‘Is it for your daughter?’ said the sales assistant as I pointed to an expensive skincare product.
She had glided over to me looking concerned as I stood in the pristine shop dressed in muddy boots and quilted coat, a woolly pompom hat on my head and not a scrap of make-up on my face as usual.
I dare say I smelt of horses and dogs, prompting her to glide more swiftly towards me than she might have done had I been odour neutral, or giving off a nice whiff of Chanel like the yummy mummies floating about the place.
I’m not a yummy mummy. I’m not even a slummy mummy. I must be described as childless, although I have slightly adopted the little lodger in that I have taken her under my wing.
I looked at the sales assistant and saw that her face was a picture. She had spoken more in sorrow than in anger at my dishevelled state, I think.
‘No, it’s for me,’ I said, wondering how I could have sunk this far down the great scheme of lady things. How had I become so femininely challenged that a girl in a cosmetics shop could not conceive of how I might be buying some posh face wash for myself?
‘Cleanse and Polish’, it was called. I have seen it countless times on QVC and always wondered whether I should try it. I like the idea that it not only cleans but gives you a good buff up as well, which I’m sure is what I need. Being covered in mud most days, I suspect my face needs more than a lick of soap in the evenings.
But did I really look so bad that the sales assistant didn’t think it was possible I might want a high-end product for myself, so past the point of no return was I?
She looked at me with such abject sympathy, I almost wanted to assure her that I didn’t have too bad a life. ‘Don’t cry for me. Honestly. It’s not so bad. True, I spend most of my day doing my horses and dogs, and the rest of the time I sit at a laptop writing about other people’s horses and dogs, ones seized by the RSPCA. And for the past few weeks the situation has been so depressing that most nights I fall into bed and cry myself to sleep, but I’m happy deep down. Really.’
‘So is this your normal cleanser?’ she said, looking doubtful.
Dear oh dear. How to explain? ‘I wouldn’t say I have a normal cleanser as such,’ I said. ‘Oh,’ she said, looking perturbed. ‘What do you use then? A range of things?’
‘I would say I use whatever I happen to have in. Whatever happens to be by the sink. I’ve got a tube of something I picked up from the chemist because it was £2. Or else I use soap. Or Swarfega. That’s very good.’
She winced as if feeling actual pain as I explained my rogue skincare routine. ‘Oh dear.’
‘Well, anyway. Can I try this one? Is it all right for my skin type?’ I took it off the shelf. She winced again.
I could tell she was thinking that my skin type was a hitherto unrecorded category somewhere beyond oily and combination, called ‘Buggered’.
She was peering at the mud flecks, mascara stains and weather-beaten cracks on my face as if she had never seen anything like it.
‘The wonderful thing about this product,’ she said, getting a grip of herself, ‘is that anyone can use it.’ Even people like you who’ve let themselves go to pot completely, she might have added.
‘Can I try it?’ Solemnly, she led me to a little basin where she asked me to roll up my sleeve before squeezing some facewash on to my hand, massaging it in with a special cloth and rinsing it. She stood back as if amazed. ‘Very nice,’ I said, trying to see what she was seeing.
It was on special offer so I said I would take it. She informed me the special cloth would be a few pounds extra but she really couldn’t recommend me not having the special cloth so I said fine, I would take the special cloth.
As she rang it through the till she told me I was taking ‘a step in the right direction’.
‘You will come back and see us again, won’t you?’ she said, the look of profound concern deepening, as though once let loose there was no telling what I might do to myself.
When I got home, I went straight upstairs to have a go with my posh wash and I must say my face looked completely different when I had finished. Turns out I did just need a good buffing.