Helen Martin: Trouble in store over lack of choice

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I’VE admitted before, I have a missing female gene... the one that’s responsible for shopping. I’d rather be cooking, ironing or having a dental scale and polish than joining the January sales mob. But this year I was on a mission or two.

I needed a new dress for a function. I wanted a turquoise throw for a chair. What’s more I had £100 worth of vouchers that could be spent in almost every high street chain tucked safely in my handbag. I’ve given up shopping online after endless disappointments when something didn’t fit or wasn’t the same colour as on screen, but this time I used the net for research and thought I’d found what I wanted and where to get it. So I steeled myself and headed into town. All along Princes Street for two long hours I trudged in and out of shops becoming more dispirited and bad-tempered.

Having “lost” an afternoon of my life, I returned home – with an £18 frying pan which I bought in desperation so as not to emerge from the experience empty-handed.

Almost everything in every shop was in the sale. Any dresses left were in the “wouldn’t be seen dead in” category, a size 6 or a size 20.

Shop layouts were esoterically designed according to their own peculiar brand groupings, presumably to make customers plod round every inch of the over-heated sales floor rather than find all the possible options in one place, dresses here, jumpers there, frying pans somewhere else.

Options? What am I saying? Such is the strangle-hold of seasonal fashion and style edicts that every chain and department store offers the same items with variations in quality, price and occasional detail.

As for interiors, all have conspired on what’s “in” for this season (or in the case of sales, last season). Late 2013-early 2014 is therefore a bonanza if your home colour scheme is beige and cream, with accent colours of lime green and russet-maroon. 
Otherwise, forget it.

Had I been longing for a cartoon onesie, the retail world would have been my oyster. Hundreds of them, unwanted, hung limply in rows like slaughtered vermin on a farmer’s fence, the epitome of over-optimism for a passing trend offering momentary amusement at best. Amid the throng I stood alone, sweaty and bagless, as herds of dedicated shoppers bustled past, laden down with booty. What on earth had they found to buy?

Were they all painfully thin or morbidly obese rushing back to their beige and lime green homes with the bargain of the year, snapping up anything – except a onesie – with a discount price-tag?

Clearly I am in the minority. But can I really be alone in finding shopping, the activity on which it now seems our entire economy is dependant, such a depressing, unrewarding and frustrating experience? Could it be that one of the challenges for low to mid-level retailers, as well as holding on to the customers they already have, is to pull in those of us who hate the take-it-or-leave-it, uninspirational sameness they currently offer?

At least one person is happy. Himself counts his blessings that the joint account is never, ever going to be depleted by his missus heading out on a deranged shopping spree, safe in the knowledge that I’d rather be doing something constructive and satisfying – like cleaning the toilet bowl.

We need moral shift in priorities

POLITICIANS are forever agonising over how to engage with the electorate. I fear they never will thanks to globalisation. But at the start of 2014, here are a couple of points to ponder. They have singularly failed to rein in bankers still in denial of their guilt with news that RBS handed its new boss £1.5 million of shares after only three months and that others are continuing with what have been described as obscene bonuses.

Government pledges to make international companies pay their share of tax haven’t got off the ground, and won’t for fear of withdrawal, job losses and relocation. Running scared and held to ransom, unable to do what we want and need them to do, instead they introduce new “green” fines for struggling home-based businesses, preside over increasing thousands being dependant on food banks, and hammer the most vulnerable with benefit cuts and bedroom tax.

We need a moral shift in priorities, brave governments who will stand up to the City and the conglomerates and work for the people. Who will recognise that it may cause even more short-term pain, but unless we have serious redistribution of wealth, this country’s future (be that the UK or Scotland) is doomed.

Ban mobiles from classroom

STRANGELY for me, I find myself agreeing with the Tories. Mobile phones should be banned from classrooms. There is no justification for their use during lessons. And it’s not just kids. Pedestrians of all ages are texting while crossing roads, being so absorbed that they step out in front of traffic putting themselves and others at risk. Does technology make them stupid or were they just born that way?

Country of party-goers

PERHAPS it was all this talk of Bulgarians and Romanians coming here, along with frequent references to the Capital’s New Year “revellers”. But overheard at the bus stop during my shopping trip, a confused child asked his mother: “Where is Revel anyway?”