"You okay today?"
"Yes, yes, fine, fine. I am, yes, FINE. Fine, yea, just, yep, fine."
He's looking at me strangely. Am I on drugs? Maybe I am on drugs.
I'm waving my hands around like a scarecrow in the wind. Am I pointing at something that makes it look as though I'm interesting in buying a specific item?
"Thinking of anything in particular?" Oh God, he's dying behind the eyes
"No...just.....yes, no..Just..thinking....around...Fine. I am FINE." Stop pointing at specific items you idiot
"Oh you're thinking of buying that? I mean..I was thinking of Bonnie Tyler the other day but that doesn't mean we all have to live in the 80s, does it?"
Three...two...one.....Out of the shopping centre, on the next bus, home...
Clothes shopping is an absolute nightmare, my personal Room 101, walls plastered with models and designs and preening, judgemental assistants who are more willing to make an assumption on your suitability as a human faster than the Head of HR at an interview. I'm surprised TopMan hasn't employed security guards on the front door.
"And how old are you, mate?"
"There's nothing for you here, pal, move on..."
It is because of the instant deflation in confidence which comes from needing clothes that a) I indulge in round-town wanders whilst I build up the cojones to walk into a shop, and b) I make choices woefully inappropriate just to get out as quickly as possible.
I remember a Victoria Wood sketch in which men ask for a fire extinguisher to be wrapped up in giftwrap rather than focus for too long at the underwear department of a major store; ("Yes, that one, red, it's in her size", "That's a fire extinguisher, sir", "Yes, yes, put a bow on it, wonderful, bye!"). That's me in most shops that aren't Primark or TK Maxx. In my misguided youth I meandered inside Reef (clothes made for young people who look like anime characters), scaring the assistant into thinking I was stealing. "Sorry, are you...do you want to try that on...at all...?" "No, I'm just queuing to pay!" "...Oh..."
People who get clothes deserve an award. I don't know what the Latin is for "purchasing items of clothing" but stick "-phobia" on the end and that's my diagnosis. I have tried the "spoonful of sugar" technique only for that to become increasingly laborious by age. Have you tried buying anything from Burtons? It's good for suits worn as a one-off by boybands at award ceremonies, and if you fancy having the eyebrows of strangers raised in response to you merely brushing your hands across short-sleeved t-shirts.
One result of all this is my wardrobe of doom - a time-capsule for every time I grabbed-and-ran something without looking at it twice. The sky-and-cloud design shirt, the beige hooded jacket, the over-sized 'skater' jeans...Oh yes, and the jumper (£90, cheap at half the price) bought from a place far fancier than I should have ever wandered into but it was either that or another meaningless confidence boost stroll around Manchester City Centre so what you gonna do?
I would like, in keeping with the mindset of most men of my mindset, for all the horror of shopping for clothes to be improved by the actions of other people. Turn every shop into a clearance warehouse so the people I pay care less than I do. Or if it comes to it, and this goes against all my principles, get the State to provide everything. If the High Street were to be nationalised maybe I could have a chest of drawers so stuffed full of plain t-shirts it'd look like a Uniqlo store room.
Or North Korea. That's it - instead of feeling inadequate everytime I so much as stroke my chin near Duffers, I'll order everything I need from Pyongyang...