Monday, 10 January 2011

Steptoe* And Daughter Versus Burlesque And Doctor Zhivago: A Difficult Choice At The Best Of Times.

The morning starts badly when Reg Beales phones first thing.

"Got an answer from the Minister about my HGV licence yet?" he says.

"No, of course not," I say. "I only wrote the letter on Thursday. I shouldn't think I'll hear anything for at least a couple of weeks. Maybe more."

Reg does one of those super-exaggerated sighs, and then goes quiet. For ages. Eventually, I can't stand it any longer, so I crack first.

"Are you still there?" I say, though I know he is. I can hear his bloody breathing.

"Yes," says Reg. "I'm thinking."

I can well imagine that this takes every ounce of energy that his brain can muster but, even so, I'm not expecting the eventual outcome of the exercise:

"Right, that's decided it then," he says. "I haven't got time to wait, so I'm going to have to take alternative action."

"Oh, God. Like what?" I say, mindful of recent events in Tucson. I wouldn't put anything past anyone called Beales at the best of times.

"I'll have to get a horse and cart," he says.

Greg thinks it's funny, until I remind him that Reg is part of The Home Delivery Network and that it's therefore likely that future copies of The Phone Directory or Freeman's Catalogue will be accompanied by a large pile of manure.

"Mum won't put up with any of that on her driveway," he says. "And anyway, don't you need a licence to drive a horse?"

"How would I know?" I say. "It's not exactly something we come across very often."

And, anyway, I don't care if you do. That's Reg's problem - or Greg's Mum's - whereas I'm thinking about something much more important: trying to decide what to spend my Christmas money on, once I've taken all my unwanted presents back.

"Sexy underwear," says Johnny, in his first email of the day. "Fast-release. And photogenic, just in case I never get to see you wearing it in the flesh."

So, at lunchtime, I trot dutifully off to the shops. (Note the horse-related imagery - I'm still amused by the idea of Reg riding around in a horse and cart.) Though, actually, I'm not so much trotting as staggering, as I'm rather over-burdened by the coat-stand and book shelf that Max bought me for Christmas.

They probably weigh more than I do, as well as being considerably taller, at least in the case of the coat-stand. Not for the first time, I wonder what Max was thinking when he bought the damned things.

Anyway, once I've returned my presents and got the money back, I head to Primark's underwear section. What the hell has happened to that? The whole place is full of completely over-the-top corsets. It's like Burlesque on acid: a nightmare in pink and black satin. Christina Aguilera and Dita Von Teese have a lot to answer for, though I doubt their corsets were made of polyester.

I can't even bear to try any of it on, as it feels horrible and, anyway, I'd feel stupid wearing it, so I abandon that idea and head for Gap's sale instead. Where I find a huge knitted cardigan coat thing, which is really snuggly and warm. I ignore the fact that it's four sizes too big, because it's £15:00 instead of £65:00. And at least it allows for all the thermal underwear underneath.

I'm quite chuffed with my bargain, until I tell Johnny what I've bought. He's disgusted with me, even though I'd have thought that he of all people would appreciate the need for warm clothing. He tries to persuade me to take the cardigan back and get a corset instead.

"I'd look stupid in one of those," I say. "Like mutton dressed as lamb."

"You're such an idiot," he says. Which I don't think was intended as an insult, so then I start wondering if I did make the right choice. Maybe I wouldn't look as ridiculous in sexy underwear as I think I would?

I'm still dithering when I get home from work, so I decide to see what Max's opinion is.

"I nearly bought a corset today," I say.

"What on earth for?" he says. "You're not fat."

"Not that kind of corset," I say. "A sexy one. But I wasn't sure about it, so I bought a big cardigan instead. It's very warm."

I get it out of the bag and put it on, to demonstrate. It's an awful lot bigger than it seemed in the shop, unless I've shrunk since lunchtime. I don't think I have - but I do look like an extra from Oliver, or a particularly short rag and bone man.

"Hmm," says Max, glancing away from the TV. "Yes, very nice. And much more sensible than a corset."

Honestly, now I know I've made the wrong decision. I may not actually be shrinking, but my self-esteem sure as hell is. Who wants to be sensible instead of sexy? Though at least I can get a job working for Reg Beales if I lose mine.

I'd look the part perfectly, riding along in his cart and ringing a bell, while wearing a cardi big enough for four people. It's a far cry from Lara riding along in the Russian snow and wearing her fur coat, though, isn't it? Probably over a bloody corset and nothing else, now I come to think of it.

*Steptoe - From Steptoe and Son, for those of you too young to remember it. Imagine me in my cardi, with a flat cap on, riding along in Steptoe's cart, and you'll get the picture...

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