Posh Shopping

I used to enjoy posh shopping. A day in Glasgow or Carlisle, spending the salary on a few treats. It was one of the pleasures which made working worth the effort. Or sitting with a pile of catalogues, fresh through the post, browsing and choosing whether for Christmas presents or planning a new look for the house. Window shopping for us folk in the backwoods. It's as well this had to stop just before the internet appeared. Imagine if I could be let loose with my Switch card and unrestricted access to Google! A screen reader is a marvellous thing, but it can't take you into every web site.

Yes, shopping when visually impaired can be a fair trachle. I'll leave my tussles with the web to another time because, although many web sites aren't screen reader accessible, I've a feeling sometimes the inaccessibility is of my own making. You must understand that I'm mainly self-taught as far as this machine is concerned. Disability is compounded for us living way out south west by distance from sources of information on accessible technology. Disabled technofreaks aren't expected to be living in Scottish burghs!

But back to shopping. Take catalogues. I now have to rely on my husband describing the items. Bad enough having things described by a man, but this one's colour-blind! It's very difficult picturing in one's mind a shirt, say, described in such terms as, “This one's nice. Sleeves and a collar and it's turquoise. Or maybe it's green.” Often I'll wait until friends pop in, then I'll wave a brochure at them and ask for help. However, even then, what a friend considers pretty may not be to my taste and so detailed descriptions involve much questioning and tact. Then there's the ordering over the phone. All those footery, wee code numbers! My brain can only hold so many, especially as usually I've to use the phonetic alphabet, as used by radio operators, as few citizens based in the south seem able to understand a Scottish accent which doesn't resemble Mr. R. C. Nesbit. You know what I mean; a code to save reading out one's address, a code for special offers plus a code for every item ordered, plus one's card number. I keep some numbers brailled and use a wee recorder but still end up in numerical fankles. Thank goodness for the shopping channel; everything's described in intricate detail and once they have my personal code, we're away. On a miserable winter's afternoon, I can sit in front of the telly and get through the Christmas list like a dose of bath salts.

However, there are plenty of occasions when descriptions just aren't enough and an expedition is required. Unless I'm buying a style of shoe I already have, I always buy them on the hoof, so to speak and the same applies to posher, and more classy items of clothing. There you are, then, an excuse for a grand day out, as Wallace might say, so what's the problem?

For a start, usually a trip has to be planned and a companion press-ganged into service, unless I'm popping into my local shops. If you can't really see what you're trying on, there's not much point buying shoes and clothes! I've yet to discover what a Guide Dog considers to be the height of sartorial elegance. Either beige, or classic black, I suppose. At least in our local shops I know and trust the staff and, being a rural town, there's always someone to take charge of Dog, thus preventing him wandering around, leaving a delicate patina of golden hair in his wake. However, much as I believe in supporting local businesses, there are times when it's just not possible and we have to traipse off to a Big Place.

On these expeditions, there's no point in being shy. I used to be, feeling that as a Disabled Person and, therefore, a Drain on Society, it wasn't fair on the shop assistants to land myself on them. Luckily, I've grown out of that. My money's as good as anybody's; it's just that I don't have very much. If a shop proves not to be dog and disabled friendly, I just don't go back. And I tell my friends. The same applies to towns. Although Dumfries, is nearer, we use Carlisle. This former outpost of the Roman Empire has broad, pedestrianised streets, an indoor market and plenty of independent shops. Come to think of it, it probably had similar amenities back in the days of the Caesars. I can't be bothered shopping in a place where Mr. Dog and I are constantly having to concentrate on negotiating broken, uneven and narrow pavements, or teeter across cobbles, especially if they're liberally scattered with squashed chips and cans. So, as long as it stays above water, we cross the Border and use Carlisle.

Overall, I'm pleasantly surprised at the help available. Teenage lassies give detailed descriptions of eye-shadow or lipstick. Youths in electronic shops are amazed that blind people keep up with magazines with versions on tape and CD. In posh dress shops, ladies carefully but unobtrusively brush dog fluff from items I've tried on. If my criteria are skewed because of my disability, staff often see this as a challenge to be solved, as recently when I enquired about an MP3 player which didn't rely on a screen. In other words, not an I-Pod! Or an iron with a removeable tank. Often, I feel that my requirements have made sales staff stop, think and look at things differently. Pity I couldn't have access to the designers!

One thing, though. Even worse than being shy is to compensate by shopping with someone who takes over. Staff will, at best, only pity you if you stand red and silent whilst your companion blares, “She's looking for a silk shirt, she's a size 16 and she doesn't want to spend much.” And, even if you're enjoying what the tabloids call an intimate relationship it's just not fair to expect the man in your life to search for bras and knickers in Marks and Sparks. Well, not if he's Scottish. Instead, I use him to grab an assistant and then I give instructions and descriptions. Okay, rather public but much less embarrassing than the alternative.

And the strange thing is, since coming out of the shadows and being prepared to ask for the assistance which is out there, shopping trips have become much less fraught! In Boots, staff will take me straight to the cod liver oil capsules, the Chanel or whatever. No more traipsing up and down the aisles while husband peers about. Even better, I'm buying clothes which suit me instead of styles I've chosen because I've always done so. Recently in Jaeger, an assistant pointed out that the current style in jackets just didn't do anything for me. You know, those skimpy, fitted things cut to expose maximum amount of bahoochie. Not only did she refrain from selling something unsuitable, she directed me to a shop which sold other lines. And eureka! I found a jacket which is comfortable, stylish and SUITS me. So, in future, I'll return to both those shops. Once I've saved up a bit! So to anyone who believes they are being independent by blundering around town centres or shopping malls acquiring ill-assorted items of clothing, stuff all that. Life's difficult enough.

© Charlotte Bennie 2007