I had a friend come to visit the other weekend, and when we found ourselves at loose ends on Sunday afternoon, I bravely said that if she could face it, I needed to buy a new pair of jeans.
This woman has never been shopping with me, but knows me well enough to realise that it’s going to be arduous. In fact, she finds it as arduous as I do.
I proposed that we visit the local House of Fraser and give it an hour, afterwards I would buy us a round. We were feeling high on the excellent hot chocolates we’d just had and so off we set.
The first challenge we faced was that it was Sunday afternoon and not raining and so everybody was out and we had to navigate the weird not quite a mall area in the centre of town. We moaned and whinged about humans and their collective awfulness as we dogged toddlers armed with sugar and people staring at phones as though Jesus himself was speaking to them.
When finally we made it to House of Fraser, we entered on the men’s floor and were slightly confused. But we found the escalator and after consulting the menu, headed upwards to the floor that sounded the most promising.
Which is where things got complicated. And is also a key reason I dislike department stores. We decided, logically, that we would head to the jeans section and make our choices from there. But because it’s a department store, everywhere is a jeans section. My friend, who is taller than me, saw above the shiny and brightly coloured dresses to a wall of jeans and we approached.
Upon arriving at a wall of jeans with titles that bore no relation to anything about the jeans (why did they all have women’s names? What exactly am I meant to learn from a jean called Jo?), I immediately put my hands to my face and pulled back the skin in a grotesque visage I felt represented accurately the pain I felt inside. My friend nodded sagely.
Then the woman who was assigned to that area saw my face and in actual, true concern rushed over.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I need to buy some jeans,” I replied, unwilling to remove my hands from my face.
“Don’t worry, I’ll help you.”
And like that, the tension dissolved.
This woman, Annie, at the House of Fraser in Bristol should you ever find yourself there, is an utter triumph of a human being. The only people who will go shopping with me are people who have never done it, and The Mom and L’il Sis who I think feel obligated as we’re related. Well, The Mom liked it because she thinks it’s funny when I have a meltdown in the shop and doesn’t mind that we never purchase anything useful. Which is why I normally go with L’il Sis now, though she runs a tight ship and insists that I try everything on, her success rate is about a million times higher than The Mom’s.
Anyhow, this woman Annie completely rose to the challenge.
“What kind of jeans are you looking for?” she asked.
Helpfully, I thought, I pointed to the ones I was wearing and said, “Same again please. These have a hole in the bum now.”
She assessed the jeans I was wearing and said, “those don’t fit you very well.”
“Ah yes, a colleague of yours pointed that out when I bought them, but I told her I preferred the larger size because then the seams don’t touch my legs.”
“So what kind of jeans are you looking for?” she asked again.
“Right. No stretch. Whatsoever. Not too tight. No flares. No embellishments. No pre-existing holes. No diamanté. Dark.”
“So something quite specific then?” she asked. “Do you like any of these?” she asked pointing to the wall of jeans.
I approached the wall and started shopping the way I think only I may shop: by touching the fabric. The fabric has to be just the right level of soft.
“What about these?” she suggested. “There’s not much stretch in them.”
I touched the fabric. “I’m not kidding when I say I’m not having stretch. I hate it.”
“It helps to create a nice shape.”
“I don’t care about the shape. I want for my trousers to not fall down. Stretch drags them down, and I drag them up. This process ends badly.”
Annie tore through the remaining options holding them up for my approval. Sometimes, most times, when I didn’t give my yes, she ignored me and put them in the trying on pile anyway.
When she went to find the key to the changing room, my friend pointed this out to me. “This woman is exactly what we need here,” she said.
“I know, right? She’s not having any of my bullshit.”
“Exactly. And you’re going to get some great jeans. I have a good feeling about her.”
Eventually, we were shown to a changing room and my friend given strict instructions to ignore me and give proper, critical advice. Which she did.
In the end, I bought a pair of jeans that I’m almost completely happy about (they’re fine except the colour which I think is too light but they don’t have stretch and the seams don’t touch the inside of my legs so I’m willing to overlook it).
When Annie took me up to the counter to pay, I was gushing with thanks as was my friend, and let me say neither one of us are known to be gushers. Moaners, complainers and grumps, yes. But never this happy about anything – cerltainly something not on the internet.
Funnily enough, my friend’s sister actually works at House of Fraser, in some office-related capacity, and my friend told the tale of Annie and so apparently Head Office has been notified that they have on their hands an extremely fantastic woman. I believe I said loudly that Annie should get a raise immediately.
After all of this, and there was some grumbling on my part, Annie took the time to write down a key email address for me: which was for a personal shopper, which is a FREE service at House of Fraser.
“Next time you need some help, you can just book in with me,” Annie said.
Annie, you’ll be seeing me again. And for that I must apologise in advance.