I am standing in the dressing room of the Gibraltar branch of Monsoon, in a floor length sequined golden gown, admiring myself in front of the mirror.

“Any good?” the shop assistant asks me, as she always does. We haven’t exactly exchanged phone numbers yet but I am certain she knows my face. I’ve handed my debit card over to her more than in the past year.

For a moment I am lost for an answer. I redirect my view from my own image in the mirror to the changing room cabin, where the potential purchases of today’s shopping spree stare at me like silent witnesses of my madness.

I have tried on: a short sequined silver dress, a 1930s blue sequined dress, an off the shoulder blue and gold asian frock, bespoke gold extravagance, and a black jersey wrap with a small pattern. Everything is 70% off and I want everything.

I can’t be quite that mad though, at least I recognize that I’m about to make a mistake here. The gold dress comes in at 67 pounds (which, coincidentally  is also its weight), reduced from 200. It is, indeed amazing. I just have to get it, right?

At that price?

The problem is though, what for? My brain goes into justification mode and starts running scenarios, desperately looking for a reason why it would not be a waste of the 67 pounds and 50 pence if I got this dress now. I can’t come up with anything. If I ever wear anything out of the ordinary, it is for a wedding (way too overdressed!) or the Christmas party (way too overdressed!). I realise that the reason this wonderful gold dress hasn’t sold is exactly that – who would need it in Gibraltar, and for what.

“Yeah”, I finally respond, “they’re all good, but where on earth would I wear any of them?”

The only occasion where this gown would not look completely out of place that comes to my mind are the oscars, and I’m reasonably certain I won’t be going there anytime soon.

“I’m not invited to the oscars, unfortunately”, I finally add.

“You sound like Cinderella who can’t go to the ball!”, she exclaims. “How sad!” Do I? Am I?

“I suppose you do need an occasion though…”, she says as I hand her back ALL of the incredibly beautiful, high quality, extremely cheap ballgowns and occasion dresses.

Thing is, I’ve fallen into this trap more than once before: buying for the lifestyle I aspire, but not the lifestyle I actually have. I kept on buying summer dresses in Ireland for example, without a chance of ever wearing them in the wet island climate. I was desperately craving a good summer and I was shopping for it, with no connection to reality. Shopping for ballgowns, if you think about it, is a little bit stupid if you never go to any balls.

I leave the shop not quite empty handed, with a black jersey dress for just 16 pounds. Great quality, it will be an addition to my everyday work wardrobe. It may be sad (thanks for assuming, dear shop assistant), but work is actually a place I go to a lot, and floor length sequined golden gowns are definitely out of place in my office.




If there was ever anybody who most wanted to see the back of 2012, it was me. Why? Well it was a f***ing awful year. There were things breaking and relationships rupturing left right and center. My health was poor and my mood poorer. A friend of mine told me that cosmic energies in the latter half of the year had been all wrong. I’m not superstitious but I believed her, there was enough evidence in my own life and it didn’t need the predicted end of the world to make 2012 my year from hell. Understandably I couldn’t wait for the clock to strike midnight. Apart from everything else, we were to set off on an epic journey to Madrid on the 1st of the 1st 2013.

But 2012’s bad taste didn’t just leave without a fight. I think it took me another four days to shake it off. On the way to the airport, forty kilometers outside of Tarifa, in the gloom just before dawn, I ran over an owl. I’m an animal lover, I live almost totally vegetarian, and I’ve never killed anything in my life. It wasn’t that I was going too fast. The owl was just too slow. What a start to my year, I couldn’t help thinking, as I watched the frustration with me and my bad mood grow on R’s face.

I had been looking forward to Madrid for months, and to be honest, mainly for the shopping. I heard it was amazing and in fact, unprecedented in Europe. And it was amazing. Our little room in a family run hostal was right at the top of Calle Fuencarral, one of the to-go-to shopping streets. Happy. Happy? In the run up to Christmas, and while lugging home supplies to feed our visitors, I had torn something in my shoulder. I had been medicating myself with Ibuprofen for days over the festive period and I was still suffering in Madrid. The noises coming from my spine when I turned in a funny way were frightening and so was the pain at times. Big boo to shoulder injuries then.

I am a good time shopper. I shop when I feel good and when I am enjoying myself. I’m no good at shopping when I have a swollen eye, a cold or a “fat” day. My pain might not have shown to others but there is something about pain that just makes you feel old and sad. I kept on looking at girls lugging home tons of half price goodies envying them not for their purchases, but for their health and the joy on their faces, while I hobbled through Madrid like the hunchback of Notre-Dame. I abandoned the plan to go to Las Rozas village, a designer outlet just outside of Madrid that I desperately wanted to see and that came highly recommended, because I knew I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it. What else was there to do than to trudge along with my other half R and to look at art and bars. Art and bars! The Prado instead of Prada! Goodness sake! At least the Prado has a gift shop and, as I found out, is conveniently located near Salamanca, Madrid’s upmarket shopping district. I wasn’t even going to pretend that I was going to buy anything there – lacking the prerequisite fur coat and salon blow dry, I kept it to pressing my nose against the shop windows and marveling at the prices of things.

For a compulsive shopper like me it can be quite a freeing experience to forsake retail therapy and just go with the flow. So in the days that followed I found myself enjoying the perks of a big city – the stately facades, the museums, the nightlife and even the Metro! (I am from the countryside, you must know). Of course I couldn’t entirely abandon the notion that I might just find an amazing bargain I could bring back home with me, so when the pain subsided a bit I did venture out to explore the shops in our area.

When I am in a city like Madrid, with all the variety it has to offer, I am understandably not interested in visiting one of is branches of Zara. I want to explore all the things that I can’t get hold off where I live. This, however, is easier said than done. New brands confuse me – is this shop good value for money? Is it good quality? Is it a local designer or some sort of foreign chain I have never heard of? Should I even be in here – on the door it says rebajas but none of these nice handbags has a price on it? And what is the story with the guy over there who looks like a bouncer? It’s always the same with me – the chances that I will find something on foreign territory are slim to non existent. If I buy anything at all, it’s most likely a plain shift dress from Zara that I could have picked up anywhere, creature of habit as I am. Also the sheer amount of shops, clothes and people did their best to freak me out. Even though this is Madrid, a place of some three million people, the amount of things on sale seemed over the top. I couldn’t help thinking: who needs all this stuff? Who had to produce it? Does anybody want it? I found the choice disorientating and the moral of it all questionable. I never thought there could be such a thing as too much shopping, but whether it was real or imagined, it put me off my intended Christmas sales spree. I really did want something nice though, so I decided to go for quality instead of quantity. It came to my mind that my wardrobe actually needed (yes, needed, not just wanted!) a fantastic pair of black leather boots. Now that was a notion! After exploring Chueca, or the shoe district as some like to call it, and checking out at least twenty previously unknown shops, I arrived back at our hostal on our last evening with a triumphant look on my face and a box containing a beautiful pair that were still not so cheap at 30% off. As R asked me which expensive shop I had gotten those from, I burst out laughing.

“They’re from Clarks“, I managed to blurt out between giggles.