Shop Till You Drop… Literally!

“No rest for the wicked” – isn’t that what they say? Well, if that’s true, then I must be pure evil! Had an even more stupidly crazily busy week than normal this week! There were my usual two days at work Monday and Tuesday, then on Wednesday Miss F had her two best friends around for lunch to celebrate her birthday. Now, birthday celebrations for a 17 year old are thankfully a lot less hands-on than those for a seven or even a ten year old, and apart from paying for all the food and making sure the house and garden were clean and tidy, my role in the shenanigans was mercifully minimal.

Whilst her and her friends commandeered the kitchen, dining room, and garden, I was able to sequester myself away in the lounge and crack on with the beta reader amendments to “The Book of Eve”. Despite the odd interruption re where things were and how long I thought three, fully loaded pizzas would take to cook, I managed to get the manuscript completely amended.

It was so hot though. Luckily, our house being an old Victorian terrace it remains reasonably cool and our garden is very shady. But set foot outside in the street and heat just boiled up at you from the pavement. It topped 40 degrees centigrade, which is ridiculous for Britain, especially as we mostly don’t have an air conditioning, and it’s a very humid and muggy heat. I had three showers on Wednesday, but each time was drenched in sweat again before I’d even left the bathroom.

I did manage to get the blurb written for “The Book of Eve” though and get that sent to my cover designer, so that’s a relief. Ask any author what they think of writing the blurb and they’ll probably cry. Write a 100,000 word novel? Piece of cake. Write 200 words summarising it in a way that will hook a reader but not give any spoilers? Nope, just nope.

Thursday, I had reluctantly earmarked for going clothes shopping. Now, I hate clothes shopping at the best of times. Being only 5’1” and having short legs and perhaps not being as slender as I would like to be, finding anything to fit me is an absolute nightmare. Miss F ordered a load of clothes online during lockdown and again last week as part of her birthday present, and apart from one pair of trousers that she sent back because she didn’t like the waistband, everything else fitted and looked great – but then she’s 17, tall, thin, and beautiful. I never buy clothes online for reasons you will fully understand when you’ve finished reading this blog. And apart from a new pair of jeans and a blouse just before Christmas last year, I haven’t bought anything since last summer.

Pre-Covid, a shopping expedition would go something like this – I would realise there was no choice, I absolutely HAD to buy some clothes. I would go out dressed in easily removable clothing, with no make up on, and shoes I can just slip on and off.

I’d be alone, always! The thought of having witnesses to my misery is one that makes me shiver, and besides – woman shops faster who shops alone! I would enter the shop. Starting at one end of the racks I would systematically work my way through. My system is simple – do they have it in my size? Yes. Right, hold it up against myself – how about the length? Most clothing manufacturers refuse to admit that woman under 5’7” actually walk the Earth and so don’t make clothes to fit us dwarfish troglodytes (get back in your cave and wrap yourself in sackcloth and ashes, you misshapen freak you! We only make clothes for tall, skinny, beautiful women!) Finding anything to fit was almost impossible. Finding anything that not only fitted, but that suited me, and I liked, was akin to finding the Holy Grail!

I would then go into the changing room with a massive armful of clothing. If there was a five item only rule, I would usually wheedle the assistant into either waiving it, or enlist her help constantly ferrying clothes in and out of the cubicle I had temporarily taken up residence in.

I’d strip – underneath would be flesh coloured, plain and simple underwear – I know from experience how the wrong bra or a VPL can completely change how you feel about an outfit. Trying on would then commence. I’m fast and furious when it comes to clothes shopping. Put it on. Look honestly in the mirror. Most things are an instant “no”. Over the years I’ve learnt never to think “maybe” – maybe if I wore it with heels, maybe if I put my hair up, maybe if I lose a stone in weight, maybe if I have plastic surgery – because if it’s a “maybe” then that outfit will languish in your wardrobe for the next five years, still with all its tags on, until you take it to the charity shop guilty at the money you wasted on it.

No, try it on, scrutinise yourself from every angle in the mirrors. If it’s a no, take it off and put on the no peg – likewise if it’s a maybe. If it’s a yes, then hang it on the yes peg for later consideration. I would speedily work my way through the entire thirty or forty articles of clothing I have. Usually, out of this lot I will find three or four things I like. Buy them. Go home. Immediately try them on at home again and look in the mirror. Do you still like it? Check out your wardrobe. Do you have anything you can wear with it? Think, will there be any occasion you will wear it to? Yes, that full length opera gown may make you look like Christina from “The Phantom of the Opera” but unless you regularly attend balls then you’re never going to wear it. If the answer to any of these questions is no, then carefully take it off, put them back in the bag and take it back to the shop.

Then move onto the next shop and start the whole process again.

So, you can see why clothes shopping was such an issue with me, and that was pre-Covid when I could weed out most of the undesirables in one massive try-on session in the changing room. But now we’re not allowed to try on anymore. We’re expected to actually buy the clothes, bring them home, try them on, cry, and then take them all back!

And that’s what I had to do. Over, and over, again on Thursday in 40 degrees heat! It took almost five hours of traipsing around the shops, buying stuff, bringing it home, trying them on, subjecting myself to Miss F’s intense, critical scrutiny, and then taking them back, exchanging for more, coming home, trying them on, taking them back – and so on, and so on – to finally end up with two linen dresses, two pairs of linen trousers, and six tops, oh, and a new bag.

It was a nightmare! Luckily, I live a two-minute walk from the shopping centre so could do this, but I can’t imagine what a pain in the arse this must be for people living further from town. I also have no idea what state this has left my bank account in! I had to buy everything I wanted to try on, and yes, I took most of it back, but although the shops are quick enough to take the money from your bank account the same day of purchase, they’re not so quick to put it back in. I did hope that as all the transactions occurred on the same day then it might speed the refund process up, but don’t know if it helped at all. I haven’t dared look at my account yet.

Thursday was also exam results day, so Miss F was all of a dither to find out how she’d done in her end of year exams. We’d knew she’d passed, so it was a question of how well she’d done – and also with all the downgrading of results that the government has been doing (Why? Why?!) there was still a bit of a question mark hanging over it. She had to telephone in and the lines were only open between 9:30am and 3:00pm, there were apparently only two people answering the phone, and over 500 students desperately trying to get through. Almost the whole time I was out shopping, Miss F was phoning, getting the busy tone, hanging up, trying again. Eventually, she got through and received the amazing news that not only did she pass, but she passed with a distinction which is practically the highest pass you can get! That means she now has the equivalent of two A’Levels at grade A, which is amazing. I am so proud of her, she has worked really hard all year and then had to take some of her exams under very difficult circumstances. Really nice things have been happening to her lately, and most of it is due to hard work and perseverance. A valuable life lesson that if you don’t give up and work really hard, you will get what you want.

As it’s Miss F’s birthday this week, we are going out for lunch on Saturday with my parents to the restaurant where Miss F has a part-time job. It is a top-level posh place and I really wanted to look smart and not embarrass her by rocking up in my usual scruffy and dishevelled state. Bearing that mind, I brought home several dresses to try on and to my surprise two of them fitted and passed Miss F’s narrowed-eyed look of judgement. Both are linen and reach the knee. One is a simple black shift dress with cap sleeves – essential, as any woman of 53 will tell you! It’s plain, except for some detailing around the hem, it’s loose and cool, and, best of all, it has pockets!

The other is a powder blue colour, again with cap sleeves. It buttons right the way up the front with tiny round buttons covered with the same fabric as the dress. It’s more fitted over the boobs with an almost empire line cut to it. Again, it’s loose and cool. Sadly, no pockets, but you can’t have everything.

Both are a little more low cut than I usually wear, but I have an amazing necklace that Miss F bought me one Christmas which works perfectly with them both, and I have a pair of open toed wedge sandals made of colourful fabric and jewels. So, I thought that was me sorted. Either outfit was very suitable for lunching out in a posh restaurant in the middle of a heatwave – smart and cool – not a combination that happens very often.

But I should have known, shouldn’t I? I should have known that the best laid plans of mice and Julia are all filed away somewhere. Friday morning, the day of Miss F’s actual birthday, the temperature had crept down a bit. I had to go to the Post Office and send off all the signed copies of my latest books to beta readers, my editor, and my formatter, and was able to wear jeans for the first time in weeks without feeling stupidly overdressed and that I was going to melt. But I told myself it was fine. I would be fine! It was still reasonably warm, at least 27 degrees, so I could still wear either of the linen dresses and be warm enough.

For her actual birthday Miss F had requested a chill out day of nice food, games, and Netflix. So the afternoon was spent teaching her how to play Othello (and getting my arse kicked at it), and playing endless rounds of Cluedo – Colonel Mustard, in the billiards rooms, with the lead piping – and I didn’t really pay much attention to the weather, until late afternoon when it suddenly went very dark, it got cold, and then the heavens opened!

And now it’s Saturday morning. I’ve showered and my nails are painted nicely, but the temperature has plummeted to 18 degrees, it’s still raining, and it’s looking like a linen dress is no longer a viable option. I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. I know when most women say they have “nothing to wear”, this is in fact a lie which would easily be dispelled by a quick glance at their bulging wardrobe. But when I say I have nothing to wear, I mean, I literally have nothing to wear! I’ve never been that fussed about clothes, and I’m quite a simple dresser. It’s got worse as I’ve got older, and now that I have uniform for work, I no longer have to buy half decent stuff to wear every day.

Not believing my claims of being clothes-less, Miss F marched to my wardrobe and threw open the doors. Empty coathangers rattled and she stared at me.

“Where are all your clothes?”

“Well…” I gestured helplessly at the cavernously empty space. “That’s it.”

The brutal fact is, clothes are expensive, and being a single mum it has meant that over the years any spare pennies I had to waste on clothes, usually got wasted on clothes for her, and I’ve made do with the barest minimum, relying on charity shop finds and sales bargains to get what I needed.

So, here I am. Looking at the rain lashing down on the window, comfortably cool in my thick jeans and t-shirt and wondering what on earth outfit I’m going to manage to pull out of the hat at the eleventh hour.

We’re in a bubble with my parents so can go into their house, but I know my brother and my niece – whom we haven’t seen since Christmas – were hoping to sit in my parents garden with us before lunch. But it’s raining, so **shrugs** I have no idea what’s going to happen now!

This evening we have family coming over for cheese and wine and a games evening, which we’re looking forward to, and then that’s my four days over and I’m back to work tomorrow, and of course it’s forecast that the heatwave will return with a vengeance to cook me in my skin in a sweat box of a shop wearing a mask all day. Sigh.

In other news, I finally received the bill for my car from the garage. They had said the worse-case scenario was £500 so I was braced for that but was hoping it would be less. Nope. £497.99!

Now it’s 10:15am on Saturday morning. We are leaving in precisely one hour’s-time and I am still sitting here with wet hair, no make-up on, in my jeans, with no clue what to put on. It’s grey, wet, and miserable so the powder blue dress is definitely a no. I guess I’d better close now and see what can be found.

Sorry, it’s a shorter blog this week, but you can see how my time has been spent and that I was lucky I managed to carve an hour out of this morning to say hi there, and get you up-to-date with how my week has been.

Take care, and I look forward to chatting with you all next week.

Additional: I didn’t have time to post this last night so it’s now Sunday morning. The day heated up a little bit more yesterday, so I said – “sod it” – and wore the black linen dress with bare legs and my sandals. Even though it was raining on and off, it was a muggy, oppressive day so I was warm enough and being just in the car and then in the restaurant I stayed dry.

Lunch was lovely. Miss F is certainly lucky to have found such a nice part-time job and everyone seemed very pleased to see her. She begins working again next week and I am relieved that she not only kept her job, but that she’ll finally have a reason to leave the house two or three times a week. Apart from a handful of occasions, she hasn’t left the house since mid-March and I don’t think that’s very good for her.

What with her college recommencing in a couple of weeks-time and her work placement beginning, things look to be getting back to normal for her. I really hope we don’t all go back into lockdown!

Anyway, that’s really it now, so speak next week.

Julia Blake

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