Sometimes it's not the journey, it's the getting there.
Mother apparently needs a new coat. And a "nice top". So, with a familiar sense of fear and loathing I gave her some money for her birthday and promised to take her shopping with me yesterday. We've done this once or twice before and it's fair to say that it is not an experience to relish. I just kept focusing on the fact that it couldn't go on forever. It had to end at some point.
I have heard tell that some people enjoy Mother-Daughter, girly type shopping expeditions. Some mothers actually like the company of their daughters and look on it as an excuse to treat their offspring with some small frippery or other, or indulge in a sneaky lunchtime glass of wine, or perhaps a cake. That's not us. Oh no.
Mother hadn't spent the money that I gave her for Christmas. Lest anyone think I lack imagination in the gift department I should explain that Mother isn't the easiest person to buy for. Sometimes on forums you see posts saying "What can I buy my 65 year old father for his birthday? He likes photography, travel, music and film, going out for dinner and reading magazines." And I think "If only."
Mother is 71, plays bridge (competitive, not social) and wallows in widowhood. She doesn't wear perfume, or makeup beyond a dab of Rimmel lipstick. She doesn't have her ears pierced, wear necklaces, bangles or rings apart from her wedding ring. She loathes the idea of a massage, has never shaved her legs, doesn't paint her nails. Although she worries constantly about the fact that she has lost weight since my Dear Departed Dad did his departing, she doesn't really appreciate the joy to be found in a box of chocolates, preferring instead to ration them out. She eats chocolates as if they were worming tablets - a necessary evil.
She hates travelling anywhere at all, is terrified of driving, panics on trains. Her new bionic hips mean that walking isn't much of an option either. She doesn't like to go to the cinema. She doesn't own a DVD player and wouldn't want one anyway. She only listens to music if it happens to be playing on Radio 4. She reads, but only other people's cast-offs. The very idea of going into a bookshop and browsing fills her with contempt.
So, no toiletries, no food, no music, no books, no films. No weekend breaks, no magazine subscriptions, no jewellery, no spa days. No meals out, no meals in. Cold hard cash on the other hand...
Mother's idea of a shopping day out is to march (or in her case hobble) straight into Marks and Sparks and then go home. The nearest large shopping centre to my house is only a forty minute drive away but yesterday it felt like a very long slog.
We parked close to the entrance and walked directly into the midst of their Classic Range. This is the section designed pretty much with my mother in mind; sensible twin sets, not so much trousers as crease-resistant slacks, raincoats. Within two minutes she had dismissed it all as being "fuddy duddy", with the one exception of a rather pretty blouse that they only had in my size. I did ask the assistant if they had any more but was told it was the last one. I secretively picked it up.
There was a sale rail ahead. Now this is possibly the one uniting factor between us: we do both love a bargain. I quickly snapped up a pink coat and a pair of shoes. Mother found precisely nothing. We ventured to full price items in Per Una, Limited Collection, Portfolio and Autograph. Nothing doing. And the sense of deja vu was immediate and immense. Every time I take her shopping it's the same.
"I need a new jacket. And a nice top. That's not a jacket it's a coat. That's not long enough. Too long. I don't like double breasted. The buttons are dull. It's too tight across the shoulders. It's baggy. I need a higher neckline than this. Not a polo neck. That would be nice if it were green and half the price. Not that kind of green. Too old. Too young. It's a bit casual. I don't want anything that smart. They don't design their clothes with me in mind. Too busy. A bit of pattern would perk it up. Will it wash? I hate linen. I don't like manmade fibres. Cotton is too lightweight. It's not really my style. It's a bit plain. That looks like what I'm wearing. I have four like that already and I never wear them. It's all too young. I'm not being too fussy am I?"
I wouldn't mind this monologue so much if it weren't for the tone in which it is delivered. I fully agree that sometimes it's hard to find just what you're looking for, and there's no point buying something for the sake of it. But I actually enjoy the process of hunting down an elusive item and although it can sometimes be a little frustrating if you have a particular style or colour in mind but can't find it, there is at least the opportunity to ruffle through rails of pretty things and pleasure to be had from the whole shopping experience whether you buy or not. But Mother dispenses her condemnation of the Marks and Spencer Spring/Summer stock in a voice dripping with accusation and I'm left in no shadow of a doubt that it's somehow my fault.
We give up on the idea of Mother parting with any of my hard-earned cash and elect instead for lunch. Only Mother, who was brought up in the aftermath of WW2 doesn't like to be extravagant with lunch. "We'll share a sandwich. I'm not very hungry." She might not have been, but having missed breakfast I was ravenous and one cup of coffee and half an egg and cress wasn't really cutting it to my mind. No wonder she can't put weight on. However, I indulged her parsimony on my behalf (yes, this was supposed to be her birthday lunch so I was paying. I dread to think what we'd have eaten if she'd been flashing the cash) and then drove home. Forty minutes. You wouldn't believe how long that can be.
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