The current winter sales brought back memories of the time I stole a dress, and the awful consequences.
It was sufficiently long ago (in another life, in fact) that I believe the likelihood of prosecution to be negligible (knock on wood!) And were the company (which I shall not name) to launch criminal proceedings I could cite the tax avoidance (evasion?) of which their supremo is accused and suggest that proportionately that person is a great deal more culpable of dishonesty than I am (not that that is a valid defence in law, of course).
Anyway, this is how it happened.
Money was no object at that time. See something, buy it. Simples.
It was a time when I needed to maintain a full and fashionable wardrobe for professional purposes. I’ve never enjoyed shopping for clothes, being at heart a jeans and jumper girl all my life, but duty called.
When the winter sales opened in London I followed the frenzied throng into a large department store and onto the Ladies Clothing floor. From the rails I scooped up an armful of dresses and squirmed with them into a curtained cubicle half the size of a telephone cabin, with one of those mirrors that make you look shorter and fatter than you are and unhealthily pale.
I tried on a heap of dresses while being smitten by elbows and knees coming through the curtains of the adjoining cubicles. Space was so limited it wasn’t possible to see whether they suited or not, and not really caring – I could always give them to a charity shop – I made a short sharp exit, dumping the heap on the counter and handing over a cheque for the amount on the till slip.
Once home, I tipped the bags of rags out and tried them on at leisure. Most of them would do, although one was somewhat too frilly for office wear and I put it away for a frivolous occasion.
A little later when checking the receipt, I noticed that I’d been charged for 7 dresses, whereas I actually had 8. The frilly one had slipped through the net. I’d take it back the next day.
But when the next day came the thought of carving a path through the bargain hunters to go and sort it out didn’t appeal. I’d wait until the sales were over. By which time I had completely forgotten about the frilly frock hanging in the wardrobe.
Fast forward many months.
At the time we had an acquaintance, a beautiful, fiery Russian lady whom we had been able to help out during a difficult period in her life. Now firmly back on her feet, she had fallen in love with a shy Englishman, and was determined to marry him whether he wanted to or not. She arranged an event whereat she would openly declare her love for him in front of witnesses, and pin him down to matrimony like a moth pinned to a card. The venue was a London nightclub that she had booked for an entire Saturday afternoon. Two hundred of her friends were invited. Including us.
What do you wear on a Saturday afternoon in a nightclub for a Declaration of Love? I flipped through the wardrobe and there right at the back was the unwittingly stolen frilly frock. Too frilly for day-wear, not sophisticated enough for evening wear. Perfect. Waves of guilt washed over me, but were calmed by the thought that (a) it had been stolen long ago (b) if the cashiers incorrectly undercharged customers, there was a good chance they also incorrectly overcharged customers and they’d probably made up the shortfall (c) it had only cost £6 and the logistics of the shop tracing the transaction and rectifying it wouldn’t be worth the investment of time and resources.
So I put it on, and off we went.
The afternoon was interminably long, as our hostess stood in the spotlight on the stage reading poetry, playing music and swaying gently. After a very, very long time the great moment arrived, and she called onto the stage the retiring Englishman, who stood shuffling his feet nervously while she quothe at him. Then she presented him with a large, flat packet, beautifully wrapped, and commanded him to open it.
With obvious trepidation he did so, to reveal a magnificent red kimono, embroidered with dragons and peacocks.
“Put it on!” she ordered. He shook his head. So she put it on him, declared her love and then plighted him her eternal troth while he stood gazing at the floor seeking a chasm into which to vanish.
Actually a great deal more than that took place, but as it’s irrelevant to the rest of the story, I’m omitting it. Having got the Declaration of Love out of the way, our lovely hostess then began talking about her life, from childhood in Russia and via the rest of the world to the dismal circumstances that had led her to London, where, without the help of so many kind people, she may have thrown herself into the Thames. She thanked those people, one and all. We all clapped.
“And now,” she said, “I am going to ask those lovely people to join me here where you can all see them.”
To my horror, she called our names first.
Grabbing my hand, TOH pulled me to my feet. We had now been sitting for three hours. The frock, which was made of a cotton/synthetic material and had originally been just-above-knee length, had pleated itself like a concertina from the waist down, and was now bunched around my hips. As TOH tugged me towards the stage I tried to pull the frock down, but it was springy and as much as I pulled it, as much it sprang back up again.
No doubt there have been moments in life where I’ve been uncomfortable, but never on that scale. Standing there in the spotlight, the more I yanked the hem down, the more the fabric sprang back. My knickers were in clear view to the other 198 guests.
There’s a moral there somewhere.