We missed the crush but we also missed the clothes


SALES are so utterly hateful - I was exhausted from a week in the country so I missed the first days of the annual surge to the shops.

It is loathsome to be part of the throng that heaves and shoves towards something that has been ignored all season.

I had planned to catch the last days of the sales and go for sensible and unfashionable goods things that could never be described as "goodies". Snug things that keep a body warm pyjamas, for instance - and what could be more sensible than shoes and jeans?

Not much. But what a beastly business finding them.

There was also some talk of looking at jackets (gentlemen's), and exchanging Christmas present jumpers for others in a better colour.

Yes, indeed, organisation and planning are the watchwords when it comes to sales shopping. And we had both.

In the company of two fairly middle-aged sons, we headed for fashionable Grafton Street, with its (supposedly) discerning shoppers.

The emphasis was on the male after the disappointment of discovering that a woman's cashmere cardigan, of very old-fashioned style, was £99.99. If this is a reduction, well I ask you!

By being supposedly less fashionable, men should fare better than women. In theory. The facts say otherwise.

It is not until the search begins that the full horror of trying to buy a pair of men's shoes can be appreciated. While we were not going to kill ourselves trying, we were prepared to try the most traditional (and expensive) shoe shops.

They had no shoes. Well, not in a style that could be worn by someone with a size-10 foot.

The first stop had Churches cut from hundreds to £165. A pair of these can last a life-time, though there is the need to resole quite often at around £50 a time. None of these fitted.

A slip-on boot, of the kind we used to call "Chelsea" before it became a girl's name, was ideal if you were cursed with a size 14 foot (too big by about half).

What about a plain pair of black lace-ups? Ordinary ones? All were very, very small and very, very dainty, quite unsuited to a man of ordinary ambitions.

Elsewhere, there was nothing feasible. Where do all these horrible things come from?

We drank a bowl of soup in what my son thought was my bank, a marketing ploy that banks might well consider. It was the new Tourist HQ in Suffolk Street, where there used to be a lovely feeling of decay, a famous organ and a famous organist. All gone now. The soup was good.

We decided to go for jeans and forget shoes. "I can get them in Madrid," said my son. I don't really approve of shopping abroad.

Graft on Street was blessedly uncrowded, presumably because word had got out that the shops are empty.

There are some specialist jeans shops yet what followed was 45 minutes of acute boredom and bafflement. This could not be blamed on the shops, it's just that I have no interest in jeans. There were mountains of them and even assistance if required.

No assistance, however, is enough for those who know about jeans and the exhausting search for the right pair. After much physical activity in the horse boxes that pass as changing rooms and many brief appearances in identical-looking denims, jeans were finally bought.

But it took three shops, six brand names and about 100 of the species (£5 off, bringing them to £47 a pair).

These shops were enjoying a brisk trade. Women my age sat around waiting for the struggles to end in the changing rooms - "perfect" and "terrific" were in frequent use.

A woman sitting on a denim-covered kitchen chair unburdened her life story while her friend finally pronounced she couldn't decide which of the 42 pairs was really her. There's a test of friendship.

As for jumpers. The only ones in nice colours had the name of the maker across the front and on the right-hand nipple. Who wants it there or, indeed, anywhere?

One jacket was seriously considered. Nice reduction from £250 to £175. The cut and cloth were good - pity about the colour.

And then a customer whispered it had never been £250 in the first place, more like £190. That had us running scared.

We missed the crowds but we missed the clothes as well.

Dogdays at the sales are utterly hateful so it is never, never, never again.

In a short while, all will be different and the shops will be bursting with gorgeous goodies in melting colours that cost a lot - but who cares?