“I’m not coming out! Step away from the curtain!”
After five hours (and counting) of clothes shopping, Robert was well and truly out of patience. Head throbbing and ill-fitting skinny jeans pinching his groin, he and the pathetic middle-aged man in the changing room mirror were taking back control.
“Come on, darling, they’re just jeans…”
He knew that Voice – the gentle, cajoling one – and he wasn’t going to fall for it any more. That Voice had hoodwinked him for long enough, persuading him to make all of the most foolhardy decisions of his life: the fourth child, the weekend cottage, the Brexit vote.
“Oh look – here’s Tristan with a much better pair.”
That was all he needed. The alarmingly charming shop assistant Tristan, himself a perfect model of hipster cool.
“No, Sara. No! Tell Tristan I don’t need any more jeans. I’m going home!”
With one hand firmly holding the curtain of the changing room closed, Robert began trying to extricate himself from the skinny jeans with the help of his other hand. This, it turned out, was not as easy as he’d hoped and, after a great deal of huffing and puffing, he ended up with the offending denim lassoed around his knees.
He no longer dared look at his middle-aged companion in the mirror. By now he would surely bear more than a passing resemblance to an unsavoury gentleman placed under arrest for some sort of indecent exposure.
The secret, thus far, to the survival of Robert and Sara’s marriage had been their acceptance of each other’s differences. He was a barrister, she ran a small art gallery. She was fashion, he was anti. He earned money, she spent it.
They had rubbed along fine, Sara too busy with her gallery and herding their young children to expend too much thought on the finer details of Robert’s life. But now the children were all teenagers and safely stowed away at boarding school, her beady gaze had turned upon her husband, and she wasn’t impressed by what she saw. So she had made him and his “abominable dress sense” her latest project “before it was all too late”.
At first, the day they had agreed to dedicate to modernising his look had gone rather well. They had started with a huge breakfast at Claridge’s and, after the cardigan shop, the shirt shop and the shoe shop, had stopped for a large lunch at the Wolseley. He had even managed not to lose his temper when the Voice had suggested that perhaps a crème brûlée wasn’t the best idea for a man badly in need of some slim-fitting jeans.
This was news to him. He could absolutely go along with the modern idea of wearing a cardigan instead of a jumper (nothing his grandfather hadn’t done), and had had to concede that his old Turnbull & Asser shirts were in need of updating. He could even entertain the idea of wearing a pair of trainers off the tennis court (very gentle on the corns). But he really did have to draw the line at wearing a pair of jeans – “a second skin”, according to Tristan – that were so tight they’d give him blisters on his inner thighs.
Oh, God, here he was again.
“OK, Rob, I’ve got it,” said Tristan seriously. “Let’s ditch the skinnies and try the baggies instead.”
“The what?!” This really was all getting out of hand.
“Just take off the skinnies, darling, and Tristan will pass you the baggies.”
Just as Robert was opening his mouth to yell that he would file for divorce if they didn’t go home immediately, a thought occurred to him.
“OK, darling. OK, you win. Get Tristan to pass me the baggies.”
The changing room curtain opened a crack and Tristan’s hand, decked in chunky silver jewellery, reached around the corner holding the baggies.
In a flash, Robert had grabbed Tristan’s wrists and pulled the unwitting shop assistant into his changing room. Quickly tying one leg of the baggies around Tristan’s middle, he looped the other leg onto one of the hooks on the wall. Once he was satisfied that the boy was securely tied, Robert pointed a clothes hanger at him with one hand and threw back the curtain with the other.
“Robert! What on earth are you doing?” shrieked Sara.
“I’m afraid you give me no choice, my darling. Take me home and return my favourite cords to me, or the hipster gets it.”