I am quietly slogging away with the transcription of old journal entries, trying to wrangle them into a slightly more cohesive collection. This is serving its secondary purpose of burning through some ink, but it’s also burning through paper and the sheets are becoming increasingly random as I unearth old books and pads to use up. So maybe not such a cohesive collection after all.
I’ve been struck by several descriptions of shopping trips. “Today I went into town,” an entry will start, and I walk with my younger self, revelling in simply being able to go to the shops. I miss going to the shops. I miss buying things and bringing them home and unwrapping them. I miss the curated selections that shops offer me, I miss that heart-stopping moment of seeing something perfect as I’m whizzing past on my way to a totally different item. I miss seeing things in person, being able to touch them, forming a bond with them before I buy.
I’m not saying it was a nirvana. There are plenty of entries where I went into town and couldn’t find anything I wanted and came home, sore of foot and weary of spirit. Then I will find the following weekend I went out and had a super shopping trip, everything I had failed to find the weekend before suddenly, magically, appearing for me.
I want those days back and I’ll happily take the good with the bad. I am ready for the shops to be open again; I have a list of little things that I’m going to treat myself to once I can walk into a shop and buy them. They are inconsequential things, but that doesn’t make them any less precious. They are all things that I can easily procure online, but I want to stand in a shop and choose them. I want to go to the local department store for a bottle of Waterman ink. I want to buy a ball of sock wool from my local yarn shop. Perhaps one or two of the small-format £1 books that Penguin produce in their “Little Black Classics” range would be a nice treat, after a morning spent browsing in our town’s main bookshop and the book section of the local department store. And let’s not forget a good old rummage at the charity shops.
One of the UK’s leading department store chains has announced that they are unlikely to open some of their branches again following the pandemic because people prefer to shop online. Well, hear this! I don’t! Shopping online is time-consuming and soul-destroying. Most of the time I get so jaded by seeing multiple iterations of the same thing that I stop being able to buy anything at all. Enough with internet shopping, already. I think it is easy to become concerned that our city centres are going to be desert wastelands, but that’s unduly pessimistic. The way I see it, being forced to shop online for a year can just as easily result in a resurgence of the delight in going out to the shops; plus everyone is going to want to travel again and one of the joys in going anywhere is a good old mooch around the shops in an unfamiliar city. Just imagine coming to Norwich and looking for special gifts in the little shops on Elm Hill.
The world is undoubtedly changing, but those changes don’t necessarily have to include sitting indoors waiting for a parcel to arrive. Come the glorious day, we will be able to walk out into the fresh air and shop in person instead.