The Emperor’s New Suit

Crazy scenes at my local Caffè Nero last week… It all began as I was enjoying a mid-morning coffee in the sun, in the midst of ‘unofficial pensioners’ club’.

Unofficial pensioners’ club is basically an organic gathering of local retirees. It mainly consists of previous blog stars: Malcolm (Majorca-obsessed, snappily-dressed ex-businessman, who keeps making a bee-line for me); Peter (friendly former body-building weepy-widow, still grieving the loss of his beloved Brenda); Richard aka Porridge-Loving Pensioner (decrepit war veteran, sits wistfully in window, newly-discovered penchant for Jackie Collins novels); Linda, aka one of The Miserleys (a sharp-tongued, child-hating antique dealer, who I have very little dealings with).

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… and then me – the honorary member!

Enter Malcolm, stage right. Malcolm pottered past me carrying a suit bag – and headed in the direction of Porridge-Loving Pensioner. It emerged that he had – bizarrely – bought Porridge-Loving Pensioner a new suit!

Suit dispatched, Malcolm came to join me in the sunshine.

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‘How are the Mallorca plans coming along?’ he said, taking a sip of his black coffee.

‘Very well,’ I said. ‘I’ve been reading your books and feel like I’ve got a really handle on the island.’ (lie!)

Suddenly, Porridge-Loving Pensioner hobbled over and loomed in.

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‘Can I get you a coffee, my friend?’ he rasped.

‘No coffee,’ said Malcolm. ‘But what I do want to see is you wearing that suit I’ve bought you…

‘You’ll never get a woman looking like that!’

‘The only woman I want is this one,’ said Porridge-Loving Pensioner, leaning and grabbing my cheek, as I tried not to recoil.

To be fair, Porridge-Loving Pensioner does seem to have a standard outfit of tatty leather jacket and grubby shirt. But he’s 87! One day we’ll all be old with bits of food and dribble crusted on our clothes.

Porridge-Loving Pensioner muttered something about possibly wearing the suit to a hospital appointment next week, before hobbling back to his perch in the window.

‘I can’t believe you’ve got him a suit!’ I exclaimed to Malcolm.

‘He’s such a scruff-bag,’ said Malcolm, who I think has delusions of being the man from Del Monte. ‘I thought it might help to smarten himself up.’

‘Well that’s very, er, kind,’ I said.

The next day, I entered Caffè Nero – eager to see whether Porridge-Loving Pensioner would be sitting resplendent in his new suit.

But he was crumpled in the corner sans suit.

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It might have been my imagination but he seemed even more dishevelled than normal. I gave him a wave.

Just as I was settling down with my latte, Peter arrived.

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‘Yesterday,’ he whispered in my ear. ‘You looked stunning,’

The old devil!

‘Malcolm’s bought Richard a suit!’ I said.

‘I know,’ said Peter. ‘I don’t know why he gets so involved.

‘Once you open the door, it just opens wider.’

‘Very true,’ I said.

‘I’ve got enough dependents,’ Peter continued.

‘I was saying to Malcolm yesterday how beautiful you are.’

‘Malcolm said, ‘Pete, she’d not just beautiful on the outside, she’s beautiful on the inside too’.’

Peter gave me a wink.

‘Don’t tell the husband,’ he whispered.

And with that, he ambled off with his coffee.

The Rise And Fall Of A Fashionista

I went clothes shopping last week – hoping to find a way out of the 60 denier black tights trap I’ve been stuck in for the last five years.

But I couldn’t identify with anything. All around me there were girls in Cressida scrunchies, fluffy knits and hi-top boots. I felt all at sea.

I headed straight to Topshop – the undisputed honcho of the high street. Toppers has been a trusty companion over the years: a true stalwart of my wardrobe. These days it’s gone a bit teenagery but it can still pull it out of the bag when it needs to. Need some work trousers? Head to Topshop. Going out dress? Head to Topshop. Want a crop top emblazoned with sparkly pineapples and luminous tassels? Head to Topshop.

I think it’s fair to say that as far as relationships go, Topshop and I aren’t quite what we once were. But every now and then, a little gem jumps out at me – this burgundy number for instance – and faith is fully restored. I love Topshop.

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Have you ever been to Cos? You’ll find stores dotted around London although its roots are firmly based in strange Scandinavian design. It’s completely wacky and I want to love everything in there.

But literally every item makes me look like I’m wearing a giant sheet of cardboard. Go and try it out. I promise you that any dress in there will instantly transform you into a huge cereal box. It’s the strangest shop in the world. Same goes for American Apparel. If you’re in the market for a velvet crop top and some high-waisted shiny leggings, Apparel’s your place. Apart from that, I just don’t get it… and probably never will.

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Good old H&M. Back in the day, it went by the more convivial name of Hennes – the elusive pearl of Oxford Street that regularly cropped up in fashion magazines but seemed completely out of our reach before it crept up North. These days, they seem to have adopted a ‘stack ’em high and pile ’em in’ policy. The prices are still cheap but so is the clothing.

My cool friend SLJ once took me to the store in Camden, circa 2009, and I was momentarily on board with it all. But the Leeds store is a different beast altogether: a dark basement of tat. I went in last week and it was a sordid affair: rails stuffed with too many garments and a mind-boggling mush of knitwear that would leave Mary Portas in a cold sweat. I set my sights one jumper I quite liked and briefly toyed with the idea of wrestling it off a mannequin. But then an overwhelming urge to get out of there overtook me – and I fled, gulping in air as I got back to street level. I doubt I’ll be back.

Dear old Mango. I loved Mango. It was my go-to place for super-long trousers back in the mid-noughties. I have fond memories of snapping up a brown leather biker jacket from there too, which I wore to death and still lurks in the recesses of my wardrobe somewhere. But like all Spanish lovers, Mango was a short-lived romance. The clothes became tacky; the material cheap and clingy. Mango recently made its debut in Leeds much-vaunted Trinity shopping centre but I haven’t been in for years. Are its trousers still super long? Who knows. Maybe it’s time to take my long shanks back in there.

There was a time when I could walk into Zara and want nearly everything in there. I used to head down to Zara in the out-of-town White Rose Centre after work sometimes. It was desolate and I’d have the whole store to myself. I snapped up all sorts of long-term investments: a much-loved black Audrey-style dress, a Prada-esque skirt that’s still going strong… Those were the days. But in the last couple of years, Zara’s become a slightly tired scene, with mismatched garb sardined onto rails. I think it might have lost its way – or maybe I’m out just of the loop.

Who didn’t want to wrap themselves in a twisty bin bag dress held together by safety pins and head to Back To Basics when they were 21 years old? Enter All Saints. Remember that phase around 2001 where you started distressing your jeans with a cheese grater and spraying them with silver paint? Maybe it was just me. But All Saints have been doing it for years and then charging you £80 for the pleasure.

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The problem with All Saints is it’s stuck in a noughties time warp. The grungy, distressed look went out of fashion about 10 years ago but All Saints is gamely sticking with it. Those Singer sewing machines have been adorning its window for about five years now (excuse the lamppost) – but we’ve long since parted company.

I never really got on board with River Island and I’m not quite sure why. It had quite a presence on Preston high street back in the 90s. We’d congregate at the back in the shoe section and mull over the different pairs of Kickers. But strangely, I can’t recall ever buying one garment from there. Now Rhianna’s on board, I thought I’d pay a visit. I was greeted by an array of gold sparkle, tartan and black fluff. It was a bit overwhelming. I couldn’t wait to get out. Sorry River Island, I’m afraid the island ferry has sailed.

Morgan, Morgan, Morgan… The very name fills me with nostalgia. Who could forget Morgan’s signature logo – that little red heart that oozed Parisian catwalk and class? Didn’t it even go by the name of Morgan de Toi at one point? Classy. It’s hard to believe it now but in 1998 Morgan could do no wrong. It was the essence of sophistication, with its matching floral two pieces. My friends and I would finish work on a Saturday and head straight to Morgan to spend our wage on a new dress for a night out at Preston’s infamous Tokyo Jo’s.

I can still picture the layout of Morgan: the colour-coordinated pieces hanging nearly on those wooden hangers; the tailored leather jackets; the mix of pillar-box red, oatmeal brown and marl greys. I think I might even be able to smell it. Am I getting carried away? Probably. Morgan was a true love affair of the late nineties – which made its subsequent downfall in the noughties (along with Kookai – yep, remember old Kookers?) all the more staggering.

Jane Norman. Who is she? She’s the girl at school who you kind of knew but never actually spoke to. I think our paths might have crossed once. I went into the Jane Norman store in Sheffield in 1998 and bought at bargain beige coat in the sale. It made me look like Arthur Daley. I kept it in my wardrobe for years and would wheel it out occasionally, to check if it still made me look like a secondhand car dealer. It did. What became of Jane Norman? I think she might have been crunched out in the recession. I wish I cared. But I didn’t even notice she’d gone.

Whistles/ Reiss/ Ted Baker/ Karen Millen – all stores with delusions of grandeur. Sure, they can pull out the stops when they want to (hello much-coveted Whistles navy jumper dress with a leather top) but they always seem to be punching above their weight: designer prices for a high street tag. Have you ever bought anything full price from Whistles or Reiss? Not me. You’d have to either marry an investment banker or sell a kidney. I usually wait til the inevitable 50 per cent off sale and then swoop and grab.

Actually, I lie. I waltzed into Selfridges the other month and – quite out of character – frivolously bought a dress from Ted Baker, and one from Karen Millen. I must have been in a daze when I went to pay because when I got my credit card bill the following month, I genuinely thought I’d been robbed. I was half-way to picking up the phone to Natwest to report retail fraud until I went to look at the price tags on said dresses – and realised that the only crime that had been committed was me setting foot in there in the first place.

In The Shade Of The Palms

I seem to have developed an obsession with palm trees. It kind of crept up on me. I’m not even sure I actually like palm trees. All I know about them is that they’re prickly, high maintenance and only thrive in warm climates. A bit like me really.

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My passion for palm trees developed purely because of my surname. When I was younger, I got called Palms or Palmtree. It kind of stuck.

At Sheffield University, I had a weekly horoscope column in the uni newspaper called ‘Mystic Palms’. It involved a really bad picture of me staring vacantly into a mock crystal ball. I had to come up with 12 different forecasts, as pithy and humorous as possible. Every single week. And I didn’t even get paid to do it.

In the university bar, fellow students would occasionally peer curiously at me and say, ‘Are you that weird Mystic Meg character from the uni paper?’ It didn’t do much for my street cred.

When I was 19 years old, I did some work experience at a media company in Manchester (this sounds a lot grander that it actually was; the reality being that I had to spend a whole week writing articles about gnarly feet for a podiatry website). At the end of the week, the man in charge actually wrote out a cheque for my expenses to ‘Katy Palmtree’, believing my email moniker to be my actual name. I thought this was very funny.

To my knowledge, no one has the surname Palmtree. But there are a few genuine people called Palms knocking around.

I was approached by one such person in Harrogate, resplendent in a cream suit and a man-from-Del-Monte hat – the kind of get-up you’d expect from someone who goes by the name of Mr Palms.

‘My name is Ted Palms,’ he said, shaking my hand. ‘And I wondered if you would be interested in selling me your number plate.’ (My number plate is P4LMS).

‘I’ve only just acquired it,’ I said.

But Ted Palms wouldn’t be palmed off that easily.

‘What’s your surname?’ he asked, suspiciously.

‘It’s Palm-er,’ I stuttered.

Our eyes locked in a competitive Palm-off. He was probably thinking, ‘I’m a bona fide Palms; I deserve this number plate more.’

‘But lots of my friends call me Palms,’ I hastily added.

Ted Palms shuffled off, not before pressing an embossed business card in my, er, palm – if I should ever change my mind.

And then there’s the clothes. Palm tree top? Tick. Palm tree skirt? Tick.

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Palm tree dress? Tick. Tick.

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Palm tree shoes? Not quite.

In the first throes of love, the husband was only too happy to embrace my love of palm trees, purchasing said number plate, and then – on the eve of our wedding – procuring a little palm tree pendant from Tiffany’s (cheese alert).

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These trendy palm tree slipper shoes, as endorsed by Alexa Chung no less, were on my Christmas wish list too.

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The husband, whose interest in all things palm-based has begun to wane, took one look at them and said, ‘Do you actually like these shoes, or is it simply the fact that they’ve got palm trees on them?’

‘It’s simply the fact they’ve got palm trees on,’ I said, in a small voice.

Santa never brought the shoes.

Things came to a head in Topshop Oxford Circus this Saturday, where I found myself wrestling with a two-piece palm tree suit. It looked ridiculous.

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That afternoon, I had two missed phone calls from Someone Important. Someone Important was terribly baffled because she was greeted by a recorded answerphone message of my 21-year-old self saying: ‘You’re through to Palmtree Productions. Please leave a message.’

She was convinced she’d mistakenly stumbled across some Miami-based TV studios. It took a lot of explaining.

I’m afraid there is no such thing as Palmtree Productions. I’ve had vague intentions of removing this silly message for the last 13 years – usually after a call from Someone Important – but then promptly forget.

‘You need to remove that answerphone message,’ said the husband. ‘It’s really, really embarrassing.’

I told my friend Anna about my intention to purchase the shoes with palm trees on.

‘Be careful,’ she said. ‘A woman I know once decided she liked hippos.

‘She’s now basically drowning in chintzy china hippos. Her house is cluttered with them. Soon, she might start looking like a hippo too.

‘If you’re not careful, people will start buying you ceramic palm tree ornaments,’ she went on. ‘You’ll end up being known as that weird woman with the peculiar obsession with palm trees.’

I’m not sure I want to end up as a mad old woman head-to-toe in palm leaves and surrounded by porcelain palm trees.

I think it’s time to say goodbye to Palms.