I went into town today. What a colossal waste of time that was. For those of you who are familiar with the layout of Oxford, you will no doubt realise that for a resident of East Oxford to say "I went into town" is not particularly impressive. It involves, at most, a 25-minute cycle (although if, like me, you forget to wear gloves in November, it is supremely disappointing to realise that you've got frostbite from a jaunt into town and not en route to the top of Mount Everest). But as far as I'm concerned, going into town on a Sunday is akin to being whisked away in the Tardis to go fight the Daleks.
I had three reasons for going into town. First, it has come to my attention that I'm going to London on Tuesday evening, and whenever I go to London I suddenly become painfully aware that I dress a bit like I live somewhere very rural and haven't seen another human in awhile (which, I maintain, is not because I don't know what to wear, but because I can't afford what I want to wear), and I thought (why I thought this I do not know) that perhaps I could pick up something - a dress, say - that looked a bit more civilised than the usual fare. Second, I needed tights, because, as I may have mentioned, FROSTBITE (can thighs get frostbite?)! And third, I needed to buy goose fat.
The problem with town on a Sunday, or at least part of the problem, is that every group of underdressed, KFC-eating 14-year-olds, every hungover first-year undergrad, and every posh lady with a 9-season-old Louis Vuitton shopper in Oxfordshire crawls out of the woodwork. Also, kids. I LOVE kids, by the way. I think they're delightful. But Sunday kids are a different breed. They're the ones that have it in for your knees. You know, you're walking along, and the one going the other way suddenly decides to CHAAAAARGE like he's acting out a Tennyson poem, because he has seen the enemy and The Enemy is Your Legs.
Speaking of legs, I thought I'd start with the tights. Something small and easy. So, on the recommendation of someone I once knew who always had very warm-looking tights, I headed to Marks & Spencer because she said the best thing to do is buy their woollen children's tights. Except that M&S seems to have ceased stocking tights for anyone who is larger than a 6-year-old girl and smaller than an elephant. Near the checkout I finally found some which would do and spent a long time standing in the wrong place. Queueing in Britain is hard enough as a foreigner. Queueing in M&S on a Sunday near (by which I mean, within six months of) Christmas is probably the cruelest thing you could make a foreigner do. Six hours later, after I'd found the proper end of the queue, I was vaguely comforted when the orange lady in the massive hat (I think she'd been at a Summer wedding before the Tardis landed her in November) turned to me and said, "I've had to queue for everything today, darling. Why, I waited twenty minutes for a cup of tea upstairs. Isn't it awful?"
Yes. It is very, very awful.
So for awhile I looked for dresses, except that I forgot that it's impossible to buy anything in Oxford that hasn't been featured in one of those "Can't Afford The Real Thing? 20 Purchases To Make You Feel Stylish and Look Foolish For Less" articles in Cosmopolitan or Elle or somewhere. And, forgive me for pretending for a moment that I know or care much about fashion, but there's nothing sadder (sartorially, I mean) than cheap high street trying to do 'in', and that's all high street ever does. You're going to throw that sleazy-looking leopard-print jumpsuit away next season because a magazine says you can't wear it anymore, so why bother?
Finally I found a dress I almost liked but would have bought just to feel productive, except that the only size they stocked it in was notably not my size. Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something. I decided to abandon my mission to look sleek in London and hope that the Big City People aren't too traumatised by what happens when a skint snob goes on an Outing.
I thought, I can find goose fat. The day won't be a total loss! Except that when the covered market announced proudly, a few months ago, that they're Now Open On Sundays! What they actually meant was, all of the shops you never wanted to visit anyway are open on Sundays but the useful places, like the three butchers, are resolutely shut, because most useful things in Britain are shut on Sundays. Which I tend not to notice or mind until I go into town on a Sunday and need goose fat.
So I went to Tesco. Which was my worst idea yet. Because Tesco, having grown bored of taking over Britain, now amuses itself by finding out what you desperately need and then deliberately does not stock it. Also, all of the greasy-fingered 14-year-olds, hungover undergrads, posh ladies, and Sunday Children have reconvened to mock you as you run helplessly down aisle after aisle, like Alice running with the Queen just to stay in place, and if you pause for too long to try to decide which of the 6,000 flavours of biscuit you'd like to bring home, the Grumpy Old Ladies with Shopping Trolleys will maliciously run over your feet. (It's a rule; I've actually read it in the Grumpy Old Lady With Shopping Trolley Code of Laws).
So with bruised toes and frozen fingers I returned home and vowed not to leave the house next Sunday.