Last week I experienced something horrific: shopping on Oxford Street.

I avoid clothes shopping until my wardrobe is decimated. I wait until I’m down to a few pairs of socks and my underwear is looking like the type of thing your parents warned you not to wear in case of being run over before I venture out to rectify the situation. I try to ignore the dwindling collection of shirts and trousers that have been ravaged by over washing, deodorant marks and time until I can do it no more.

Last week was the turning point and I had to face the ugly truth: I needed to go clothes shopping. It was my bi-annual clothes procurement mission and I gritted my teeth, revved myself up on caffeine and went for it.

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Maybe Oxford Street on a Sunday wasn’t the best choice for a pathological shopping hater but needs must. I needed new basic items and chain stores are the place to go. I just needed to suck up a whole world of pain.

I won’t go into all the messy details. I won’t describe the moment (fifteen minutes in) when my partner offered to go home and leave, as he couldn’t take my mood any more. I won’t describe the inner demon that emerged and the childish tantrums, rages and traumas (for everyone else, not me). I’ll just tell you why it was so bloody awful.

1) Un-priced garments:

It’s a shop. You sell things. If there’s no price on it then you can keep it. I’m not asking around or waiting for some glassy eyed teenager to go and check. I’ve got a life to live. I also hate that concealed price/size thing. A whole stack of shirts, neatly folded, with every one having a tag tucked discretely away so that you have to wade through each one and extricate the size label only to find after 10 minutes that they only have extra small and XXL. Strangely a lot of shops seem to cater solely for the very burly or the painfully thin.

2) Changing rooms:

Bright lights and mirrors at all angles are not something most of us need. I know I’ve got a bald spot. I know that years of smoking have ravaged my skin. I really don’t want this hammering home in an overheated cupboard as I puff and pant and try to ram myself into the sizes I wore 20 years ago.

3) Vacant automaton shop assistants:

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Working in retail is tough, I’m sure, especially with people like me about. Being British, I kind of expect you to show that to me though. I don’t mind surly, truculent and disinterested. What displeases me is the false, robotic eagerness to please. It’s terrifying and disingenuous. I don’t trust the fakery, especially when it’s clearly being delivered through a world of pain and has been taught by a smiley man called Bob on an away day in Milton Keynes.

4) Other shoppers:

Faster, quicker and out of my way. They’re the only words I need to say. Unfortunately, shouting them out loud only gets you into trouble so I keep them in and just get angrier and my ulcer grows deeper by the moment. People also seem to be having a good time, lingering over the whole experience, which of course, makes me even angrier.

5) It’s illegal to carry a Taser:

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I don’t need to explain that one


The ordeal is over. I have clothes. Project forward in time to six months down the line: that’ll be my next foray into the world of retail. I’d mark it in your diary and avoid the day.

About the author: Chris Bridges
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He's usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.

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