I wish I had someone to blame other than myself for me being out in this miserable weather. You would think by now that I would have the good sense not to hit Oxford Street during the January sales and the worst snow since America decided that it needed some space to pursue its own creative interests.
I still haven't got used to the cold weather. I left my scarf at restaurant in Chinatown last week and I think I left one of my gloves at Mike's house last week. Every four or five steps I take my foot slips a little and I worry that this is going to be the end. Any second now I'm going to fall backwards on to the pavement and spend my last freezing moments being tsked over by busy shoppers for blocking the footpath.
We're going to the opera tonight, you see. I've never been before but a quick search suggests that jeans and a hoodie might not be quite the thing. Although it runs against my cave troll chic, I actually do own a suit. I tried it on earlier today, to be on the safe side. My fashion tip: skin-tight three-quarter length pinstripes in the forthcoming frosty day in hell season.
Which, rather appropriately, has left me staggering around London's busiest street with the tips of my fingers going numb and turning a slightly worrying shade of purple. Still, chin up old man, faint heart never won fair lady and all that. Oh look, churros.
* * *
The world -- slippery though it may be -- is a better place when nourished by deep-fried choux and chocolate sauce. Let remorse wait until tomorrow, for today I have pastry! Also, I think I've smeared some chocolate on my smart phone screen.
There's apparently a men's suit shop a couple of blocks from here that's had some good reviews. I leave my warm, dougnutty haven and immediately almost slip over on the icey pavement. Only by frantically clutching the shoulders of a nearby stranger do I manage to stay upright. The little bugger seems upset with me. I don't know why. When I was eight I would have been proud to rescue an elder from certain calamity.
The shop is called Taunton's. It's on a little side street that's just off a side street from Regent Street, down some all too slippery steps. The door opens and closes silently as I enter and air has a sort of musty closeness that reminds me of public libraries. At first I can't see anyone or even a counter, just racks of suits and shelves full of shirts and ties.
I must have wandered in further than I thought, because I hear a voice behind me utter the terrifying words, "Excuse me, sir. May I help you?". I leap three feet into the air, spinning around and knocking over one of the racks in my surprise. I fumble a little while with the mess of jackets before the gentleman behind me reaches over and rights them. He is dressed in tweed and has a moustache that could have conquered Afghanistan for Queen Victoria.
"May I help you, sir?", he asks again. I hate this question. I can never get the answer right.
"Uhh, yes, I was wondering if you sell suits?" Oh bollocks. At least I can hope they give points for effort. He glances quickly around the shop as if to acknowledge that my doubt was valid and that no matter how damning the circumstances, the question bore further investigation.
"We do indeed, sir. Is there a particular type of suit that sir is looking for?"
"Well, I'm going to the opera tonight and I need--"
"Ah yes sir, step right this way. I know just the thing to tempt you with." He walks with a slight limp, leading me around a table covered in silk handkerchiefs to a separate room. He notices me looking at his dragging foot, "I had a nasty fall a few years back" and winks as if I'm supposed to get the joke.
"This, sir, is our finest gentleman's evening wear -- ideal for the opera." He gestures toward a mannequin dressed in the kind of dinner jacket that Bertie Wooster would have worn.
"I'm not exactly sure. I mean, it does look a bit ... formal. I don't want to be over-dressed. It is only the ENO."
"Sir, if you'll pardon me for saying so, as soon as you walk into the room wearing this, any other gentleman will be under-dressed." He measures me as he's speaking, and then produces a jacket, trousers, shirt and even shoes from various cupboards and drawers in the room.
"Just try these on, sir, and see how they feel. I'll guarantee you'll never want anything else." He somehow guides me toward the change room with my arms full of expensive cloth. What is it about salesmen that makes me go invertebrate? "Oh, and sir ... ?" I turn around and he makes a sort of rubbing gesture on the side of his lip. I mimic him and feel some sticky chocolate sauce come off onto my finger. Oops.
Anyway, I try on the suit and the devil is right, it does feel pretty good. How did he know my shoe size? As I leave I can feel a confidence in my step and a funny feeling in my shoulders that I can only guess is what not hunching feels like. (Cave troll, remember?)
When I see myself in the mirror, I can hardly believe my eyes. I have never looked this good. Heck, I even look more clean shaven than I did in my street clothes.
The salesman coughs politely. Although he is too tasteful to show it in his features, he has the air of a man who has finished the hardest part of a difficult job and finished it well. "How does that feel?", he asks. In my head, I say that I don't give a damn how it feels, it -- I -- look amazing, but I don't want to give the game away.
"It's nice", I say. "How much is it?"
"The suit, together with the shirt, waistcoat and shoes comes to £7,600." It's a little hard to breathe in here, was it always so hot? "Excluding VAT."
I think I must have choked a little because the next thing I know the salesman is slapping me on the back and I'm coughing all over the place. As I come round, he steps back as if nothing had happened. "Of course, we also provide generous payment plans on instalments."
I simply can't afford to spend that much money on a suit. I haven't spent that much money on anything ever. It's ridiculous even thinking about it, me even being here is ludicrous. But looking in the mirror it's so tempting. I look a million dollars, so paying only a few thousand pounds makes it a bargain, right?
I can't believe I'm doing this, but I shrug my shoulders and nod. The gentleman leads me over to the sales counter where there's a contract waiting next to an ink bottle and quill, of all things. It's very long and full of Latin legal terms and I can't say I bother to read the whole thing. After I sign, I feel an itching behind my eye. I start rubbing it and something small and shining and round falls out. Before I can see what it is, the salesman snatches it and puts it into a drawer beneath the counter.
I start to ask him about it, but before I can he says, "Which opera is sir going to see tonight?"
"To be honest, I don't know. My girlfriend picked it. Something by Berlitz? Belize?"
"Ah, yes. Berlioz. 'The Damnation of Faust'. A particular favourite of mine, sir. I trust you'll enjoy it. Have a wonderful evening. I do so look forward to seeing you again."
I turn and find my way through the maze of the shop, back up the stairs to chilly London.