At the tube station, I was accosted by a woman brandishing a black gift bag.  I couldn’t understand if she was selling me something or trying to give me something.

“Excuse me Madam (why is it always madam, like we run a whorehouse or something?) Are you interested in our make up range?”

I lifted my shoulders and smiled “I don’t wear make up.”  I thought this would get a reaction.  Perhaps horror, or at least shock for long enough for me to escape.  She carried on doggedly.

“Ok, ok, natural beauty, I can totally go for that.  Do you have any friends or family that wear make up?”

Of course, I can’t manage to lie about that.  I just smiled as I picked up my pace, sorry I’m in a rush….

“No prob..- Hello madam are you interested in our range of make up? ” She had already moved onto the next passer by.

Finally I reached my destination.  I knew what I wanted.  I approached the concession.

“Hi, I would like to buy some day face cream”  I said getting straight to the point.

“It’s for you?”

“No,” I said, “It’s for my aunt.  She came and bought some stuff from you just after Christmas, and she is really happy with it.  She would like the day cream.  Not the serum, the day face cream.”

“Ok” said the the guy, “Does she have eczema? I would recommend for her skin type the night cream. And she should get the mud mask too.  If she gets the mud mask (£70) then I’ll give you the night cream (£60) for free.”

“Can I just get the day cream?”

“We don’t have any, only as part of the gift pack so it includes the day cream, serum and eye gel. (£150)”

I texted my aunt.  She said get the night cream.  I repeated the request for the night cream.  Eventually, they agreed to sell me the night cream, and they ‘found’ a tester tub of day cream which they said they’d throw in for free.  As the one guy was ringing up the night cream, the second guy opened the tester they were going to give me and dabbed cream all over his face.  No, really.  He used it after he told me he was going to give it to me.  The other sales assistant was shaking his head in amazement.  I was also struggling to believe it.  The guy noticed me looking at him applying cream and winked at me.  Winked. At me.  I paid, and took the stuff.  As I was trying to leave, he grabbed my arm.

“You know you should try our products too.” He said, his eyes flicking over my face.  “I can see you have problem skin and our mud mask will help with your blemishes.”

“Thanks for the tip” I said, “but I am running really late and my problem skin will have to wait.”

“OK, but come back and talk to us, because we can help.”

I ran.  I was actually running late. Later that day, when I got home, I looked in the mirror at my ‘problem skin’.  There’s nothing wrong with my skin.  If I had more time, I might have been conned into spending in excess of £150 on products that I really don’t need.  When people stop me in the department store and ask me about my beauty regime, I really think it should be fairly obvious that my beauty regime is wake up, water on my face, leave the house.  I wouldn’t be wondering around looking dazed and confused in the beauty section of the department store if I had any kind of beauty regime.

So the shopping experience, not my thing.  I went to Westfield Shopping Centre in White City today.  Westfield, I can get behind because after you’ve done the shopping, there are burgers to be had.  And I had one.  Made all the shopping worthwhile.

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