Walked to Turnham Green Terrace, along its prestigious row of shops up to the High Road, turned round and walked back – as a way of doing something.
The year has not even begun to rev up, still dormant and everything feels quite flat and almost unreal.
Shoppers braving the cold and wet looked listless and a bit apprehensive – could be the thought of that whole year stretching out like a blank page on which we are forced to write. The festive spirit gone they are alone with the old routine and the future, to quote Andrey Kurkov in Death and the Penguin, his grim but comical book about economic and social collapse.
A dignified woman in smart hat brushed against my hand. I apologised automatically but she turned and looked daggers at me. Oh well, TGT is one of the rudest shopping streets in the world. They should put that on the local road signs. People will cut in front of you in the green grocers and Waitrose, insisting they are first, as if samphire and morels are almost unavailable.
One of its largest boutiques is closing down, everything on sale, even a glass chandelier winking rather weakly above us, its red ticket hanging reproachfully down. Handbags are reduced from hundreds of pounds to a paltry £60 which is still beyond me. There are stands of reduced garments including brightly coloured turkey fluff bolero jackets, macks lined with strange looking purple fur, made in the Congo, and slender emerald green satin evening dresses. A table is crammed with evening bags with some of their jewels missing, girly pendants while above us on their mushroom shaped hooks hang stylish hats shaped like those favoured by Audrey Hepburn.
I wonder how could get them into a suit-case without completely squashing the high crown and wide brim. They are for people who have trained staff to do the packing.
Beside the stonily silent till, the young Chinese shop owner pours out her
sentiments to an American lady customer: “I have to close. Very sad. England will have double-dip recession soon. I lose all my customers and good friends, like you.”
I had a feeling she didn’t know this woman from Adam but had fixed on her to unload her retailer’s remorse.
“I am to blame,” she went on. “I am not flexible enough. I had two partners, both left last year. I should have stopped. I am not flexible enough.”
The American was doing well making sympathetic noises. I felt almost guilty that having lost my job some time ago, I didn’t have any money to spend in her shop. I might have bought the orphaned chandelier, to hang in the nice big flat I would now, should now be inhabiting.
“I have tried business,” she went on mournfully and relentlessly. “It has not worked. I have to sell. But I have learned a lot. I am now going to be a Chinese teacher.”
She seemed almost unhinged with the failure of the shop.
“There will be no small shops here soon,” I heard her cry as I left, wishing her a Happy New Year.
Out on the pavement again the light was failing and people passed by looking increasingly like ghosts, heads down, silent. A young woman who works in the little health food shop waved through the window, her smile barely visible through a small space between cotton wool and glitter spray representing seasonal snow.
Her aim this new year is to sell people good health in little bottles with complex labels. Like other cancer survivors mine is to try against nature and all odds to see out this new year, and the next. At least she will never go out of business.