I march towards Primark with the sole aim of buying tights in this beautiful autumn we are having. I know exactly which tights I want: their black, opaque, fleece-lined tights – because all of my tights have laddered and I need new ones, but also because I am tired of being cold at the train station and seem to require thermal tights.
I pick up one pair of tights and join the huge lunchtime queue, feeling smug that I have resisted picking up an impulse pair of socks or a bra or even a little pot of Argan oil, although I have been tempted.
In addition to paying off my debt, MindReader and I are trying to buy a house. And we’re also going to Barcelona in five weeks. There are a lot of places our money is going at the moment, and Argan oil cannot be one of them. It can’t.
I stare straight ahead, thinking of my frugal buttered malt loaf waiting for me back at the office. I’ll have it with some free tap water, I think, and be hydrated at the same time. Then I will go straight home after work (not to the Bullring), and today I will have only bought tights and a train ticket: perfectly reasonable.
That’s when I see it.
Lying across the racks of socks for sale which border the queue is a soft, grey coat. I stare at it, terrified. I can see its size sticking out. It’s a six. My size. It has military-style buttons and little, subtle details on the shoulders and it is only twenty-six quid. And it looks warm. My trench coat is not warm, and it is also bright-turquoise and stupid.
I look at the coat. I haven’t actually bought a coat since my spree in 2010. I need a coat. And this coat is lovely.
No, I think firmly, forcing myself to imagine a debt-free life/a cottage with countryside as its back garden (bore off, suburbia)/being able to enjoy lots more lovely holidays.
I WANT THE COAT, my brain says.
There is by now quite a gap between the person in front of me and I, and I step forward, past the coat, feeling slightly relieved. After all, wouldn’t it be a little bit desperate to buy a coat – quite a large investment – because you found it in a queue? What would the people behind me think?
I pay for my tights and, on the way out, find myself drifting towards the racks of coats at the front of the shop. There they are – all the grey coats lined up ready to fulfil their winter purpose. I run my fingers along them, feeling how soft they are. I find myself looking for a six, just to try on, but of course, the only six is lying, abandoned, in the sock queue.
With a resigned sigh, I head to the back of the shop to find the size six and – to my horror – see a definitely-size-six person picking it up. “NO,” I almost shout, but instead, thinking she may change her mind at some stage and abandon the already-abandoned coat, I opt to do something much stranger than shouting:
I follow her.
She winds her way through the alpine jumpers and the coloured skinny jeans, and I follow her, staying a few steps behind her, my eyes on the grey coat. On my grey coat.
She is walking the grey coat back to the front of the shop. She is going to put it back! I think, and decide to step in.
“They have other colours and sizes,” I say, with all the knowledge of somebody who has already bought something from Primark today but is still in the shop, seemingly directing people around the coats section.
“Great,” she says, glancing in alarm at my Primark paper bag and flicking through the racks of plum-coloured coats.
Evidently she wants to try on the plum coat, and for a moment it seems as if she is going to abandon the coat. I choose this moment to make a grab for the grey coat, a split-second after she decides not to let it go.
She stares at me for a few seconds after I make my grab.
“Erm,” she says, clearly disturbed. “I think I’m gonna get this…”
“Good for you,” I say, seething.
I try on the size eight. It is too big.
And that is why you should always buy first and think later.
Especially when it comes to coats.