There are two things I swore I’d never do (well, apart from the obvious ones like mass-murder or incest). One was having a TV in the bedroom and the other was wearing my PJs in the lounge. Not that it didn’t occurred to me that they were possibly among the perks of living alone, and certainly didn’t do anyone else any harm, and I certainly wasn’t into Sleep Hygiene – the very phrase makes me wince. I need my radio in my bedroom. Silence makes me nervous and I can’t sleep. But I digress. The business about nightwear when you’re not in bed comes from my Mum, though she’s far more hung-up about sleeping in your clothes. I’m now at the stage when I’ve stopped resenting her and started turning into her. And I have bad habits aplenty – I love that word aplenty! I could win gold in a crisp-eating contest, and what are rugs there for if not pushing the dust underneath them? Oh, and I think Harlequin romances are much maligned. I once tried writing one and the rejection letter was probably kinder than I deserved.
But let’s be frank, I interpret things somewhat loosely, the way you do with your most fervent self-imposed taboos. I’m not averse to falling asleep on the couch with my trackie bottoms on and the TV still running.
I had been watching quite an interesting programme about Churchill’s bodyguard on Yesterday (Freeview Channel 25 – other channels are available!) – and though there is an Alibi channel, I always think that there are plenty of Alibi Channels, or at any rate, ones you convince yourself it’s okay to binge watch nibbling fruit and nut chocolate and sipping (okay, occasionally swigging!) cheap red wine because they’re informative. I fell asleep and woke up to realise that it was now the small hours and it had segued into Infomercial territory. Now I’m most definitely not going to claim I’m one of those folk who only watch shopping TV when I accidentally land on it or fall asleep before it comes on air. But it’s not one of my major vices, not least because even though so far as I know I don’t have a blood pressure problem, some of the presenters are bad for my blood pressure.
But one of the less blood-pressure rising, teeth-grating ones was one air when I emerged, bleary eyed, but surprisingly clear-headed, from my small hours slumber in front of the TV in my trackie bottoms. She was mildly irritating, but only like the girl at school who wants you to join the hockey team but will smile and take it in good part and bide her time if you refuse to share her enthusiasm. She wasn’t trying to urge anyone to join a hockey team at the moment. All she wanted was for us to buy a new pair of boots. No, correction! She was at pains to point out that she most definitely didn’t want me, or anyone else, to buy a new pair of boots, only to get them home and to try them, and return them to our local supermarket if we didn’t like them after 30 days, and even the Postage and Packing was free. Not capped, not reduced, but free. She was slightly plump and dark-haired, and reminded me – well, of me. A slightly improved, slightly photo-shot, but by no means fantastical version of me. And I did, undeniably, need a new pair of boots. They were such, well, nice boots. Knee-length, soft brown faux leather, a hint of a heel, and what they described as “comfort fit” which sounded comfortable, but didn’t mean you (I!) had to admit to “wide fit”. While I was at it, especially with free P & P, I might as well get a fit and flare top. In fact, a twin pack of two fit and flare tops, one black, one teal.
No, this isn’t where I’m about to embark on a confession about a retail therapy jag in the small hours. I bought the boots (even more pleased to realise they were available in half-sizes) and the back of tops, and that was that, and no more, and I was barely even tempted to buy anything more. But I did enter the code Prize Xmas12 because I might as well enter the free draw for the Christmas Prize – for the Christmas Prizes – it was free, and the prizes were decidedly worth having.
It goes without saying I didn’t expect to win. I’m not neurotic about not being lucky, but let’s put it this way, you know those wafer-thin scratch cards that fall out of your magazines in pairs, and you discover you’ve won, but you really ought to read the small print because it usually entails paying £15 for a prize that’s worth £10? Well, I don’t always even win on them. On reflection, maybe that means I am lucky!
I won’t go so far as to say I’d completely forgotten entering the Prize Draw on Shopping Street TV (I mean, I’d not had that much red wine!) but it hardly occupied my thoughts much the next day – technically the same day, I suppose.
The email arrived at about 6pm, and not into my junk mail folder. “Dear Delia Montgomery,” it said, “We’re delighted to tell you that you have won the first prize on the Shopping Street TV Christmas draw. Please call or email us to confirm where the prizes should be delivered.” It goes without saying that my first thought was it was some kind of scam, but I dutifully called the number (which was free, and not one of those ultra-premium ones!) and after a brief conversation with a lady who was perfectly charming but didn’t suspiciously ooze sincerity I realised that I was, indeed, the winner of the first prize. Or prizes!
They didn’t waste time! That very day, at a convenient time (I asked if they could do half past five in the evening, just after I got home from work, and they both agreed and complied more or less to the minute!) a courier arrived with a multi-pack of tops, all in my size, in a variety of seasonal colours. The tops and the boots I had originally ordered came with them, and an extra pair of boots in “midnight black” to go with the ones I’d ordered in “classy camel” too.
I’d never had fantasies about being a model, even when I was a little girl, but there was still something rather gratifying about doing my own little fashion show with the tops. I put on the “mono animal” one at work the next day, and got a fair few compliments, even if one of them was the dreaded “it’s very slimming” – I much preferred Shopping Street’s version of “it enhances your curves”.
The prizes themselves were a matter of some mystery – but with the assurance that they were all very much worth having. Well, they’re not joking, I thought, when, the next evening, at exactly the same time, the courier came round with a top of the range halogen oven. Only a couple of days back, the host (not one of my favourites, I nicknamed him Mr Smarmy, but he apparently had a cult following!) had positively waxed rhapsodic about the golden brown chicken that was crisp on the outside and moist on the inside, and the Yorkshire puddings that were to die for. Personally (no offence to my friends in Yorkshire!) I’ve always thought they’re an over-rated item, but that very evening I did go round to the convenience store on the corner and buy a frozen chicken. After all, they had assured us that the Halogen Miracle could transform the cheapest supermarket chicken into a gourmet pleasure. Perhaps that was a slight exaggeration, but it was tasty, and my cat Cornelius could hardly believe his luck, though, being a cat, he hid it pretty well.
It was Recycling Bin day the next day, and hoping that all the packaging the oven had come in was recyclable, I stuffed it into the grey bin. Coincidentally (hah!) my neighbour Nora was putting her bin out at just the same time. “Been doing a bit of retail therapy?” she asked. It was just too obvious and too cruel to nickname her Nosey Nora – but that didn’t always stop me from thinking it! She wasn’t a bad sort, but I wasn’t volunteering any extra information. “You could say that,” I informed her, pleasantly.
I’d be lying if I said I was quite so chuffed about the next day’s present. It was one of those machines that vibrates your wobbly bits (to tone you up! Shame on anyone having mucky thoughts!) and I generally turned over or off if one of those was being featured. There was something contradictory about them – you could lose weight – sorry, tone up effortlessly, but at the same time they made much of how they raised the heart rate and the demonstrators glistened with sweat in that attractive way that nobody ever does in real life. Oh well. I might get round to giving it a go, and I could always recycle it as a Christmas or birthday present, though it’s the kind of thing folk might take as an insult if you give it them as one – you have to be careful!
I had settled down with a book and a coffee when the phone rang. It was a representative of Shopping Street TV. Needless to say I was very happy to hear from them and yes, so far, all the presents had arrived bang on time, and were lovely. “So glad to hear that, Delia! There’s no rush, none at all, but if some time you could post up a couple of videos – one of you using the Vibrovator would be particularly good.”
I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of that, but I had the perfect get-out. “Oh, I’m afraid I don’t have a webcam,” I said, apologetically.
“Now I’m not telling tales out of school,” I wasn’t sure but thought that was the first time I’d anyone use that expression in real life, “But let’s just say I don’t think you need to worry on that score!”
She told the truth. The next evening, a telly so big it needed two people to carry it was borne up my drive. A smart TV, of course, with far more trimmings than any turkey I cooked in the Halogen Miracle was ever likely to have. “We’ll install it for you, too,” one of the ever so helpful deliverymen said. “It won’t take long.”
That was what I’d been afraid of. I was on the point of saying it was ever so kind of them, but I was going out, and I had a friend who was a TV repairman who could do it (the latter, at least, was true, and I didn’t need to mention the fact that he was currently working in Dubai). But I meekly submitted. “We may as well set up the Vibrovator for you while we’re here,” Mr Helpful said, seeing it still in its packaging on the floor. I supposed I should be grateful they didn’t expect me to give a demonstration.
I recalled, and wished I didn’t, that there had been a list of terms and conditions with the email telling me I’d won the competition, and that, like millions of people before me, I’d ticked the box accepting them without a second thought. Now I did read them. And discovered that I had agreed to taking part in any publicity and promotions I was requested to, and to not selling any of the items before owning them for at least a year with the threat of “financial penalty and being in breach of contract”.
I was beginning to think I should have given this particular gift horse a thorough orthodontic examination. I didn’t sleep well that night, but retreated to my bedroom and the World Service on the radio.
I won’t go so far as to say my spirits were restored the next morning, but I had at least reached, I told myself, a state of resignation. After all, I was still getting some very nice prezzies, and supposed it was only right that they expected something in return. The initial delight and anticipation might have worn off, but I was still curious about that day’s prize. This time it came flat-packed. A brand new fitted wardrobe. “We don’t see to that,” the deliveryman (a different one) said “But someone will be round when you call – preferably within the week. Don’t worry if the dimensions are wrong – just contact Shopping Street and they’ll send a replacement.”
Well, this time I couldn’t even pretend I was delighted. If they’d wanted to include bedroom furniture in the package, why couldn’t it have been one of those fusion mattresses? I liked my free-standing wardrobe! I liked its gnarls and its brass fittings, and its chunky feet.
Nora had been observing the whole procedure. She “happened” to be in the garden when I was again (I was beginning to understand how people could feel like prisoners in their own homes!) and had one of those studiedly caring faces on. “It’s none of my business, Delia, but you do seem to be going in for a lot of retail therapy, lately. I sometimes wonder if those shopping channels aren’t every bit as bad as online gambling and all that!”
Well, as it looked like I wouldn’t be able to keep it to myself anyway, so I might as well at least indulge in a bit of Schadenfreude. “I won them, actually, Nora,” I said, “I got first prize in their Christmas competition. It’s not costing me a thing.”
Well, if you left my privacy out of it. And my dignity.
I knew her well enough to know she wouldn’t be struck dumb for long, and retreated back into the house, that had started not feeling as if it were mine any longer.
Shopping Street had what they called a Sister Channel – Crafter’s Corner and my next evening’s gift came courtesy of them. A Deluxe Bumper Bundle complete with the latest embossing machine and enough card stock (I never worked out why they called it card stock and not just card) to build a small housing estate. To say I am not one of life’s natural crafters is tantamount to saying the Wicked Witch in Hansel and Gretel isn’t one of life’s natural childminders. I had a mental image of me making cards whilst being wobbled by the Vibrovator. Two birds, one stone, and all that. And whilst I’m dealing in clichés, there was a straw there for me to cling to. Hadn’t the Terms and Conditions only spoken of selling and not giving away? My work colleague Irma’s mother could have crafted for England, and she was a lovely old lady, too. They were keen on publicity, well, wouldn’t it be ruddy awful publicity if they stopped someone giving an old lady a Christmas present?
Still, the Bumper Bundle craft set might well be the least of my worries.
My mind was so fixated on the prize that I’d quite forgotten that Nora had told me she was off on holiday the next day – two weeks at her usual hotel in Torquay. She was up as early as I was, and loading her cases into the taxi. And she accuses me of being a spendthrift, I thought. A taxi for that distance wouldn’t come cheap and he couldn’t just be driving her to the station because we didn’t have one. I didn’t envy the driver! It was a Saturday and I half-wished I’d asked them to deliver early, but now it was more to get it over with than because I was like a child waiting for Santa!
I couldn’t forewarn myself for when I had a phone call from Shopping Street – they had those numbers that don’t register. I’d probably have answered anyway, on my new “get it over with” philosophy. “Delia, it’s Susie from Shopping Street.” No, it wasn’t just my imagination – the tone of voice was definitely different, not the upbeat, lilting one that you know is accompanied by a fixed grin, even when you can’t see the person talking. What is it, I wondered. Am I in bother for not uploading a video of me on the Vibrovator soon enough? Are they going to tell me I’ll have to have my door widened so they can get the eight seater couch in?
“This is – such a difficult phone call to make, and you have every right to be furious …..” She went on to tell me that there had been a mix up. The real prizewinner, the one whose name appeared first, was a Della Montgomery who lived on Amherst Street, not Amhurst Street. Up until now duel prizes had been delivered. And, well (I translated this from what she actually said) they had pretty narrow profit margins and much as they’d love to award all the prizes twice over, they just couldn’t. In passing, I wondered about my rights. As I did she assured me that of course they’d see to collecting all the prizes free of charge, and no it didn’t matter if I’d used them, and as a goodwill gesture I could keep my original tops and boots and not pay a penny for them, and as another goodwill gesture, I could pick any one of the prizes, either those delivered or not yet delivered, as a consolation prize. With absolutely no strings attached.
“Could you tell me what the other prizes are, Susie?” I asked. Her relief that I was apparently going to be reasonable positively seeped through the handset.
And you know what the prize meant to be delivered on the tenth day was? A lovely, top of the range fusion mattress. It’s just arrived, and I think I might sleep very well on it!