Posts Tagged ‘Kendals’

Picture the scene: it’s mid-afternoon on a weekday in Manchester’s oldest department store. The ground floor hums quietly. Groups of immaculately made-up women cluster around the various perfume and make-up counters scattered across the shop floor. The automatic doors swing open and a harassed-looking woman in her thirties walks in. She’s pushing a baby in a buggy. Its wheels roll round, pulling a tumble of toys, clothes, cloths and bags in its wake.

The woman stops for a second, apparently disorientated, before spotting what she’s looking for. She straightens herself up, tucks a stray strand of hair behind one ear and plasters a smile across her face. As she approaches the Clinique counter, the assistant (who until now was sitting on a stool buffing her nails) leaps up.

‘Hello there, love, can I help you?’ says the assistant.

The woman opens her mouth and then closes it again. She’s suspicious. She can’t help it: the perfectly made-up faces and glossy hair of girls on make-up counters always feels like an implied reproach. As in, we can make the effort so why can’t you? She becomes aware that she forgot to put any make-up on this morning. Not a pat of powder nor a slick of gloss. She would have done but her baby was kicking off and it was all she could do to wrestle him into his jacket and get him, the pram, the nappy bag, his toys, teething powder, bib, tubs of home-cooked purée and teething ring out of the house and onto the bus.

‘Oh, I, er… I need some new powder,’ she says.

‘Well, we’ve got More Than Minerals on special…’ says the assistant, before looking down at the baby in the pram. The baby beams back at her.

‘Oh, he’s just gorgeous, isn’t he?’

‘Is he? Oh, er, yes,’ says the woman.

The baby takes this as his cue and turns up his megawatt smile.

‘Wait there,’ says the assistant, and runs off.

The woman looks down at the baby. He tries a smile on his mother, and she smiles back. Wearily. They can hear the clack-clack-clack of the assistant’s shoes as she disappears off across the shop floor, and then the clack-clack-double-clack as she reappears in duplicate.

‘I just had to show my friend,’ says the assistant, nodding towards said friend.

‘Oh, isn’t he gorgeous?’ says the second assistant. ‘How old is he?’

The woman reels off the usual facts and figures. Yes, he’s six months old. Yes, he’s doing ever so well. No, he doesn’t sleep. No, not at all. Yes, that is quite unusual, isn’t it? Oh yes, he’s always this friendly. Yes, that smile really does make up for everything, doesn’t it?

The second assistant returns to her counter – Chanel, as it happens – while the Clinique girl begins a spiel about this face powder versus that. The woman eventually settles on one and then decides to get some lip-gloss.

‘If you get one more thing, you’ll qualify for Bonus Time,’ says the assistant, pointing to a free make-up bag groaning with samples.

The woman acquiesces and plumps for some eye shadow. As she reaches for her credit card, the baby, by now in his mother’s arms and looking directly at the assistant, gives his most beguiling smile.

‘Here,’ says the assistant, ‘you can have these as well.’

She puts the woman’s three purchases into a bag, followed by the Bonus Time box, followed by another box of freebies.

‘And you might as well take these,’ she says. ‘Oh, and one of these. If you can just type your number in there.’

The woman, by now slightly bemused, punches in her PIN. From the corner of her eye she notices the assistant’s hand moving from counter to bag, counter to bag.

‘And this card…’ says the assistant, scribbling on a piece of paper, ‘qualifies you for a full free makeover next time you’re in town.’

‘Great, um, thanks.’

As the woman and child leave the store, several sets of make-up girls appear to wave and trill ‘bye now, byeee!’ before turning to each other and saying ‘wasn’t that baby just gorgeous?’ The woman wonders if she’s hallucinating. Later that night, in bed and on the edge of sleep, she says to her husband, ‘you know how many free things I got at the Clinique counter today? Sixteen. Six-teen. I tell you what, Milo’s coming shopping with me more often.’ The husband grunts a response but his wife doesn’t hear it; she’s already fast asleep.

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