I wouldn’t say I’m a shopaholic, but I was brought up at a time and place where shopping was a regular feature of life. As a child I would be sent round the corner to the grocery store in Willesden Lane (which was no lane at all) to buy the loaf of rye bread my mother loved. On the way home I would gnaw the crust, and once I had handed the loaf over my mother would cut off the crust, spread it with butter and give it to me to eat like a civilized person, which made it rather less attractive. But I ate it anyway. When I was a bit older I would be sent to the greengrocer’s to ask for a pound of mushroom stems (a cheap substitute for whole mushrooms), with which my mother would prepare a delicious mushroom sauce.
Before every major Jewish festival our mother would take me and my two sisters to buy a dress or coat or shoes so that we would be suitably attired when we attended the services in synagogue. When we lived in Kilburn this meant marching to the end of Willesden Lane, then turning right into Kilburn High Road where the shop-fronts beckoned with myriad delights. I know that today Kilburn and its High Road are considered to be an area where it is not advisable to go alone, but in those days it was still borderline respectable.
My two younger sisters and I would gaze in fascination at the displays in the shop windows, imagining ourselves wearing the sequined evening dresses or warm, flowing coats, and vying to be the first to ‘bags’ (i.e., claim) possession of them. Eventually our mother would lead us into the local Marks and Spencer’s store, where each one of us would be suitably equipped with an item of clothing considered suitable for the season and the occasion. There was nowhere to try on what one had bought in those days, so it was rather a question of knowing one’s size as well as an element of hit and miss.
I don’t know how my parents could afford this constant outlay of money, as my father’s salary as the secretary of a Jewish charity was far from generous. I do know that he worked extra jobs in the evening at home, whether typing envelopes for other organizations or managing payments for another Jewish charity, so that they could buy extras. Our mother, with her nimble fingers, did her best to make clothes for us, but when it came to the festivals they felt it was necessary to make an extra effort.
In my teenage years we moved away from Kilburn to a leafy suburb on what was then the Bakerloo line of the underground, and is today served by the Jubilee line. Then our shopping expeditions took us far afield to Oxford Street, with all the delights that were to be found there. Of course, Marks and Spencer’s was still the mainstay of our outings, but the lure of the other shops could not be denied. And so we became familiar with the interiors and offerings of Selfridges, John Lewis, C&A and many other magical emporia. On the long journey home by tube we would clutch the colourful paper bags containing our purchases and our mother would finally be able to rest her aching feet.
When I moved to Israel I found that there were fewer shops and that the stock on offer was less tempting, but still there was always somewhere where I could occasionally go and try to find a new item of clothing. Whenever I managed to get to London, however, I would gravitate towards Oxford Street at least once, partly to satisfy my shopping needs and partly to relive the regular pilgrimages I used to make there with my mother and sisters.
Of course, I have been buying (and selling) books on Amazon for several years, but that’s a very different category of shopping.
Today, as we labour under the burden of the Coronavirus, all clothes shops are out of bounds as far as I’m concerned. Here in Israel I have no desire to venture into an enclosed place containing people I neither know nor trust, and especially not to try on an item of clothing which has been handled by any number of people.
So these days I do my shopping on line. After I ordered an item of clothing from good old Marks and Spencer’s it got into the habit of bombarding my email almost daily with offers and deals of various kinds. It’s almost like having Oxford Street at my fingertips which, like everything, has its advantages and its disadvantages.
Although I still long and hanker and crave for the day when I can resume my annual pilgrimage to Oxford Street, for the moment I’m prepared to assuage my thirst with what the internet has to offer.