Due to the robbery, I have been walletless for a week. Carrying around loose change and cards in my pocket or bag became too annoying on Friday night, when I went to see Dodgeball (which is OK, not as bad as everyone says: you have to be in the right frame of mind and like Ben Stiller). The weight of the metal in my pockets was dragging down my trousers, causing me to pull them up every so often like an over-aroused Peeping Tom.
Nick and I went on an abortive excursion down our local parade of shops yesterday, but my quest for a wallet failed. Our local shops cater exclusively for the 40-something Lady Who Lunches. Although they are all independent (good), they stock skin-tight denim, revealing asymmetric tops and shoes that would only suit a prostitute with enormous clown feet, all at astronomical prices.
The LWL in North London is a high-maintenance woman: she has dyed black hair, wrap around sunglasses, and has skin the exact colour of Irn-Bru and the texture of well-worn leather. Ms LWL drives a ridiculous 4-wheel-drive monstrosity which takes up two parking spaces in M&S. Her grooming and general upkeep is so labour intensive that it supports an entire economy in North London: on one street alone, we have four beauty salons, three premium hairdressers, a couple of pharmacists specialising in quack remedies for the bored and neurotic, and a gym.
I knew the quest would be fruitless, but it was a nice day. We went up one side and down the other, and found only bizarre handbags with studs on them costing £200 each for our pains. I wanted a nice, soft, leather Radley wallet like the one I lost. A lovely squashy leather wallet, with plenty of handy slots for my cards and the like, and a little Scottie dog appliqued on the front. I knew I wouldn’t find it here.
Nick hauled me into one shop in the end, and I was faced with a woman in a poncho and her forties. She had enormous hair.
“Do you do Radley?” I said, knowing the answer.
“No,” she replied.
We went home.
This afternoon, I prepared for an expedition to Oxford Street. One of the things that irritates me about London is that I can’t simply walk down to the shops like I used to when I lived in Reading, Hitchin or Hull. I know chain stores are Bad, but I think I’ve explained my situation above. If I want to go to New Look, say, I have to either run the 4WD gauntlet of Brent Cross and battle my way through pushchairs, or go to Oxford Street and run the black cab gauntlet and battle my way through tourists.
I shuttled from John Lewis (a force for Good), and House of Fraser (a force for Gucci), doing price comparisons. House of Fraser not only did “my” wallet in a nice spearmint blue, but also did a Radley shoulder bag in raspberry nylon and leather which was just the right size and had enough pockets to bring me out in a fetishistic flush.
Because of my tiny feet, I am a bag and not a shoe person. There’s no point getting all excited about shoes when you know that they will only come in canoe sizes. If the shop has any 36s at all, they’re either square-toed matronly things, or teetering high-heeled evening sandals. Nun or tart.. some choice. I know I shouldn’t whinge, given my bra rant below, but I really don’t think size 3 is *that* obscure and I resent having to either pay £150 at LK Bennett for suede ballet pumps or £30 at Barratts for children’s school shoes.
Anyway, after my leathergoods success, I went to H&M to return some trousers I had bought for Nick as a present. They were nice, grey linen ones and Nick wore them twice, washed them twice, and then observed a 50p piece sized hole developing nicely in the crotch. Either something was making a bid for freedom or they were made of crappy quality linen.
I had a printout of my bank statement as proof of purchase. I wondered, briefly, about explaining why I had been buying clothes for my boyfriend, and decided it didn’t matter. I showed the cashier the hole, my bank statement, and said that while of course I don’t expect cheap H&M clothes to last forever, I certainly expect them to last more than a month.
She was very nice, and gave me gift vouchers because I didn’t have a receipt. Fair enough, I thought, I don’t mind having £25 credit in H&M.
I had a quick potter around the store, the £25 burning a hole in my pocket. I often like to go to the lingerie department and see what they’re ripping off at the moment: Love Kylie (and the real thing’s not very nice) and Bonds, it looks like. I then went over to the real clothes section, and was reminded of the latest “story” in the fashion magazines – they called it “Secretary”. It was all pussycat bow blouses, tweedy suits and mid-calf pencil skirts in dark turquoise, brown and jade. Now, this stuff would be fine if I either a) were five years younger, b) worked in a City office, or c) weren’t a secretary in Real Life.
Yes, no matter what fancy title I might have bestowed upon me, that is what I am. A fine career, as long as you don’t want to do anything else. I’m what my boss calls “staff”, that is, there’s one of me, I have no reports and am pseudo-senior, but have no upward trajectory. It’s what you’re cursed to become if you didn’t do a marketing degree, can type and know how laser printers and photocopiers work. Because we’re so useful in a world where most communication is by text but most people can’t touch-type, we end up trapped. Our role model is Miss Moneypenny, forever stuck behind a typewriter in a frilly blouse. Although in the newer Bond movies, Moneypenny is portrayed as being a get-up-and-go executive PA type, presenting Bond with all those little essential he needs that Q has overlooked, there’ll always be at least one shot of Moneypenny behind her computer or her little shorthand notebook. I bet she’s wishing she could be a spy – despite MI5 paying their frontline spy staff labout £10,000 a year less than an executive PA can expect in the City.
I heard secretaries described as an office wife once. Nonsense. A secretary/PA/Executive Assistant/Office Manager is an office *mother*. She goes and buys you lunch, she buys your wife a Mothers’ Day gift, she buys you tights when you’ve laddered yours, she makes sure you’re in the hotel you like when you go away on business and she always has a Post-It to hand (Super Sticky). Her encyclopaedic knowledge of the Viking Direct stationery catalogue borders on the disturbingly obsessive, and she *knows* what a DL envelope is. Ah, Tyvek, you are a cruel mistress.
As for The Temp… With the constant random sackings at my office, I keep The Temp neatly folded up in my bottom drawer, just in case I need her.
So anyway, I’m not going to turn up to work dressed like Maggie Gyllenhaal.