I’m thrilled to be returning to the world of Becky Bloomwood and can’t wait to share the next instalment of her story with you. Becky is so close to my heart and I can’t believe it’s been twenty years since she first popped into my mind, credit card and shopping bags in hand!
When I meet readers I’m often asked ‘when’s the next Shopaholic book coming’ and it feels great to finally be able to say… ‘Becky’s back!’
Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) adores Christmas. It’s always the same – Mum and Dad hosting, carols playing, Mum pretending she made the Christmas pudding, and the next-door neighbours coming round for sherry in their terrible festive jumpers.
And now it’s even easier with online bargain-shopping sites – if you spend enough you even get free delivery. Sorted!
But this year looks set to be different. Unable to resist the draw of craft beer and smashed avocado, Becky’s parents are moving to ultra-trendy Shoreditch and have asked Becky if she’ll host Christmas this year. What could possibly go wrong?
With sister Jess demanding a vegan turkey, husband Luke determined that he just wants aftershave again, and little Minnie insisting on a very specific picnic hamper – surely Becky can manage all this, as well as the surprise appearance of an old boyfriend and his pushy new girlfriend, whose motives are far from clear . . .
Will chaos ensue, or will Becky manage to bring comfort and joy to Christmas?
OK. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. I’ve got 5 minutes 52 seconds before my basket expires. That’s loads of time! All I have to do is quickly find one more item to bump up my total to £75 so I’ll get free delivery.
Come on, Becky. You can find something.
I’m scrolling down the BargainFamily site on my computer screen, feeling like a NASA operative keeping cool under unspeakable pressure. The onscreen timer is in my peripheral vision, ticking down steadily beneath a heading that reads, Your Basket Will Expire Soon! But you can’t give in to timer-fear when you’re shopping on discount sites. You have to be strong. Like tungsten.
Shopping has really changed for me over the years. Or maybe I’ve changed. The days when I was a single girl, living in Fulham with Suze and going round the shops every day, seem ages ago now. Yes, I used to spend too much. I’ll freely admit it. I’ve made mistakes. Like Frank Sinatra, I did it my way.
(Except ‘my way’ involved stuffing Visa bills under the bed, which I bet Frank never did.)
But I’ve learned some important lessons, which have genuinely changed the way I go about things. Like, for example:
1 I don’t use carrier bags any more. They used to be my biggest joy in life. Oh my God, the feel of a new carrier bag . . . the rope handles . . . the rustle of tissue paper . . . (I still sometimes go and swoon over my old collection at the back of the wardrobe.) But now I use a Bag for Life instead. Because of the planet and everything.
2 I’m totally into ethical shopping. It’s like a win-win! You get cool stuff and you’re being virtuous.
3 I don’t even spend money any more. I save money.
OK. So obviously that’s not exactly, actually, literally true. But the point is, I’m always looking for a good deal. I see it as my responsibility as a parent to procure all the items that my family needs at the most cost-effective prices possible. Which is why BargainFamily is the perfect place for me to shop. It’s all reduced! Designer labels and everything!
The only thing is, you have to be a fast shopper, or else your basket expires and you have to start again. I’m on £62.97 already, so all I need is another item around 12 quid. Come on, quick, there must be something I need. I click on an orange cardigan, £13.99, RRP £45, but when I zoom in I see a horrible lacy border.
No, I bought a white shirt last week. (One hundred per cent linen, £29.99, RRP £99.99. I must remember to wear that, actually.)
I click on my basket to double-check on what I’ve already got, and a pop-up window bursts forth, announcing You’ve Saved £284 Today, Becky!
I feel a flash of pride as I survey my items. I’ve saved a whole £284! I’ve got an adorable bunny rabbit dressing gown for Minnie and a fantastic DKNY jacket, down from £299 to £39.99 in clearance, and a huge rubber ring shaped like a flamingo, which we can use next time we go on holiday.
And OK, yes. I could theoretically check out now and pay £5.95 for delivery. But that’s not prudent. I’m not a former financial journalist for nothing, I know these things. It’s far more economically sound to find yourself something else that you need, and get the free delivery.
Come on, there must be something. Tights? Everyone needs tights.
Oh, but I’m always bumping up orders with tights. I have so many black opaques, they’ll last me till I’m 105. And those tartan patterned ones I clicked on last week were a big mistake.
I click on ‘Homewares’ and scroll down the items quickly. Silver antelope sculpture, was £79.99, now £12.99? Hmm, not sure. Scented candle? Oh God. No. I can’t buy another one. Our whole house is like one big scented candle. In fact, Luke said the other day, ‘Becky, is there any chance of buying a candle called ‘Fresh Air’?
I’m just squinting at a bread bin shaped like Big Ben when a pop-up appears in front of my eyes
– Your Time Is Running Out, Becky! – and my heart jumps in fright.
I wish they wouldn’t do that. I know my time is running out.
‘I know!’ I hear myself saying out loud. ‘Don’t stress me out!’
Just to reassure myself, I click back on my basket again – and my heart stops. The flamingo ring is sold out!
Noooo! I was too slow! Argh. The trouble with discount websites is, you can’t see the people snatching bargains away from you. Now my heart really is thumping. I’m not losing my jacket, or Minnie’s dressing gown. I need to fill this basket and check out, pronto.
Minnie’s voice hails me from outside the door, immediately followed by Luke saying, ‘Minnie! Darling, leave Mummy alone when she’s doing her mindfulness. Sorry, Becky,’ he calls through the door. ‘Didn’t mean to disturb you.’
‘Er . . . that’s OK!’ I call back, feeling a tiny stab of guilt.
I know Luke thinks I’m sitting here peacefully doing my mindfulness meditation. And I was. In fact, it’s still running in the corner of the screen, so in a way I am doing it, except I turned the volume down so I could concentrate on shopping.
It’s become a bit of a routine, my mindfulness. I come into the study and turn on the meditation and it keeps me mentally well-balanced. And just occasionally I log on to a shopping site, too.
The thing is, the stock on the BargainFamily site changes every day, so it makes sense to check out ‘Deals of the day’. Minnie needs a new dressing gown, so I started with that – and then how could I not buy a DKNY jacket for £39.99? I mean, that’s an insanely good bargain and it’ll last me for ever. Which meant that obviously I had to add some other items to get the free delivery. That’s when I turned down the volume of the mindfulness guy. He’s nice, but he’s a bit serious and he distracts you from the task in hand.
Anyway, shopping is mindfulness, if you ask me. I’ve forgotten about all my other worries right now. I’m in the moment. I’m in the zone.
I glance at the timer and my stomach flips over. Two minutes 34 seconds before my basket expires. Come on, Becky . . .
Hastily I click on Accessories. That’s the answer. You can’t have too many accessories, can you? And I could always give one as a present.
I swiftly scroll down a page of boring clutch bags, weird-looking hats and nasty-looking gold necklaces. Every time a page loads, I feel a burst of optimism, but then my spirits fall. There’s nothing. What’s wrong with me? Am I that fussy?
I’m starting to think I’ll have to admit defeat and pay the delivery charge for the first time in my life, when the next page loads. And something catches in my throat. Can that be . . .
Are my eyes playing tricks on me?
I’m staring at a turquoise printed gossamer silk scarf. Surely it can’t be . . .
Denny and George? On BargainFamily? Seriously?
Blinking in disbelief, I read the description. Silk scarf, was £239, our price £30.
Thirty quid for a Denny and George scarf? Thirty quid?
I scroll down and there are two more underneath. All 100 per cent silk. All stunning. All ‘Limited stock’. Shit. I need to hurry!
Without pausing to consider further, I start clicking. Buy. Buy. Buy. View Basket. Check Out. I feel like a virtuoso pianist, hitting all the right notes, at the top of her game. And I’ve made it with twenty seconds to spare! My basket is intact! My credit card details are stored, this should take no time . . .
Your password is not secure.
A pop-up has stopped me in my tracks and I stare at it breathlessly. What’s the problem now? I peer at the screen, reading the rest of the message.
Would you like to change your password? We suggest C?/x887dau.
I bet they do. Well, they can just sod off. My password is fine. Carefully I type in Ermintrude2, and a final Complete.
I lean back in my chair, panting as a new message appears on the screen. Congratulations! You saved £879 today!
I mean, it just shows. A penny saved is a penny earned, which means I’ve just effectively earned £879. In one online shopping session! If I made that every day, it would be . . . I shut my eyes, trying to calculate. Well, anyway, a six-figure salary. I think sometimes Luke doesn’t appreciate this fact
about me: that I’m quietly generating our family thousands of pounds, all the time.
The only thing is, now I should buy something ethical. This is a habit that my sister Jess got me into. (Half- sister, really.) Jess is very right-on and frugal and we were once having a lively debate – well, argument – about shopping. I was saying it supported the economy and she was saying the economy didn’t deserve to be supported. And then she said, ‘I mean, Becky, if you just shopped ethically, once in a while . . .’
And that spoke to me. In fact, it made me feel stricken with guilt. I should shop ethically. We all should! So I started a little habit – when I’ve been on a shopping spree I try to buy something ethical, too. Like those people who buy trees to make up for flying on planes.
I log on to the Ethical Consumer Today site and peer at the home page. The only trouble is, I’ve already bought nearly everything from this site. I’ve got the beeswax candles and Fairtrade coffee and all the yoga bracelets . . .
Wait. New product! ‘Organic spicy falafel mix.’ Perfect! You can’t have too much organic spicy falafel mix, can you? I quickly order eight packets (free delivery), complete my purchase with one click and sit back with satisfaction. I’ll tell Luke we’re going to have Falafel Night every Tuesday, which we should do anyway, because it’s healthy.
At the thought of Luke, I reach forward and increase the volume of my mindfulness meditation, and it’s just in time, because the door opens, right as the mindfulness guy is saying, ‘Let go of your worries.’
I turn round to Luke and give him a calm, mindful smile.
‘Hi!’ I say.
‘I thought I’d give you a heads up,’ Luke says apologetically.
‘We need to leave for the restaurant in about fifteen minutes. How’s it going?’
‘Good,’ I say. ‘Really good.’
‘You look radiant.’ He surveys me admiringly. ‘Kind of . . . I don’t know. Serene. Content.’
‘I feel content!’ I beam back at him.
Three Denny and George scarves for £30 each! How could I not feel content? I’ll give one to Suze for her birthday and I’ll save one for Minnie . . .
‘I’m so glad you’ve found this for yourself,’ says Luke, dropping a kiss on my head. ‘I used to be sceptical about all this meditation business, but you’ve convinced me.’
‘It’s just a question of applying your mind to what really matters in life,’ I say wisely, as the doorbell rings.
Luke goes out to answer it and I hear a series of thumps from the hall. A few moments later, the front door closes and Luke’s head reappears round the door.
‘Some deliveries for you,’ he says.
‘Ooh!’ I light up. ‘Deliveries!’
I love the way online shopping just comes to you. I hurry out to see three boxes and a plastic ASOS package in the hall. Excellent! I was hoping my ASOS delivery would arrive in time for this evening. I grab the package, slit it open with the scissors I keep in the hall for exactly this reason, and out slither four navy satin jumpsuits.
‘Wow,’ says Luke, staring down at the sea of navy satin.
‘That’s a lot of . . . whatever they are. Did you need that many?’
‘I’m not going to keep them all,’ I say, as though explaining remedial algebra to a fairly promising student. ‘You don’t keep them all. You try them on and keep one and send the rest back. And they were half-price,’ I add for good measure, ripping open the size 12 Long and holding it up. ‘Total bargain.’
Luke is still frowning perplexedly. ‘But did you really need to order four?’ he says.
‘I didn’t know what size I needed,’ I retort. ‘And I didn’t know if I needed Regular or Long. Don’t blame me, Luke,’ I add, warming to my theme. ‘Blame poor sizing standards in the fashion industry which penalize the innocent consumer.’
‘Hmm. What about those eight cushions?’ says Luke, his gaze turning to yesterday’s delivery, stacked against the skirting board. ‘Sizing issues there, too?’
‘I couldn’t see the colours properly online,’ I say defensively.
‘I had to order them all to have a proper look. I’m only keeping two, I’ll send the rest back tomorrow. Free returns. And do you know how much I saved on them? £52!’
‘Becky, I would pay £52 for our house not to look like a bloody depot,’ says Luke, eyeing all the boxes and packages filling the hall. ‘All we need is a guy in a brown overall with a forklift truck.’
‘Ha ha,’ I say, rolling my eyes sardonically.
‘And when are you going to send back those statues?’ Luke gestures at the life-size statues of Aphrodite and Hermes which are standing at the bottom of the stairs, still half wrapped in brown paper. ‘We’ve had them a week. They’re grotesque!’
‘They’re not grotesque,’ I say defensively, ‘they’re avant garde. And I can’t send them back because they’re ethical.’
‘Ethical?’ Luke stares at me.
‘They were made by a disadvantaged youth group,’ I explain. ‘Upcycled from bicycle parts and fridge components.’
I have to admit, they’re pretty monstrous. And I didn’t realize they would be so big. But how can I send them back?
If I do, the youth group will be devastated. All their self-esteem will vanish and it will be our fault for not being open-minded about their statues.
‘Well, they’re giving Minnie nightmares,’ says Luke flatly.
‘I had to put a bag over Aphrodite’s head.’
‘I think she looks more sinister with the bag over her head,’
I counter. ‘She looks scary. She looks like a hostage.’
‘She looks even more scary when she’s gazing at you with her cold metal eyes.’ Luke shudders. ‘Could we not just have given some money to the youth group?’
‘That’s not how ethical shopping works, Luke,’ I say patiently. ‘You have to buy the stuff. Anyway, I need to try these on. When are we leaving?’
‘Eight minutes,’ says Luke. ‘And counting.’
I dash upstairs, clutching the packages, and quickly try the first jumpsuit on. Hmm. Too long. I grab the Regular and put that on instead – then stare at myself in the mirror. At last!
What happened was, last week I was watching a TV show and saw this really cool jumpsuit. So of course I instantly stopped concentrating on the show, grabbed my laptop and started googling jumpsuits instead. It took me a while to find one that wasn’t sold out – but here we are!
I survey myself, trying to be fully objective. It’s a great fabric. The navy colour is elegant and the flared trousers are really flattering. It’s just the front that I’m peering at uncertainly. Or rather, the lack of front. It’s even more revealing than the one on TV.
Can I get away with a jumpsuit slashed to the navel?
Am I too old?
No. No! Fashion is timeless. You should be able to wear what you like, when you like. All the old rules are gone.
They wear outfits like this on the red carpet, all the time, I remind myself, trying to bolster my own confidence. Ribs are the new cleavage. Besides, it’s not indecent. Not strictly speaking.
I mean, you can’t see my nipples.
And OK, so I’m not heading on to the red carpet, I’m heading for dinner with Mum and Dad at Luigi’s of Oxshott – but I can still wear something fashion-forward, can’t I? People will call me the Girl in the Iconic Jumpsuit. They’ll look at me in awe as I sashay past, wishing they could wear something
Defiantly I grab a red lipstick and start applying it. I can do this. I can style it out. Go, Becky.