There is a new dress shop nearby on the main street, bigger, flashier, more certain of itself and boasting four new models. But they aren't the same. They don't attract me in the same way. They have no charm, nor soul, if equally no heads. And currently they are wearing t-shirts screaming Sale. Mine would never have done that. They were far too classy.
In memoriam – here's a reprise of my relationship with the shop over the years – taken from The Northern Line to Shropshire.
Shifnal's Dress Shop (2007)
One of the things I miss about London is that, as you go about your daily life, there's a parade of female loveliness wherever you look. I once fell in love five times on one tube journey from Balham to Leicester Square. It's a numbers game. In London you can bid fond adieu to your latest five minute crush safe in the knowledge another one is just round the corner. In Shifnal, not so much.
But we do have a shop selling second-hand designer clothes and it seems to be thriving. Window-shopping isn't really my thing and, besides, hardly anything fits me, but I pass by the shop every day and I'm always taken by how beautiful the displays are. There is a mannequin in each window and most days they are wearing something new and stunning. I'm particularly drawn to the one on the left.
Striking up Conversations with Strangers (2009)
In her excellent book 'Watching the English' Kate Fox suggests two places where men can innocently start a conversation with women. The first is when queuing for drinks at a bar, and the second when looking at horses parading at a racecourse.
I'm betting Kate isn't a dog owner, because dog walking is a much more obvious situation, and even I am able to chat to complete strangers when out with Bobby who ignores all such etiquette and just gets stuck in (much like Fresher's Week at college).
Striking up conversations with strangers isn't something I've ever done before. Seriously. Well, once on the last tube home I did connect telepathically with a young Glaswegian trainee pensions actuary in such a familiar way that she could only have been my love in a parallel universe, but who left me at Clapham South in this one, and led me to ponder for years on the existence of 'soul circles', at least until I finally managed to transfer my affections onto a slightly slutty dress-shop mannequin, who is pleasingly soulless, if slightly aloof. Headless also.
Anyhow, I was walking the dog the other day and fell into step with the owner of a black labrador, and found that she was from the local village. Wondering whether she knew Anne I asked if she went to the village WI. For the next mile she regaled me with her disregard for the people of the village in general, and its WI in particular. It was a pleasing tirade, and I laughed out loud several times, whilst encouraging her to tell me more. Twenty minutes in, she stopped, took a breath, looked at me and said: “Oh, your wife's a member isn't she?”
Dedicated Follower of Fashion (2010)
Being hunkered down in a small town it's obviously hard to be at the cutting-edge of fashion, and it's to their great credit that the pair of bodacious babes in the boutique manage to keep their standards as high as they do. Not forgetting they're headless dress-shop mannequins.
Still, I try to keep up with the fast-moving trends as best I can from afar, only choosing clothes from my wardrobe that could well have come back into fashion again and I rather think I cut quite a dash as I stroll through town, a dandy amongst peasants. Of course sometimes my attire will be beyond the curve of their imagining. Indeed only this morning I was walking in my “I've got the the Edge” t-shirt, black track-suit bottoms and brown brogues. A girl, probably seven, holding her granny's hand, walked past me. As she came alongside she said very loudly: “Oh, that's not a good look”.
Headless Over Heels in Love (2012)
Woe is me. Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon my world. A dark curtain has descended, folding in on itself horizon to horizon. I am lost, forlorn, loveless, wandering through the valley alone. For my beloved shop mannequin is no more. I walked past yesterday to find just one remaining: The lesser one, the slutty one. It seems my love has been usurped by “antique furniture”. By a small footstool and a yard of chintz. They call this progress? My head is in spin.
I spent the day inconsolable and the night in torment remembering her many beguiling fashions and restlessly contemplating her fate. Has she been sold, or simply abandoned, supine and alone in some darkened attic? Or maybe kidnapped and held ransom against her will? I'm not sure how much money I can get together at such short notice. I'd best notify the police.
Oh my god, she might be dead....