So I screwed up my courage and went into the Blue Cross charity shop. It was very busy. Oh dear. I waited till one of the ladies - let's call her 'Jackie' * - had a moment, and told her I had an unusual favour to ask - could she photograph me each time I came out of the changing room. A less confident woman would have screamed or reached for the panic button, but she just said 'You'll have to show me what to press.' Two things caught my eye straight away: a black shirt with large leaves over it - something you might wear in a casino in the Florida Keys. And a fez - something you might wear ... erm ... never.
I got changed out of my greystuff, came out of the cubicle and handed the camera to Jackie. She didn't seem to recognize me. She took the camera and put it up against the middle of her face, the wrong way round. 'I've never used one before', she said. I felt a twinge of bad luck. Out of 7 billion people, the only one ... 'Turn it round, Jackie', I said. 'When you see me on the screen, press the big button'. She turned it round and pointed it at my navel. 'Oh yes, that's it'. 'Can you see my head?'. 'Yes'. She clearly couldn't.
Three pensioners had stopped their browsing and were smiling.
'Maybe it would be better like this' I said, gently moving it up so it pointed at me. 'That's much better now' said Jackie, as the camera slipped down towards my navel again. What the hell was she seeing on the screen? I tried to think of how I could say 'Can you see my head?' in a more simple way, without the difficult words. I moved it up again. It slipped down again. 'I'll tell you what, Jackie. I'll squat down a bit.' I squatted. A couple with a toddler had noticed, and came over to watch. 'OK, so now press the big button'. I did a big smile. Nothing happened. 'Have you pressed it?'. 'Yes'. She hadn't. 'The big one ... the one I showed you'. 'OK'. I did another big smile. 'Just getting your face in focus'. 'It's OK - the camera will do that - just press the BUTTON ... erm, please.' She stood motionless. 'Here, I'll show you' I said standing up and taking a step forward. The button clicked. 'You moved!'. There was some suppressed laughter from the dozen-or-so onlookers. I squatted back down and did a smile from memory. Jackie waited till my thighs were going weak and there was no mirth left in my smile, and clicked. 'There you go'. I thanked Jackie, hung the Florida shirt back up, and went back into the changing rooms to try on my next outfit. It was way too small, and I could sense the onlookers were lingering outside, waiting. I put my greystuff back on and came out of the cubicle to buy the Florida shirt and just go. One of the onlookers was buying the shirt. It had all been for nothing. I thanked Jackie as I left. 'I'm going to buy one of those', said Jackie. I think she meant the camera.
I've never used one before
Press the big one ... the one I showed you ... yes ... PRESS it!
I just wanted to get it over with now. Helen and Douglas house next. All the men's clothes were grey, and either minuscule or massive. Sue Ryder Care the same. And Oxford Animal Sanctuary Shop, African's Children Fund, even the obscure Zimbabwean splinter charity shop which no one has ever been in apart from the widows of the tiny and huge men in grey. I'd given up when I remembered Sobell House. When I went in, the two ladies were talking about which churches in Witney are 'high church' and which are 'happy clappy' - obvious code for talking about where to score the best crystal meth. Glancing around the sea of grey, I spotted a blue shoulder poking out. A denim shirt. An urban cowboy ... at 50? It was my only chance. I interrupted the ladies and explained to Helen ** about the challenges. Two minutes later she had the camera. 'I'll take it from a low angle with the posters in the background' she said - she was clearly from the opposite end of the spectrum to Jackie. 'Keeping it on?'
Helen **. High church.
Straight shootin', whisky swillin', mid-life crisis
* Her real name
** Her name was Janet.