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A Tale of Two Villages

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Photo by Ákos Szabó on


Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair Bicester Village, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge against shopping to new mutiny,

Where credit cards make bank accounts unclean.



A few weeks ago, after I had told Man of the House that he was going to take some time off work he announced that on one of these days that he “wanted to go clothes shopping.” I can count on the fingers on one hand when Man of the House has wanted to go clothes shopping in the last eighteen years and three of them were when we first started going out. I could only assume that the situation in his wardrobe was desperate if he was making such an announcement. On the allotted day, having divested ourselves of the Childerbeasts, we made our way to a local shopping village.

We arrived, found a parking space and I was rather hoping for a coffee and a muffin of some sort. Not a chance.  I could almost hear Sir Stirling Moss saying “aaaaannnnndddd they’re off” as I was frog-marched to the first shop. A shirt shop. Asking me what his shirt size was, Man of the House began rifling through the rails. He identified a few garments he liked, spurned some others and then made his way to the till to pay. Bag collected, thanked for his custom and we were out. Onto the next one.

In the next shop we were looking for trousers. He advised the sales assistant of his size who very kindly brought him various pairs, some of which were roundly rejected and others he deigned to try on. No sooner had I parked myself on a pouffe that the changing room curtain was flung back, rings jangling, and he emerged.  He was Making A Purchase. And no he didn’t need to try the same style on in navy, he would just take a pair of them as well. Geez.

Out. Into a shoe shop. Tried a pair on. They didn’t fit. Didn’t want to try any others on. Back out.

By this point I insisted on going to the loo, even if it was just for a quick sit down and to get my head straight.

In the next shop we didn’t get any further than the doorway, Man of the House stood in the entrance and stated that he couldn’t see a single thing he wanted to buy and stalked off.

I gratefully accepted when he enquired as to whether I would like a coffee. Coffee was purchased. Coffee was drunk. A pastry was consumed. And the route march resumed. Two hours after we had arrived, Man of the House announced that he had seen all that he wanted to and asked if there was there anywhere that I would like to go.

Amongst other places I wanted to go to was a shoe shop. Jimmy Choo to be precise. I don’t like clothes shopping for myself. I find it quite stressful. But I do love shoes. Not that I have anywhere to wear them, or a bank account that can afford them. But a girl’s got to dream. So we went to see Mr Choos shoes. They are sparkly and glittery and beautiful. I coo-ed. I admired. I’m not ashamed to say that I stroked. I picked up the most beautiful pair of shoes in the whole world and with a smile rather like the one that must have graced Judy Garland’s beautiful face when someone pointed to her ruby slippers and said “you have to wear those all of the time” showed them to Man of the House. He announced in a loud voice that if that was what I wanted for Christmas, he could simply buy a plain pair of shoes and let the Childerbeasts loose with a glue stick and glitter. The security guard looked even less impressed than I was. It was time to go home.


Due to a diary nightmare, I had a longstanding date to return to said shopping venue with two girlfriends precisely one week hence. Therefore a week later, Blonde Friend, Brunette Friend and I made our way to the same destination. On arrival, without even asking, we all knew that none of us had eaten because in spite of being up at stupid o’clock, we had been sorting everyone else out with their requirements for the day. In a leisurely manner we made our way to a catering venue and purchased something to eat and drink. We sat and discussed what the target purchases were, and which establishments each of us would like to visit. After finishing our breakfast, we meandered down the street. Blonde Friend pointed out a clothing shop that I had never heard of, nor seen before. Brunette Friend advised that they sold lovely clothes at reasonable prices. So we went in. We browsed. Probably for fifteen minutes. Even twenty. Blonde Friend tried a couple of dresses on. She bought one. We then moved on.

In another shop, whilst Brunette Friend was under a pile of bedding (as in choosing, she wasn’t having a little sleep), I was minding my own business in the children’s pyjama section when Blonde Friend rushed over to me and grabbed my arm “Natalie, Natalie, they have some lovely dresses here that I think would look lovely on you. Come and have a look.” I took three dresses into the changing room. I tried them all on. One looked so awful I refused to emerge. But the other two required the opinion of both friends, a shop assistant and another woman waiting in the queue. They all thought I should purchase. I bought two dresses that I didn’t even know I needed.

Our third shop seemed to involve locating Christmas presents for each other’s families. I bought my eldest Childerbeast a book titled ‘How to Swear’, a bright yellow tome which Brunette Friend had ostentatiously waved at me from across the other side of the establishment. Since they have started secondary school, the language from Childerbeast Number One has been so bad I am now at a loss as to what else to do other than to get him to swear properly. I made it very clear to the assistant that the book was not for me. I know how to swear properly thank you very much. It is my Childerbeast that needs the guidance. Yes, that makes it so much better. Yes, Social Services are welcome any time.

Ambling from one shop to another, admiring shoes in windows without any hilarious comments about glitter and glue sticks, we started to flag a little and determined that we ought to have lunch. And probably a cake. There we re-assessed our purchases and also where we hadn’t been that each of us wanted to go. One couple complimented us on the number of bags, and therefore our shopping success. In turn, I berated them for having only one small bag, and suggested that after lunch they go back out there and try harder. We left. Tired but content, and with time for another cup of tea when we got home.





Size No-No


For the benefit of those of you who have never laid eyes on me, I am average. I am tallish, but nothing out of the way. My hair is brown, my eyes are blue, my skin is fair – English-rose fair that turns pink after about thirty seconds in the sun. I am wholly unremarkable in practically every single way except to people who love me. However, one thing that makes me a bit unusual is that I don’t really like clothes shopping.


I said it.

Actually, I am a woman who is not too keen on shopping full stop. I like clothes and I really like shoes, but seeking them out and trying them on is something that I prefer not to do unless I have to. All that huffing and puffing, wrestling about in a confined space into an even more confined outfit. That awful bit when you’ve got the dress over your head and shoulders but are yet to get it over your boobs and you wonder whether you’ll be stuck forever, trapped, with your arms waving about above your head, snared by a dress from your elbows to your chin. After eventually struggling into the garment and discovering a zip that you hadn’t noticed when trying to get the damned thing on, you emerge from the changing room (if indeed you dare emerge) pink, sweaty and slightly traumatised, whilst your significant other, a friend, a shop assistant or even the woman in the changing room opposite, ventures their opinion on what you have wrangled yourself into. It is just not the activity for me. I wish it was.

However, I am off on a day out in the next couple of weeks that requires me to wear something other than jeans and trainers, so I had to go. And Man of the House offered to take me, with his credit card, so it would have been rude to refuse. Particularly as he was also going to buy lunch. Off we went to a well known designer outlet shopping village that is not too far away from where we live.

The very first shop we went into I found a dress that I liked. This is no mean feat and our trip had started well. I tried one size on after going through the dress wrestle described above, and it was a little too tight. I asked if they had the next size up. A usual size. Neither tiny nor vast. Normal. And that was when it all started to go downhill. There was a sharp intake of breath from the assistant. On realising what she had done she attempted to re-arrange her features, and on re-grouping said “I’ll just pop up to the stock room, madam.” Now, what I heard after her initial reaction was “goodness madam, you are immense, I’m not sure there is enough material in the world for a dress that size I’ll just go into another room to lie down.” This did my self confidence no end of good as you can imagine. In spite of clearly thinking I should have been in a camping shop, she did find the dress in my size, and I looked acceptable in it. But the damage was already done. We left empty-handed.

Shop number two. This lady was slightly more tactful, and scrupulously polite, but again, my size, which before that day I had thought was not unusual, caused something of an issue. “Madam, our stockroom is not on site, so if you like the style of something, I shall telephone someone in the stock room to bring one in your size for you.” It was a small shop and it would be unfair for me to say that there was nothing in the shop that would fit me, so they were already doing better than the previous establishment. However, I heard “Blimey lady. If you find anything, I shall get a colleague to turn the stock room upside down in an attempt to find your size.”

Now the next shop we went into was really just for amusement. There was no way that they were going to stock anything other than a size zero at an obscene price. There was a dress in there. It was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. It wasn’t actually a size zero – more of an eight. But there was no way I was even going to ask if they had one in my size, in spite of the fact that it was forty per cent reduced at a mere £6,000. Man of the House admitted that it was indeed a beautiful dress, but said it was a little more than he had been intending to spend. How incredibly unreasonable of him.

Shop number four. The gentleman who served me in there was charming. Truly charming. He rifled through the entire stock room to try and find something to fit and suit me, without actually suggesting to me in any way that anything above a size ten would be something of an ask. I knew that in finding me a dress the stock room must have looked like Storm Doris had been to visit, but at least he had the kindness and good sense not to show it. He made comments such as “well you’re tall, you would fall over with tiny feet” and “these come up very small.” He found me a dress. It looked okay. We made a purchase and thanked him for his assistance.

Breaking for lunch, I was a bit worried about eating anything after my morning of causing offence to shop assistants by my mere presence, but I was quite hungry, so I decided to look after my own health and eat something. For that authentic home from home experience, as the children weren’t with us, I considered asking the people at the next table if one of them could spit some of their meal out in disgust (in spite of it being what they had ordered) and if another of them would be kind enough to declare loudly whilst pushing the plate away with both hands that there was no way that they were eating something with onion in, because that looked suspiciously like onion to them.

After lunch, shoes. There was a minor hiccough with Man of the House when he was sat looking bored on a sofa whilst I coo-ed over some shoes that we would need to re-mortgage the house to buy and he said that he “just didn’t get it”. As far as sizes stocked were concerned, apparently I don’t have feet, but water skis. I never usually have that much trouble finding shoes, but there was a bit of lip-biting when I asked for my size. One of my friends who has feet slightly larger than mine has been asked if the size she requested was “[her] true size”, the implication being that she must be a hobbit if her feet were really that big. Well, that’s just lovely.

The striking thing about all of these comments, is that they were all made by women, to women. I find it particularly baffling that the self interest of making a sale to a customer did not override the mouth before the words came out of it, nor were the women making them all that different from the person receiving the benefit of their wisdom. Which I am very pleased about because somebody, somewhere loves them too in spite of their ordinariness.

It is well documented how little models eat in order to retain their tiny frames – some eating an apple a day quite literally. I have read that some models, young impressionable women who are starting to make their way in the world, have eaten cotton wool to try and fill themselves up but to avoid consuming any calories. They have long-standing and serious health problems in the same way that people who are overweight have long-standing and serious health problems. How can that be acceptable in any way? How has it become such that being so thin you are ill is something to aspire to? And as I discovered from my shopping trip, it is something that some normal women look down on other normal women for, without recognising the irony.

Perhaps I have mostly been surrounded by women who are like me for too long to notice that this attitude to each other is more commonplace than I had ever considered or realised. If true, it makes me want to stay surrounded by those women, so we can cocoon ourselves and our daughters. So we can teach them and they can see directly from us that it is more important to be strong, fit and healthy whatever size nature and genetics has made us, rather than have protruding chest bones and a thigh gap. Then when they face the world on their own for the first time, they have a cat in hell’s chance of knowing right from wrong.

Or maybe I am, in fact, enormous.