Sunday, 30 January 2011

Life in Marks

There are cruel rumours floating around my corner of Continental Europe that Marks & Spencer may be on the verge of forgetting the public relations and labour law disasters of its previous early 90s foray into Abroad, and reopening stores in Europe. Can this be true? I mean, can we dare to hope for the return of multipack shorty knickers and Viennese fingers to these shores?

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.

19 comments:

The Vegetable Assassin said...

If it helps at all, every time I go home to the UK for a visit, I ALWAYS come back with a few knicker multi-packs from M&S. It's a tradition, like Maypoles or Guy Fawkes night. You never outgrow the M&S knicker packs. In fact, I'm wearing a pair now. Heavens!

I remember back in the day they used to have this piece of heaven chocolate swiss roll cake filled with chocolate butter cream and the whole thing was covered in a shell of chocolate. It was like...nirvana. Only you know...in M&S. Sometimes when I'm having a bad day I fantasize I'm back there and eating a whole one of those ALL BY MYSELF.

Waffle said...

Ah, Assassin, I remember that very swiss roll. Actually ALL their swiss roll products, since I used to buy them with my pocket money on Saturdays. Oh yes. I was that girl.

I am indeed reassured by your knicker habit.

Madame DeFarge said...

I would expire without M and S. They supply my entire working wardrobe. Where else can I buy striped blouses in such abundance?

Katy said...

I really enjoyed your post. I too, could quite easily mark many significant life events with reference to M&S.

Practically all memorable food crazes can be measured against M&S ranges. I think I probably was solely responsible for buying all the Tuna Melts in Cambridge M&S during my student days. Putting them under the grill to melt the cheese was the closest I ever came to real 'cooking'.

I have still not fully recovered from the joys of Percy Pigs. They keep bringing out more ways to tempt me - biscuits, fizzy ones, reversey ones. Stop already! My poor teeth hate you Percy.

And most recently, I discovered one of my favourite ever trifle flavours is made by M&S - cherry bakewell trifle. As soon as I became dangerous addicted to it I then had to face the trauma of it being removed much too soon from the shelf. Where have you gone lovely trifle?

And as for the M&S knickers/bras, isn't that a mandatory right of passage? I mean, without M&S we'd all have to buy our knickers from (shudder) TESCO.

Oh the horror.

I salute your M&S love Waffle!

Kath said...

Percy Pigs... there is never a situation where it is not appropriate to offer me a Percy Pig! There are only two foods like that, aforementioned pigs, and speculoos. And I agree with The Vegetable Assassin. M&S knickers are the best.

Also, their pink lady apple juice? Sex in a bottle.

Saying that, in Belgium I was completely addicted to Delhaizes own brand gummy mice, and this cake they did. I don't remember the name of the cake, but I *know* speculoos were involved, and I remember always having the same till woman who used to speak English to me... and yell "Bestest love!" after me as a sort of farewell... ahh, the memories!

mountainear said...

Big treat - when you live on the edge of a low Welsh mountain - is an M & S carry out Chinese. Factor in Phil'n'Kirsty on TV and we have TV dinner heaven. Beats cooking.

Marie said...

I'm printed John Lewis from top to bottom like a stick of rock. I'm not sure if this is better or worse.

Bryony said...

For reasons I cannot quite remember, but I think to do with someone from M&S advising Boris Johnson, I have not been in one of their shops for two years now. I can be very determined when I want to be - especially for reasons of obscure political nonsense (quite possibly imaginary too). OH has to go on his own now and buy little stashes of the Choc Ginger biscuits which are his favourites.

Laurel said...

Huh. As a US-er who is close to neither, I just realized that I always mix up H&M and M&S. But now you have ignited a fierce flame of M&S envy in me. They really don't have any in the U.S.? I guess it is entitled of me to think they would, but I'm still disappointed.

WrathofDawn said...

Oh, M&S, how I miss thee. We used to have an M&S here in Eastern-most Canadia. I especially loved the spicy Indian crackers the name of which are lost in the mists of time. Yum.

I didn't buy much there very often, but it was nice to know they were there.

Rhia said...

I know the Oxford M and S quite well from visiting my boyfriend. He would go to work and I would wander around, feeling guilty about spending money (but doing it anyway) and finishing off such a guilt ridden activity by buying a cherry scone in M&S..and then eating it on the bus back to his house in Marston Road.
Actually Oxford was where my disordered eating went galatic. Thats surely not coincidental...must be something in the water. *Shudders at memory*

Rhia said...

*galactic..that was one typo I just couldn't ignore!

linda@adventuresinexpatland.com said...

Ooohhh such a great post to great a Monday. Now I'm going to be thinking about Alex all day, wondering whatever happened to him. (a Bank Trust away from being 55 year old school teachers, classic!)

Love M&S but alas, none here in the Netherlands so have to get my fix when traveling.(See? Yet another reason to travel: see the world, learn new languages, appreciate different cultures, and hit up an M&S!)

Hilde said...

There's a British supermarket in Everberg. It's not M&S, but they have stuff you can't find anywhere else. It's called Stonemanor. They have Battenberg cake.

Rachael (Tales from the Village) said...

Heavens. Our emigration plans are out the window. Sorry, exotic foreign climes, you'll have to do without me. I've never met a knicker like an M&S knicker and I can't spend the rest of my life wearing foreign pants. Or perhaps I could still go, but I'll have to have them shipped over (note to self: diet to avoid shame of having 'size: elephantine' knickers being examined at customs).

bbonthebrink said...

When I was about 11, my older sister got a Saturday job at M&S. I can still remember our whole family feeling that she had landed with her bum in the butter. And when she started bringing home food that was reaching its' sell by date, plus could get us 30% off, we ALL felt our bums were well buttered as well.

3limes said...

I have always been obsessed with M&S. They had one in Montreal a long time ago and it was awful, I even fantasized about running M&S Canada for awhile, sure that I could do a better job. When I get into London from Kampala it is always my first stop. You have made me think of it now and that makes me drool.

The Foxymoron said...

And here I am, wishing they would open stores in New Zealand. 2 years after leaving London, and Husband and I still say "It's not just food, it's M&S food" and sigh as we swap memories of the lemon yoghurt and crumbed trout ready meals and tiny cubed cakes covered in pastel icing. You can't even get crap versions of those things in NZ. They just don't have them AT ALL. Yes, it's paradise, but it's not M&S paradise.

Katy Newton said...

I had a Saturday job at Marks & Spencer. It's not so glamorous on the other side, believe you me, even with the special staff shop on Saturdays where they flog all the perishables at rock bottom prices after the customers leave. But I worked half an hour later than everyone else, and by the time I'd finished putting all the shoes back in pairs most of the good stuff had gone. These days I'm all about John Lewis. I can spend hours in there. Hours. And that's just in the haberdashery section.