Jane Bradley: Morally outraged, yet still polite

Jane Bradley. Picture: Gareth Easton
Jane Bradley. Picture: Gareth Easton
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As I TRIED on the jacket, I became aware of a growing realisation that everyone in the shop was staring at me. One woman actually had her mouth open, not even trying to hide her disgust at my very existence.

I wondered if I’d just become too old for this particular brand of clothing. Perhaps I was a prime example of mutton dressed as lamb, just crying out for ridicule from my fellow shoppers? (For those of you reading this in the paper edition of the newspaper, who are faced with a smiling portrait of fresh-faced twenty-something me at the bottom of the page, I feel bound to admit that my byline picture is somewhat out of date. Sorry).

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But, no, some of the people who were looking at me, aghast, were definitely far older than me. The open-mouthed woman was probably in her fifties – a prim-looking lady with a brown woollen coat.

Perhaps, I considered, I was just a bit scruffy-looking for this high-end, high street retailer. My hair was looking particularly messy that day – and I wasn’t wearing much make-up. Still, their blatant abhorrence at my appearance was startling.

I’d been on a bit of a shopping spree and bought a new pair of jeans and a sweater in one shop. I then headed to another retail outlet, where I tried on a couple of blazer-style jackets in the changing room. Halfway through, I decided I needed to get a perspective on the jacket with the new jeans and sweater. So I popped them on.

On my way out of the shop, I spotted another jacket which, I considered, might actually have been nicer than the one I’d just bought.

So I slipped off my winter coat and tried it out, standing in front of the mirror on the shop floor for a few moments. That was when I realised everyone was staring at me.

Feeling uncomfortable, I hung the jacket back on the peg and headed home, tail between my legs. It was only when I arrived at my house that I realised I was still wearing the new jeans and top I had bought in the previous shop – complete with huge labels hanging out of the back of the neck and fastened to the back of the trousers.

Then it dawned on me: the other people in the store thought I was a shoplifter. They had spotted the labels and assumed (with some justification) that I was one of these people who takes clothes into a changing room and puts them on, then walks out of the shop with their old outfit in their bag.

I must, they will have thought, been so au fait with this practice that I forgot I was wearing labelled stolen clothes when I revealed myself on the shop floor to try on the jacket.

It wasn’t that I was too old, or too messy-looking: in their opinion, I was merely a common thief.

What was most startling about this experience was that no-one said anything. Not a single thing. No-one shouted at me, alerted a store security guard or called the police. They just stared at me, silently.

How insanely British of them.

They were morally outraged at what they thought I had done, but were far too polite to say anything. As a nation, we are terrified to do anything that would make a stir, even if we know it would be the right thing to do so.

My husband, brought up in Northern Ireland, is far more attuned to the dangers of random packages and cases left about the place than I am. But on numerous occasions, when he has reported them – to railway staff, airport workers or shop assistants – he is usually met with blank stares.

“We don’t know whose it is. Um… [goes and pokes package]. Looks like someone’s left it. I’ll phone Bob.” Bob comes down and looks at it. Pokes it. “Dunno. What do you reckon. Should we open it?” No!

They are worried about making a fuss. But perhaps we should stop being so worried. If the owner of an abandoned case came back to find it surrounded by police sniffer dogs, yes, it wouldn’t be ideal for them. But probably best to be on the safe side for everyone else.

If the lady in the brown coat had confronted me, I would have laughed. Shown her the receipts, explained the mix-up. Her mind would have been put at rest. If I had been a thief, I would have been caught red-handed and hopefully punished. But she didn’t. She probably spent the past couple of weeks tutting to her friends about Broken Britain and the oddly respectable-looking shoplifter she saw in Zara.

I do hope she’s reading this, so I can clear my name.

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