Ok, so this is likely to be one of my less exciting posts. But, you know, I felt I had to blog about something, what with it having been a full week since I last put fingers to keyboard, if only so as to let you all know that I’m ok, and haven’t dislocated my wrists in a bizarre wanking accident, or something…
So, anyway, yesterday I went clothes shopping. I know, it came as a surprise to me, too. (For those of you who don’t know, I hate shopping. For me the phrase ‘retail therapy’ doesn’t mean that I enjoy shopping. It means that I need actual therapy to overcome the trauma of retail…) The trouble is, I was driven to it by the state of my socks, or rather the state of what had hitherto been my socks. By the time yesterday came around, it would have been more accurate to describe them as approximately 77.094% hole, and only…er…fucking arithmetic…22.906% sock. I mean, seriously, I was getting blisters and everything. Something Had To Be Done. So I went shopping.
Given my dislike of large crowds, it was perhaps eccentric of me to have opted to go shopping on the busiest Saturday of the year so far, but it did have a kind of logic to it. As anyone who has been clothes shopping will know, far and away the greatest cause of that well-known psychiatric disorder Garment-Associated Anxiety Disorder is the under-occupied sales-assistant and their mantra ‘Would You Like To Try That On, Sir?’, and on busy days they’re usually kept occupied by those strange people who ask questions like ‘Have you got this in the same colour, but less purple?’ Plus, you know, it was a Saturday, so most shops were exclusively staffed by bored teenagers who would rather eat their own fists than engage in unnecessary contact with a customer. Which is, of course, a good thing.
I got the socks relatively easily, having decided to begin my day’s shopping at Debenhams. £7 for 7 pairs, or 50p per sock, which strikes me as a reasonable amount of money to pay out, especially as previous experience suggests I should get a reasonable amount of wear out of them. I had my usual irritation, in that I come very close to the top of the range of sizes accommodated by a medium size sock – I have size 8 feet, the medium range goes up to 8½ – and so had to choose between socks that are the right length, but the elasticated bit at the top really cuts into my calves, or socks so enormous that the reinforced toe segment stretches most of the way to my heel, but the top is able to accommodate my fairly muscular lower legs. (I’m not bragging, btw, it’s just that I walk everywhere in steel reinforced boots, so the muscles just happen. I don’t have any muscles to speak of elsewhere on my body…)
While I was fiddling around in men’s accessories (ooh-er, missus), I also had a look at pants. This was something of a departure for me, as I wouldn’t normally buy underwear until it had become as unwearable as my socks had, but I thought it might be an idea to make a pre-emptive strike, and buy new ones before I needed them. These also seemed reasonably priced so I decided to go for some large ones, only to realise when I got home that, although the mediums I normally wear are a tad snug, the large ones are clearly designed for men who like to know they can squeeze a canon and two rounds of spare ammunition into their pants should the need arise. I mean, seriously, you’d have to be deformed…
It occurred to me while I was paying for my purchases that underpant shopping must be something of a double-pronged (so to speak…) trauma for straight men. First of all, you have to go and look at the all the different packs, and they all have photographs of bloke’s crotches on them, so you get paranoid that everyone in the shop thinks you’re only there because you like looking at bloke’s crotches, and so are some kind of flaming nancy-boy. Then you have to go and buy them at a till that will, inevitably, be staffed by a giggling female teenager, at which point you will want the ground to open up and swallow you. As a poof, the everyone-thinking-I’m-a-great-big-bender thing doesn’t bother me (and anyway the crotches are uniformly unappealing), and I just smiled cheerily at the two giggling female teenagers (one to scan the barcode, one to put the pants in a bag) and so rather spoiled their fun.
Having now acquired a suitable sufficiency of socks, I had intended to go home, but instead found myself thinking, ‘Well, I’ll just take a quick look in H&M.’ I should be honest here and admit that I don’t usually find any clothes I want to buy in H&M, so I’m not sure it counts as clothes shopping. My main interest in the place is that it’s usually stacked to the gunnels with a social grouping I like to call ‘poofs on a budget’.
I wasn’t disappointed. First of all there was a rather older and heavyset gentleman (for a second I thought I was looking at myself in a mirror…) who had obviously hoped that by loosely knotting a royal blue scarf around his shoulders he would have transformed his old and rather drab clothes into a fabulous ensemble, but was sadly mistaken. Then there was a representative of that species of gay man who has become depressingly familiar since the success of Will and Grace – the basically insecure young guy who likes to troll around being outrageous and funny, but only when he’s surrounded by at least three close female friends, and who goes into a flat tailspin of panic if he so much as catches sight of another gay man. And last but not least there was a geeky guy in a truly appalling checked shirt with sticky-out ears and a scrubby half-arsed attempt at stubble – so pretty much my ideal man. He really was very cute, and I caught him looking a couple of times, which was rather flattering.
So I wafted out of H&M on something of a high, and drifted into Argos where I decided to depress myself by looking at sexily slim flatscreen TVs I couldn’t remotely hope to afford. As I was looking in the catalogue it dawned on me how much it must be men who buy new TVs. Each model had a little fact box containing some useful information (number of SCART sockets, for example), but also a whole plethora of largely meaningless numbers – resolution, contrast, brightness etc. Of course, if you’re suitably expert those numbers doubtless do mean something, but it was very hard to shake the impression that Argos was only making such a feature of them because they knew that the average bloke could be conned into thinking he was making a rational decision based on technical specifications when his entire thought-process actually consisted of ‘bigger numbers = telly more betterer’. Certainly bigger numbers meant bigger prices, and even the smallest numbers meant prices I couldn’t afford, otherwise I would doubtless have been as swayed by the ‘bigger numbers’ argument as anyone else. Retail psychologists are very good at what they do.
By this stage of the proceedings I had realised that I wasn’t actually hating being out and about, and that I could probably stretch to a couple of new T-shirts to go with my new socks. I decided to go and have a look in Primark. In some ways, I always feel rather uncomfortable in Primark, mainly as a result of that TV investigation which found that at least some of their clothes were being made by children in sweatshop conditions. On the other hand, they’re one of the few shops that sell clothes at a price I can afford, and there’s no guarantee that clothes from more expensive shops have been made by people in any better working conditions. Also, it’s one of the few shops where I don’t have to scrabble through piles of trousers looking for ones that might possibly fit me. What can I say, I find it reassuring to be in a shop where they sell trousers with a 42″ waist and 28″ inside leg. It makes me feel less like the Incredible Blob…
The quickest way from Argos to Primark involved a shortcut through John Lewis, so on my way between a shop that sells comparatively cheap TVs and one that sells ridiculously cheap clothes I got to walk past stupidly expensive versions of the same things. In some ways I approve wholeheartedly of John Lewis. It’s an employee-owned cooperative (full-time staff are, formally, partners rather than employees), and as such has avoided the routine exploitation of staff that is commonplace in traditionally-owned businesses (the list of partner benefits is truly awesome). It’s also commercially competitive, and so avoids the tag of economic basket-case that usually attaches to any ‘social enterprise’. In fact, as one of the few retail businesses not badly struggling in the current recession (it was able to pay a staff bonus of 13% this January, and remained healthily in profit throughout 2008), it seems to demonstrate a business model that’s more successful than either traditional capitalism or what too many people assume is the only alternative to traditional capitalism, nationalisation. All of these things definitely gladden my heart, but on the other hand John Lewis achieves all of this by targeting the well-to-do middle class (and MPs with expense accounts…), and charging the sort of prices that remind the rest of us that we’re scum.
So, duly reminded of my social status, I fought my way through the hordes of bargain-crazed middle-aged women to the menswear section of Primark, where I managed to find a pair of trousers for £6, a t-shirt for £1, and a long-sleeved top for £3. The prices aren’t the amazing thing, though. No, what’s amazing is that none of these items was black. The t-shirt was light grey, the trousers slate grey, and the long-sleeved top was chocolate brown. So, ok, I’ll admit not exactly the most radical of colour choices, but still, I can’t remember the last time I bought anything that wasn’t black. Even more amazingly, I didn’t immediately decide that I hated all the non-black stuff as soon as I’d bought it, which is what normally happens if I venture even slightly outside my clothing comfort zone.
Anyway, I brought it all home, and then went through the usual post-purchase disappointment of realising that the mental image I had of what I would look like wearing my various new clothes was based on what I used to look like several years ago. It was a bit of a shock to see the tubby lard-arse I currently am leering back at me from the mirror, and the lighter coloured tops also drew attention to my rotundity in a way I wasn’t used to. But eventually I decided that actually I quite like the colour and the style, and I also realised that if I hold my gut in hard enough I actually look semi-reasonable, which means that all I really need to do to improve my appearance is get back into the habit of doing some sit-ups So, you never know, that might act as motivation to occasionally put down the chocolate bar and do something a little more energetic instead. (But don’t hold your breath…)
So, all in all, a fairly productive day. I haven’t been feeling great this last little while so I reckon I deserve a self-administered pat on the back for getting out and doing anything at all. And I’m also thrilled that I’ve finally been able to throw away my increasingly holey socks. I’ve been shuffling round the flat today looking at my feet with a quiet sense of satisfaction that I no longer have random toes poking through various holes. And then it hit me – my god, I lead a pathetic excuse for a life.
Ah, well, what are you going to do?