I don’t know many men who enjoy clothes shopping. I know even fewer who would risk buying clothes for their wives or girlfriends unsupervised. I did it once and never again want to feel the hopelessness provoked by my Wife asking: ‘Did you keep the receipt?’
I once had a male friend who enjoyed clothes shopping for his girlfriends. He’d even go shopping for their clothes alone. His girlfriends thought his willingness to go clothes shopping with them was proof of his commitment to them. We thought it was a cunning ploy, like a fox pretending to care about the interior design of a chicken coop.
I have not seen this man for thirty years. But I am thinking of giving him a call because Mother wants me to go clothes shopping with her and I want to know if he has any tips on shopping with the older woman. Or better still, if he can come along.
I have tried to persuade her we do not need to visit the shops. I have explained she can buy clothes on-line and these days everyone offers ‘quibble free returns’, one of the great metrics of an advanced human civilization. But she still insists on going to the shops.
‘Don’t worry. I won’t ask your opinion on anything in front of anyone,’ she says pricking one of my deepest fears.
At the retail park, things are going better than expected. I am getting into the swing of being a bag carrier by saying things like ‘Man-made fabric looks good on you’ and ‘The sale stuff is this way’. But, mostly, Mother wants to plough her own path down the aisles, pleased not to have me fussing nearby.
I have not seen her for a few minutes because I have been entranced by a rack of jeans with elasticated waists. I can hear laughter at the checkout and look over to see an assistant talking very, very slowly and loudly to Mother. There’s a queue of bemused people around her. I walk over.
‘Can I help?’
‘She had a turn when I gave her the bill,’ says the assistant.
‘What’s the matter?’ I ask Mother.
She mouths words but makes no sound. She points to her ears and shakes her head.
‘Is she deaf and dumb?’ asks the assistant.
‘Not when we came in,’ I say.
Mother is tugging my arm. I lean down.
‘Lost my wallet,’ she whispers.
Getting to the front of a shop queue and finding herself unable to pay is one of Mother’s great fears. It is linked to childhood humiliations of seeing her mum and dad fobbing off the rent collector with fake excuses. She actually has nightmares of exactly this scenario.
I pay for the clothes and we leave. Walking to the car, I can’t resist asking if pretending to be deaf and dumb isn’t a little excessive? Couldn’t she just have admitted she had lost her purse and wait for me?
‘Last year, in M&S I pretended to faint. They sent me home in a black cab,’ she says with a slightly wicked smile.
Are these extreme avoidance strategies more common among the old? I remember a friend saying his mother pretended she was going to hospital for a blood transfusion to avoid going to her grand-daughter’s primary school pantomime. Compared to this, playing deaf and mute in M&S seems understated.
The shopping trip is over. We are feeling good despite the drama. We have come away with new clothes, a full set of receipts and without an argument. This is my greatest retail success since I spontaneously bought an omelette pan without consulting my Wife. I can’t help feeling if my old mate had been there, like my guardian retail angel, that he would have been proud of me.
I turn out of the car park and mother tells me to ‘slow down’. We’re doing 10mph.