“I NEED A REAL WOMAN!”

It occurred to me, in my hairdressing salon the other day, as my lovely stylist came at me with the (plastic) comb and (plastic) hairdryer, wearing her (plastic) face shield and putting a (plastic) overall on me (clean overalls for all customers are stored in plastic sleeves, which are then thrown out after just one use; most likely into a plastic bin), that plastic has switched from being the number one enemy to being our friend and saviour. Where would we have been, during lockdown, without plastic hand sanitiser dispensers, gloves, masks, visors, screens and so much more besides? And what about those large lumps of plastic we’ve all been depending on for ordering our home deliveries, keeping up our connections, not to mention our sanity, with friends, family, work, evening classes, etc?  Computers and their accompaniments, mobile phones, radios, headphones, televisions… Oh yes, and all those gas-guzzling, environment-polluting vans and lorries, delivering (more plastic-wrapped) necessities to homes, shops and businesses countrywide… Just saying!

I had turned up slightly early for my appointment, which threw everyone into a bit of a tizz. They’re only allowed one client per stylist in at a time.  I did offer to walk around the block and come back later, but they allowed me to stay. I sat and stared into space for ten minutes, not having the usual pile of magazines to glance through. All removed. 

I’d already been ticked off at Waterloo station, for missing the (not very clearly signposted) “correct” entrance to the loos, and about to dive in via the exit. After that, I fancied a recce in Foyles, but the stern-looking member of staff standing guard at the door put me off. Perhaps they don’t want any customers touching their nice, shiny new books.

This reminds me of the time when, as a pony-mad youngster, dressed in my jodhpurs and riding boots, having come straight from a riding lesson, I was idly looking through a book in our local WH Smiths, when an officious assistant beetled up to me and told me to keep my grubby little hands away from the books. I was mortified and scuttled off immediately – even though my little hands were clean, not grubby. You didn’t answer back to the grown-ups in those far-off days. 

Shopping holds no fears for me now, as a so-called grown-up myself, though I did question the wisdom of some of my local shops, putting up Halloween displays in their windows. I mean, I passed a shop selling Halloween toys and knick-knacks and so-called scary outfits, but I think they’re going to be a bit wasted on us all this year. I’d say our collective scarometer is sky-high already, wouldn’t you? And, tell me, exactly how is trick or treat going to work this year?  Are we to stand on our doorsteps, wearing scary masks of a different kind, and lob any sweets out into the darkness and general direction of the children’s voices? I know I will miss seeing them all dressed up in their costumes, anyway.

As for Bonfire night: in my area, anyone who dares to let any fireworks off is slated and berated on social media and, with so few people allowed to mingle, any get-togethers are likely to be a bit of a damp squib (sorry).

The OH has a theory that some shop assistants might be quite glad of a tough-looking (plastic) screen between them and their customers. He commented on this the other evening, as we passed a group of distinctly dodgy-looking people who were hanging around our local garage. He may well have a point.

Every town has its local eccentric speakers, for want of a better word. We have our fair share of those who like to stand by the church wall (it always seems to be there; not sure why, unless it’s because they know they have a captive audience sitting waiting for buses at the nearby stops). Although, what did they all do during lockdown, with no (or very little) captive audience?  I note, too, that the bussed-in beggars are back…

Usually, the speakers’ rhetoric has a religious slant, but not the one I passed, with ever-quickening steps, the other day: ”If I don’t get married soon, I’ll go insane,” he yelled. I tried not to catch his eye as I galloped past. ”I need a real woman,” he bellowed, as I scurried to a safe distance. I didn’t catch exactly what he meant by that, though I had a pretty good idea. I wanted to shout back: “You don’t have to be married for that!” But then he might have taken it as a bit of a come-on, I had both hands full at the time – with heavy shopping – and it could have turned ugly. John Lewis was nearby and I could have waited in there until the coast was clear but, given you still have to queue to get in, and there is only one way in and one out, and they’re terribly strict about it, it could all have got horribly complicated. In the end, I chickened out of waiting for a bus and got a taxi home instead.

On another day, turning up to the opticians for my annual eye check, I had to wait for them to open the locked door and sit on a socially-distanced chair once inside, having used the hand sanitiser first, of course. There was a slight fracas when I spotted the notice on the door that said their toilets weren’t currently available for customers. My appointment is very thorough, it lasts for over an hour, and me being me and always slightly nervous about these things, I usually need the loo at least twice during that time. I’m afraid I got out of my pram. It doesn’t happen very often (not often enough, actually), but it usually gets results. I said I absolutely had to use it, or cancel my appointment.  Failing that, could they direct me to the nearest public loo – in which case, I would then be late for my appointment? To shut me up, because they could see I meant it, they allowed me to use their loo, so I made sure I used it twice, just to show them.  

Nearby, a woman was standing with her young daughter, who was in school uniform. (I should add she was also wearing glasses.) The mother was saying: “When you get married, you don’t want to be walking up the aisle wearing glasses, do you?”  The very sensible and together daughter insisted she didn’t want to try contact lenses and I really, really wanted to butt in and tell her there was nothing wrong with wearing glasses on your wedding day – many do – and how dare her mother try to give her a complex at such an early age? Never mind (and don’t get me started) on the very weighty assumption that she will get married one day. Perhaps she won’t! (I hope she won’t, now, just to spite her.) As one who isn’t married and has never wanted to be, I found her mother’s attitude extremely outdated and very annoying. It was probably just as well my appointment was called at that point, otherwise I’d have had to get out of my pram again and it all gets rather tiring.

I hated having to wear glasses at 13 and couldn’t wait to start earning my own money, at 19, so I could afford contact lenses. It was the first thing I did with my newly-minted salary. That awful, antiquated saying used to haunt me: “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” So, on evenings out with friends, I would stumble about, falling up kerbs and down steps (and once, right in front of a boy I fancied, skidding over on a dance floor; though I blame my long pinafore for that, not the fact I couldn’t see where the hell I was going, in the dimness of the City Hall disco), rather than wear the damn things. I always felt ugly in them. I still do. It’s all down to inner confidence, though – I can think of at least two glasses-wearing friends who have never had any problems on the man-attracting front. I may not have wanted to marry any of them, but it was important I was still attractive to them!

We’re trying to get out and about as much as we can, at the moment, making up for so much time lost, this year, so pub lunches and trips to garden centres and the like are a must. Last weekend, at a garden centre, we had to sit outside, under a canopy – unheated – and the weather was awful – cold and wet. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes, ha ha ha,” we trilled merrily, as, shivering, we hugged our bowls of rapidly-cooling soup.

In another garden centre café this weekend (indoors, this time), the assistant pushed a (plastic) trolley laden with our food order towards our table, announcing brightly: “There you are!” before beetling off again. 

In that same café, another assistant told us the place had been flooded that morning.  As I was about to commiserate (we’d had some heavy rain earlier), he added: “From the moment we opened, it’s been hectic. Every table full, and people waiting.” I wondered if it was because everyone is trying to make the most of things before any further clampdowns from the government. I fear that, if any new restrictions are too severe, many businesses won’t be able to come back. One of only two pubs in a nearby large village has permanently closed and we spotted a notice outside another at the weekend, announcing its forthcoming quiz night, adding: The first round of drinks is on us! 

Meanwhile, on the motorway, the old sign is back: 

STAY ALERT

CONTROL THE VIRUS

SAVE LIVES.

Author: Hampton Caught

The rants and ramblings of an ex Deputy Fiction Editor of Woman's Weekly magazine.

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