I have a sick, hopeless dependency on Marks & Spencer, as proved, yet again, this Friday when I went to THREE separate M&S stores to sate my junkie cravings for 12 quid ballet pumps and Colin the Caterpillar cakes. I pleaded in vain with the internet to stage an intervention, but even their excellent advice to go and check out the June Whitfield cardies and elasticated waisted skirts in the 'Classics' section fell on deaf ears. It is simply unthinkable for me to be within a mile of Marks & Spencer and not go in there to pay homage to the knitwear and bread products. Unthinkable, I tell you. It's not even a product of my exile either - 'twas ever thus. It's my mother's fault for introducing me to M&S ready meals (individual steak and kidney pies and lemon mousse, particularly) at an impressionable age, thus blowing my tiny, greedy mind. For years my Saturday treat was to choose an M&S ready meal and get to eat it before watching Casualty (not eat it IN FRONT of Casualty. We weren't animals). After that, at Quaker School Alex Smith and I would always slope off to M&S to buy chocolate ginger biscuits whenever we went on school trips, marking us out as the most hopelessly middle aged, middle class teenagers who have EVER LIVED. Oh! Alex Smith was also my partner in BRIDGE CLUB, as I only dredged up from the shameful recesses of my memory this very afternoon, thus proving we were a scant National Trust membership away from being 55 year old retired teachers as 14 year olds. Terrifying.
After the teenage biscuit rebellion, there was my first experience of a foreign M&S in Rouen - presumably at the height of their demented, suicidal expansion - where I worked for my year off, frequently popping in for packets of pants and English muffins. Next came Oxford M&S, which for the whole of my batshit crazy second year and third years, provided nearly all my sustenance in the form of diet ready meals and bags of microwave ready vegetables. I am completely, totally not exaggerating. Well, except that every ten days or so I would pop into Londis and buy 3 tubs of ice cream and 400 Twixes and well, you know. Eating disorders are famously de rigueur in female Oxford students (man, it's such a joy not to have an eating disorder any more, you really can't imagine).
London brought first Pantheon - surely the best name for any M&S store ever - and latterly Moorgate M&Ss. I used to walk through Moorgate M&S every morning on my way to work and spend a pulse slowing, restful twenty minutes wandering around the store floor in a trance. When I was in the process of going slowly batshit in 2005, my walks around there became longer and longer and when I was finally on lunacy leave, I probably spent a good hour a day wafting through the store trying on everything that caught my eye. Ah, happy, mental days.This was in the early days of Limited Collection when there was a massive thrill to be had in going in on Wednesday morning and rifling through the new stock, some of which would be quite pleasant (this is me in my 7 stone lunatic incarnation - now Limited stuff strikes me as mainly alarming and very very small). I reckon I could navigate my way around that whole shop blindfold, even now, six years later.
I admit it: cut me and I bleed M&S custard. Open up my heart and you will find 'Greek Style Probiotic Yoghurt' inscribed upon it. M&S is just so .. NICE. So comforting, like a hug from a big bosomed matronly mother figure who makes excellent steamed puddings. I might like to think I'm a Liberty girl, but really, who am I kidding? It's always been M&S for me. I want to be appointed Writer in Residence at Marble Arch. Read my DNA with a bar code scanner and it'll look just like a multipack of Autograph opaque tights. Consequently these rumours are working me up into a frenzy of excitement. Can it possibly be true? Will I no longer have to face the opprobrium of the men at the Eurostar security checks for transporting four chunky breaded cod fillets and 12 packets of falafels into Belgium? I daren't even hope.