“And I need a really nice one, and I was wondering...Well, Mum was wondering... No, well, I thought...”
“Spit it out, Lad,” I said, trying to balance the new landline handset between my phone and my neck as I did the washing-up.
“Look, Mum loves it when I do it with you; she always approves of the results. So I was wondering whether you’d help me pick one, and then I’ll take you to supper to say thank you.”
“Of course, I said, balancing my favourite mug precariously on top of the pile on the draining board. “You only needed to ask.”
And thus it was that I found myself on Savile Row one exceptionally cold Sunday, shopping for suits with Speckled Lad.
“It’s regimental selection coming up,” he explained as, wrapped up against the biting wind in a large fur coat, I steered him into the first of several suit shops. “So it has to be something a bit special. Don’t want to make a bad impression by turning up in an average suit.”
It was as we wound our way from shop to shop, three- to two-breasted, grey to navy, that I discovered something hitherto unnoticed.
Apparently I have recently passed some mysterious and unflattering point which has resulted in my being called “Ma’am” in shops. I don’t mind it so much when I’m doing things which involved my being on military turf – it’s their patch, and it’s what they do. But when I’m shopping – firmly my own ground – I feel it’s a bit much.
Not very long ago, I was absolutely in the ‘Miss’ category. Taxi drivers, door staff, the nice man I buy my large Earl Grey from at the start of the commute – if they were going to tack a title onto their patter, it was ‘Miss’. Slightly further back, I was in the ‘Miss’ category to the point when I was asked in Sainsbury’s for my ID when buying a bottle of gin (hurrah for the ‘Think 25’ policy ‘n’ all, but if it’s Tanqueray No. Ten in the basket, I’m probably old enough for it to be there).
At a push, and when feeling exceptionally generous, I can probably even understand a salesman in a smart suit shop making the mistake. I assume there was a presumption made about my and Speckled Lad’s romantic status. And, when addressing the female half of a couple – to whom the male half is making nervous gestures with his eyes about whether his sleeves are of the right length – it does seem a little incongruous to address her as ‘Miss’, when there’s clearly nothing at all innocent and virginal about her, the two of them being, as they so clearly are, at it like bunnies. Ahem.
But, apparently, ‘Ma’am’ is now the moniker of choice. The lack of large rock on my finger is obviously not clue enough. I clearly no longer possess a youthful and vigorous demeanour (which is probably about right. I think my demeanour falls rather firmly into the irritable and short-tempered categories these days, especially while I’m in London).
So, on my chest of drawers now resides a shiny new pot of night cream and tube of something (hopefully magical) for underneath my eyes. If SL can fork out for a suit that’ll get him a job, I can do the same for something that’ll work a miracle.
The Marksman, Bethnal Green
14 hours ago