Saturday 13 October 2007

Eating for England . . . Shopping for Scotland

Least favourite way to spend a Saturday afternoon: shopping. Ugh! Shopping is always considerably more pleasurable when it is a speculative exercise. When there's something specific one actually wants - or even more importantly, NEEDS - then there is absolutely nothing more soul-destroying than trailing round for five hours and coming home with precisely nothing on the list.

Colchester is not the best shopping venue in the universe, but even so, I did rather hope that I would be able to find at least one of my three relatively modest requirements before the end of the day.

It was not to be.

I wanted a small, vertically orientated, plain black leather bag on a long shoulder strap, suitable for wearing cross-wise under a jacket while travelling by train and sightseeing. Nowhere to be found.

Secondly, a largish totebag type of thing with two handles long enough to wear over the shoulder, for carrying books, newspaper, camera, water etc. Saw nearly the right thing in Monsoon, but not quite. Half an hour's search in TKMaxx was fruitless, also.

Finally, a new pair of Timberland boots.

I quite fancied some pink ones to replace my erstwhile lilac pair, now an unattractive shade of grey (having first consulted resident style gurus of various ages re whether it would be pushing my luck to step out in such footwear at the age of 47 and they all thought either 'probably' or even 'definitely' not). Pink ones are available in 'children's sizes', and hence do not attract VAT, and are thus comparatively cheap. Having size 4 feet, I've previously considered that buying myself children's boots was rather good wheeze - but Timberland are onto the likes of me. According to staff in two of the shops I visited, Timberland sales reps won't allow children's shoe departments to sell girls' boots (£55) above a size 2 or 3. Clever, huh? Not only does this stop 'boot-cheats' like me from buying zero-rated footwear, it also means that parents of girls who grow out of their size 3s and want some more pink or lilac or red boots have to go to a women's shoe department and pay a whopping £80+ for the privilege. Always assuming there were any decent stockists of women's Timberlands in Colchester, which, needless to say, there are not. Who would pay this for a pair of boots which will be outgrown in under six months? Not moi. Call me an old meanie if you will.

At 5.05 pm, with ten minutes to spare before quick sprint through Castle Park to collect My Boy from swimming pool, I decided to go for full-priced black boots (sorry not in stock in that size). OK, then, dark brown please (ditto). Came away empty-footed.

Looking on the bright side, My Boy and I did have tea and a shared cake in The Minories Garden Cafe - something we are trying to do as much as possible before The Minories closes to make way for the more sensational, multi-million £££ Visual Arts Facility, currently under construction.

Which will be perfectly fabulous, I'm certain, but the coffee shop will be run by some bland franchise or other; all the chairs and tables will match; there won't be delicious home-made, seasonal food or newspapers or interesting music or second-hand books to buy; and it won't have a delightfully secluded, walled garden in which to recover from the stresses of relentless consumerism.

As well as tea and cake, I awarded myself a small additional consolation prize - Nigel Slater's Eating for England.

I read his Toast at one sitting a couple of Christmases ago and found it quite the most deliciously nostalgic, hilarious, bittersweet, wonderfully written book I'd read for ages. Perfect holiday fodder. I've been reading extracts from this new one in the Sunday papers and just can't wait to get stuck in, but am going to try to keep it for Tuesday's train journey. Pass the custard tarts.

If there's one thing I miss about commuting to London by train - and I think it is the only thing - it is the opportunity it afforded to read (relatively) undisturbed, for two whole hours a day. When I think how many books I used to get through back then, it makes my current monthly tally look decidedly paltry.

While in bookshop also popped a copy of Essential Edinburgh on the counter at the last minute. Feel a bit silly about this, but it's sooooo long since I was last there, I thought a map or two might come in handy. I see that it also has useful information at the back on how to recognise, inter alia, a telephone box, a post box and a policeman. This will be invaluable, I'm sure. A short list of peculiarly Scottish words includes 'sarnie', meaning . . . 'sandwich'. Gosh! Surely not? And show me, pray, the small outpost of the British Isles where sarnie does not mean sandwich. Bizarre.

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