‘A diary?’ said the lady in the chintzy gift shop, pronouncing the word very much as Edith Evans said ‘handbag’ in the 1952 film of The Importance of Being Earnest.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘a diary. Do you have one?’ I was standing in the middle of a shop so like one that would sell a diary that I could not express quite adequately how obvious I thought it was that they might.
This gift shop and café is on the high street of the village where I live and is easily one of the prettiest gift shop/cafés you have ever seen. It has every kind of pretty thing inside, from greetings cards and novelty books about wellbeing to china cups, shawls and rugs, lamps, pictures and doggy-themed place mats.
‘No!’ said the lady, who is usually very friendly, but now seemed put out as I perused a book that was divided into days, like a journal, but did not have the dates. ‘We are too specialist to sell diaries,’ is what I think she said. But also, I think she might have said they were not specialist enough.
All I could deduce, because I didn’t hear her properly, was that a diary was either too special or not sufficiently special to be sold here. I looked around, still unwilling to believe there wasn’t a novelty-themed book with dates on each page somewhere in this Aladdin’s cave of everything a yummy mummy with time on her hands would want.
For this is their haven, their domain, their mecca. They sit here Ugg-booted and teddy-coated day in day out, along with those older Surrey ladies of a certain age, in puffas, who sit sipping lattes while talking loudly about Those People who won’t have the vaccine. It’s a miracle they can swallow the coffee considering the indignation of it all.
Occasionally, these ladies must buy something while queuing at the counter to buy coffee, which is why the shelves are heaving with the sorts of things such ladies might buy, which is to say fripperies and niceties.
An A5-sized desk diary would surely be here, and I was resigned to the fact that it might have to have a species of bird on every page, or a dog walk a day in Surrey and Sussex, along with a series of inspirational sayings.
All of that I was quite prepared to bear, in order to buy local and avoid the journey to Cobham where there is a stationers.
Because I was lingering, and rather too obviously doubting her word on the absolute absence of diaries on her shelves, the owner came at me from around her coffee counter.
As imposing as Edith Evans and with a voice as impeccably articulated, she said: ‘We definitely don’t have a diary!’ And then, with a conspiratorial glance, she said sotto voce: ‘I don’t know whether… she… might have one… over the road…’
And she nodded at the florist opposite, which is also a gift shop, for I live in a village with many, many gift shops, most of them styling themselves to varying degrees as vintage, along with an improbable number of cafés.
And I suppose one must be grateful for that. Except what on earth is the point of all these gift shops if I can’t buy a diary?
In any case, she was nodding at a shop across the road as though they might be the sorts of people who would put a baby in a handbag — and stock page per day diaries, which were obviously not a thing quite nice enough for here, but which I might, after all, purloin if I must.
‘I already tried there,’ I said. ‘I suppose I will have to go into Cobham.’ She shrugged.
I am not sure I understand village life at all. We have a sign at the entrance to our village telling us to Shop Local Eat Local Stay Local, as if Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton might appear at any moment, noses taped up like pig snouts, shouting: ‘This is a local village for local people!’
But how can you ‘Stay Local’ when everything you want is always in another village?
I suppose we are lucky to have a Co-op, but aside from a fish and chip shop we don’t have any kind of affordable eaterie, just lots of expensive cafés and two Michelin-starred restaurants. What good is that?
We don’t have a kebab shop. I cannot state this strongly enough. A kebab shop is the most basic requirement for a place to be self-sustaining. I can just about understand that four gift shops don’t stock a diary between them.
But one cannot put up a sign telling people to stay local if there is nowhere to buy a chicken shish.