Sunday, 1 June 2008

Shopping

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'Monsoon Man' is apparently a clothes shop, which is no doubt a great disappointment to those who were hoping for a wetter sequel to Rain Man. On the subject of the naming of such emporia, Gap must have been calling the lawyers non-stop after they first opened a branch next to a tube station, wondering why those swinish underground announcers kept telling people to mind the Gap.


It's quite reasonable advice, really, primarily because Gap only cater to people shaped after some sort of mythical average. For some time I've objected to their wholesomely-dishevelled get-up on the grounds that everything was a bit square. Now, I'm ludicrously constructed, and was once mistaken for a pipe when I walked past a building site, so I can accept not being their target customer. However, I've also

heard nothing but fury from the diminutive portions of our society, so I'm left without a clue as to who can actually shop there. Apparently their underwear is quite comfortable, but this is Britain: all underwear comes from M&S, even when it doesn't. No matter where it's bought, the spiritual home of any British sock, pant, bra,

knicker or other undergarment is Mark's and Spencer's, just between the reasonably priced suits and the respectable skirts of a sensible length. It's like crime dramas and ITV, or nutters and night buses. Some things just belong.


As a clothes shop, M&S is a horrifying place. Even once you've dragged yourself away from the heinously magnificent scents of the bakery section and found an expanse of clothing, there's still a lot of exploration to do - I have very painful memories of getting lost in there. It wasn't just the disorientating effect of being surrounded by lingerie, but also the profusion of very clear mirrors all over the place, which made it appear that the signs to the stairs pointed in every single direction,

and also suggested that the place was teeming with customers. There came a point when I was ready to give up and go to sleep in the furniture section, finding my way out at night by the light of a display microwave. Then I thought of Scott of the Antarctic, and staggered onward. Domestic appliances is no place for a man to die.


I couldn't find a jumper even once I found the right floor (men swear? I know I did). The entirety of my vast local branch caters to old majors who want to dress entirely in an uncountable number of different shades of brown. I'm hardly a sartorial revolutionary (or I wouldn't have been in there in the first place), but surely a plainish jumper wasn't too much to ask? Plus, they only do their four shabbiest shirts in extra-long sleeves. Oh, and about half of their ranges are called 'Dad something', which is just humiliating.


Actually, that makes me think of another age-specific bit of shopping oddness. Reasonably often, when I pop into Mr Sainsbury's on the corner, seeking to top up my onion supply or replace the bread stolen by pixies in the night (happens more often than you might think), I'm asked if I'm collecting books/computers/weapons for schools vouchers. Being in my mid-twenties (I think I'm what's technically known as a 'youth', but not a 'yoof', because I can spell my name in a straight line and I only break things by accident), I wonder whether they think I'm an overgrown schoolchild or an irresponsibly young parent.


Whatever the harsh truth, I can't help feeling I'm incurring their disapproval. I must assume that as the till attendant sits there, a powerful and judgemental retail Solomon, they're thinking one of three things. Either,


'You - large child, why are you not tucked away somewhere, doing some homework? Good grief, lad, there's history of the Reformation to be learnt. Stop fondling fruit, and get thee to a textbook. You must use these formative years for useful tasks such as furthering your knowledge of differentiation, singing hymns purged of the imperialist verses, and being made to play rugby until you lose one of your ears and all of your self-confidence.'


Possibly,


'You, sir, are doing your child a disservice by not taking these vouchers. Don't you know that schools today are chronically under-funded and struggling to keep up with the increasingly complex educational needs of the modern day? Here we are, doing our best to help you, and you throw the vouchers back in our face. When you find

your fourteen-year-old son passed out on a river-bank clutching a plastic two-litre bottle of White Lightning, don't come crying to us.'


And hopefully not,


'How dare you have a child at your age? I pay my taxes to support those in need, not so that disreputable curs such as your rakish self can roger your way around London, leaving a trail of psychologically scarred infants in your syphilitic wake. I offer you these vouchers because it's my job, but if I had my way, you'd be had up before the

court of the Daily Mail and then forcibly emasculated for the betterment of our glorious but inconveniently overcrowded isle.'


Or it might just be because they have a pretty tough and dreary job, and frankly, one customer's not much different from any other. But where's the fun in imagining that?

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