Fringe Box



XX Notes: Embarrassing Shopping, But Needs Must

Published on: 31 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 4 Sep, 2020

Maria Rayner

Maria Rayner‘s observational, fortnightly column from a woman’s perspective…

“Do you need a poo? Well, stop lying on the floor. Come on, get up. Ok, Daddy will take you for a poo. But be quick.”

We’re not at the soft play or the local playground. It’s late August and my son and I are outside a well-frequented High Street shoe shop. Well-frequented, that is, in August. Most months of the year the current shoppers would be giving the place a wide berth, leaving the regular clientele to browse, and brandish their store cards in peace.

Fast forward. With my son now at 6th Form, I thought my Back to School shopping days would be over. However, unlike my older two, he’s chosen to continue his studies in a school setting rather than one of the excellent local colleges, which means some elements of uniform shopping are still required.

A life-long suit wearer, I delegated that important purchase to my husband thinking, correctly, that his experience and advice would be listened to.

I have friends who have gone down the online shopping route (what image-conscious teenager would risk being spotted in the Friary Centre with their mum on a Saturday afternoon?) but 10 deliveries later her fashion-savvy son is still to be satisfied. Anyway, I risked the internet for shirts and the gamble paid off – thank you Next for their prompt delivery and ready-to-wear, on a hanger, delivery service.

Shoe shopping is much more specialist. I always thought my mother was exaggerating about my awkward feet as she dragged the three of us around both children’s shoe shops in our small Cornish market town. Then I had my daughter and realised that she’d inherited the narrow feet and high instep that only Start Rite caters for. I once took the easy option and started the school year with something cheaper. The blisters after only one full day’s wear taught me an expensive lesson: your children are wearing these shoes for nearly 10 hours a day, five days a week – they need to fit perfectly.

And not for me shoe shopping by proxy, like the friend I bumped into on Saturday. Now on her second trip to town, she expressed sympathy when she heard the purpose of our visit, rolling her eyes with empathy when I told her that I’d offered cash to my son so he could shop independently. She’d done the same, hence the reason we were both now shopping for shoes a week before school started back. Some jobs just need an expert.

Risky in non-Covid times, leaving school shoe shopping to the last weekend of August is now perilous. I was once nearly thrown out of a Haslemere shoe shop for daring to darken their doors with three school-age children requiring last-minute school shoe fittings.

Back in the day, I sought out small provincial locations with easy parking and smaller queues, but consequently even smaller shoe supplies. And it wasn’t only the shoes that were in short supply, come the end of the summer holidays, the fitters’ patience had worn thin too.

So, with the trepidation any unprepared, mismatched team would feel venturing into familiar territory in uncertain times, youngest son and I found ourselves scaling the heights of Guildford High Street. I say unprepared, we had our masks at the ready and quick draw, pocket-sized hand sanitizer.

The heights of Guildford High Street. Plenty of shoppers despite the ongoing pandemic.

Being dropped off at the bridge gave us a great view up the hill for me a chance to snap a shot of the shopping area looking busy but with loads of orange barriers (are these for sett repairs?), for my son to be reminded that an outing with mum was top of the embarrassment league. He walked off, leaving me on the other side of the pedestrian crossing. Great start.

Reunited once more, we continued our expedition to a familiar shoe shop and made our first discovery in post-lockdown shopping. The temporary barriers that I’d assumed were to protect pedestrians from falling into holes were deployed outside of busy shops for queue management.

Shopping queue management

Parking son in the queue, I checked that the children’s department still stocked his size (cheaper than men’s yet still sturdy enough for lunchtime football) before joining him to wait it out.

There was plenty of time for him to window shop the shoe of his dreams, and for me to remind him that at this late stage he’d not have a wide selection. This was born out when it was finally our turn, the assistant measured him and returned with three pairs, declaring these to be the only options.

This year, our fitter explained, the stock room is particularly bare due to coronavirus precautions in the factories hampering shoe production. This has coincided with Russell and Bromley ending their long-term relationship with Start Rite prior to bringing out a new range. Clarks are running a promotion where, subject to “ts&cs”, outgrown shoes can be swapped for new before February – the cynic in me is wondering if this is because fitters are being forced (by scarcity) to sell shoes without the usual “growing room”.

Shoes aren’t the only item of uniform in short supply this year. Stevenson’s, a large supplier who has a branch in Guildford, has advised schools that some items have been delayed due to worldwide shutdowns and local lockdowns. Some schools are accepting smart home alternatives.

Charities like Wokingham-based First Days are also seeing a change in behaviour due to Covid. Most children stopped attending school in March, consequently, there is a lot of good quality but out-grown stock. So if you too are a last-minute mum, try your school secondhand shop or parents’ Facebook group – they may have the PE top you are looking for.

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Responses to XX Notes: Embarrassing Shopping, But Needs Must

  1. Keith Dewey Reply

    September 2, 2020 at 2:59 pm

    Indeed, challenging times. With Covid-19 chaos increasing everyone’s feelings of anxiety and stress,Maria Rayner’s opening “needing the loo” comment made me wonder how those concerns have been impacting people with IBS, and how many people learnt that automated IBS response when they were children on day trips. We’re certainly seeing an increase in clients looking for hypnotherapy to help calm their mind and body. Stay well.

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