Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Magpie syndrome

Years ago now, when Gok Wan was riding high on a wave of women's insecurity and Trinny and Susannah fatigue, I remember being fascinated by a segment in one of his makeover shows (Get Your Knockers Out For Gok? The name escapes me now). Pre-Gok transformation, self-professed shopping haters would be sent into a shopping centre and told to knock themselves out while millions of bored-on-a-Tuesday-night viewers sat back and watched. Without fail, the moment they set foot in a branch of Zara, these women would be sent into a complete tizzy, the thought of having to pick something out of the seemingly identikit racks breaking them out into a cold sweat.

What fascinated me about this was the idea that shopping could bring you anything but untold realms of pleasure. And I don't just mean the act of acquiring new things; I mean the physical act of milling around shops and browsing all the items they have to offer in person, for hours on end. I realise I'm part of a dwindling breed these days – a quick google tells me that UK shoppers spent over £50 billion online last year, and certainly, the convenience of needing to do little more than a few clicks before a parcel filled with goods turns up is something I'm grateful for from time to time. But while most people I know categorically HATE the idea of ever entering a shopping centre (and to be fair, if their nearest one is Westfield Stratford, I can't say I blame them), for me, there's nothing quite like the IRL shopping experience.

I know I shouldn't love shopping as much as I do. I'm aware of the perils of consumerism and the dodginess of many high street chains. But what some see as rampant materialism, I prefer to think of as a sort of 'magpie syndrome'. When I'm walking around a shop and something leaps out at me and demands to be bought, I refer to said item as one that's 'spoken to me'. And things speak to me to such an extent that were I to be good and leave an item sitting on the shelf, it would continue to haunt me, keeping up a BUY ME, BUY ME refrain until I'd found myself trekking to four different branches of the same store with a manic look in my eye and a mission as important as any of James Bond's to accomplish.

This compulsion of mine isn't limited to clothes, either. I'm practically brought out in heart palpitations by the sight of a beauty department. The Selfridges beauty hall is my very own Stringfellows – packed to the rafters with beautiful and tantalising yet mostly unattainable things: row upon row of shiny, sparkling lotions and potions. And when I DO make a purchase, I'm pretty sure I get a massive hit of dopamine. Buying a new lipstick – particularly if it's one of those decadent gold-cased beauties you get from the likes of Charlotte Tilbury or YSL – makes me feel positively euphoric (no, YOU'RE sad).

But it happens on the lower end scale, too – I surely can't be the only person to just quickly pop into Boots for some paracetamol and end up leaving with a fetching nail varnish and OO there's a new kind of Vaseline these days and ah my shampoo in miniature that'll come in handy won't it?

Remember when you were a kid and the shop assistant used to kindly ask you, 'do you want to wear it now?' after your mum had bought you something new and you'd march proudly out of there with your new hat or whatever in pride of place? These days, post shopping trip, I'm still guilty of the adult equivalent, wearing my new purchase as soon as the nearest opportunity presents itself – the next day or that very night if I can get away with it. And if there's something that's been bought for a specific occasion, I'll hide it away in my wardrobe and occasionally lift it out to stare longingly at it in the intervening weeks. In fact, such is my love of shiny new things that every month, I start compiling a mental list of things I'd like to buy with my next pay cheque roughly about two days after the last one's appeared.

Saying that, though, a lot of the time, nothing more than a spot of window shopping is enough to satisfy my addiction (and a good job too, considering I'm not exactly a member of the Rothschilds). In Brighton, there's a shop down one of the lanes with the glorious and wholly appropriate moniker of 'Snooper's Paradise', and I'd happily visit Brighton for the sole purpose of making a pilgrimage there. You walk through a turnstile, for reasons I'm not quite sure of, and find yourself ensconced in what is basically the Room of Non-Requirement – room upon room of STUFF. Old magazines and lampshades and costume jewellery and ugly ornaments, none of which anyone has the remotest need for, but which for someone like me, is an absolute joy to browse.

Yes, antique stores, charity shops, vintage shops, you name it, I can't get enough – but despite my magpie tendencies, there is definitely a thrill of the chase type thing at play here. You know that bit in How I Met Your Mother when Barney refers to the 'cheerleader effect' – when a group of women appears super hot as an ensemble, but take each one individually and the, er, flaws start to become apparent? A terrible thing to say of course, but I have a theory that this actually applies to most shops.

Head down the escalators at Topshop Oxford Circus, for instance, and the sight that greets you is one of a veritable treasure trove – rack after rack of beautiful colours and textures and pretty things, arranged in perfect colour co-ordination. It's at this point that my heart rate starts to race and the NEW THINGS sensor in my brain starts to perk up. But go up close and take one singular item away from its colour co-ordinated friends for potential purchase, and it can sometimes start to look a bit sad and lonely, like Sarah Harding minus the rest of Girls Aloud. Cheerleader effect, you see?

So yes, if I can't go on a full-on spree, often I'll content myself by merely walking around and staring wistfully at things without making an actual commitment. And it's this occasional commitment phobia which means I'm also one of the few remaining people who still religiously buys magazines: if I can't spend hours tenderly stroking items of clothing in store, I'll substitute this for stroking pictures of them in those beautifully glossy pages – essentially porn for the magpies among the population.

Instagram, meanwhile, is my virtual shopping trip equivalent. The majority of accounts I follow on there belong to fashion editors or ludicrous bloggers with more money than sense, but who also happen to have the kind of wardrobes I dream of. I could spend hours scrolling mindlessly through the never ending stream of handbags and high heels and ridiculous number of items that they inexplicably have monogramed with their initials. And don't get me started on Pinterest. Or Tumblr!

Seriously, I'm telling you, this magpie syndrome's a time-sucking, account-draining affliction. Anyway, must dash, there's this pair of trainers I've been eyeing up...