Before I tell this tale, I think I’d better take a small diversion to answer the question that you may be asking: namely, “Who the hell is Liz Jones and why don’t you want to be her?” If you are a Daily Mail reader in the UK you already know so please forgive me for this, but if you are unfamiliar with the British press in general and Liz Jones in particular you need to know the background. Liz Jones is a “journalist” and “writer” who has various columns in the Daily Mail and its sister paper, The Mail on Sunday. The reason I have put those two words in inverted commas is that she is a very poor example of both. Liz Jones has a weekly “Diary” in the Sunday version of the paper in which she catalogues her sad and sorry life. The Diary is supposed to be factual, but who knows to what extent it really is. She bemoans the fact that she has no friends and that her family no longer speak to her, which facts appear to be a direct effect of her reporting every dealing with anyone close to her in minute and possibly (allegedly) inaccurate detail. She moved five years ago from London following the break-up of a short marriage, to Somerset where she proceeded to report on the locals and alienate them. She is a “fashion guru” who believes women should never be seen in public without being fully made-up and dressed in designer gear. She is on a stupendous salary compared to that of many of her readers yet constantly complains that she is broke. This may well be due to the addiction to the aforementioned designer gear, to the fact that she decided to “rescue” large numbers of animals (and leave them under someone else’s tender care while she was working in London), to the fact that she spent £26,000 on a bat sanctuary, another £26,000 on a new floor, and possibly multiples of £26,000 on various other “essentials”, apart from the large mortgage she took out on the country pile. She claims to be hugely insecure about her body (having had a breast reduction years ago) and face (the face-lift was more recent) yet appears in numerous photographs dotted about her columns. Her life in Somerset was so awful she put her house on the market some time ago, two or three years ago, I think: it has recently, after many hitches, sold, and she has moved out – to the jubilation of her neighbours. Whoever bought the house, which Liz readily admits stinks of dog wee (“wee” being one of her words) because her dogs are not house-trained, deserves a medal. Although it is a beautiful house from the evidence of the pictures.
All this is mere background: Liz also frequently writes about occasions when she has to shout at shop assistants to get attention (she has trouble with her hearing but that doesn’t excuse sheer rudeness) and is, as she reports, astoundingly rude to many people she has dealings with. Call centre operators get short shrift as does any poor innocent worker in a shop that doesn’t stock her preferred coffee.
So, back to the main topic. At the weekend I went riding wearing my winter jacket – no designer label, bought a couple of years ago from a catalogue produced by a major horse supplies company. For the purposes of practicality, I bought a jacket with zips on the pockets so I can keep keys, money, mobile phone, gloves, tissues, horse treats – you get the picture - secure. Not so long ago I went on a nice ride with some friends and the owner of one of the cars found, when we returned to the field, that she had lost her car key somewhere along the way. Unfortunately the other car driver had given her key to the first car driver, who had locked the second key safely in her car. We had to wait an hour or so before we were rescued. I like to minimise the risks of a similar scenario. But, going back again to where I was, I found at the weekend that one of the zips on my jacket was broken. Everything of value had to be transferred to another pocket. Then someone mentioned to me that there is a shop in Gotha where they mend and replace zips and don’t charge the earth. Great, I thought. I work in Gotha on Tuesdays (Gotha is the Gotha part of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, where Prince Albert came from, by the way. In case you were interested). I can take the jacket in and, if I’m very lucky, I may get it back by Wednesday, when I pass by Gotha on the way to working elsewhere and could pop into town if necessary.
Today I emptied all the other pockets of the jacket, brushed it off (I wore it riding this morning and haven’t had time to wash it) and took it into town with me. The shop is conveniently situated on the road I walk down to get to work. Couldn’t be better. I walked in and was greeted by a smiling woman standing behind the counter. I produced the jacket, apologised for the fact that it was slightly grubby (I had wiped off the slobber my horse had deposited on it earlier, so it wasn’t too dirty) and showed her the problem. Oh dear, she said, it was a tricky one. They couldn’t put in a zip of the right colour and it would cost a lot. £26,000 at least. No, ok, I tell a lie. She quoted €14. But still. Now, had I been Liz Jones, the appropriate reaction here would no doubt have been to stamp my foot, shouting loudly that this was not good enough and what has happened to customer service nowadays? Keeping a snarl on my face the while. Although, I suppose, had I been Liz Jones I wouldn’t have taken my designer jacket into such a shop in the first place. In fact I would have thrown it out and bought a new one because the zip on one of the pockets was broken. However, assuming the theory that she would take her jacket into a shop to have it repaired, she would have thrown a major wobbler at being told that a new zip was possible but impractical and wouldn’t look 100% right. But no, I restrained myself. The smiling woman then asked whether I really needed a zip. I explained that it was my riding jacket and yes, I needed secure pockets to hold the already mentioned keys, mobile phone, cash etc. Hmm, she said (or the German equivalent thereof), since £26,000 (sorry, €14) was a lot of money for a zip that didn’t even match, would I put up with a couple of buttons or similar, making the pocket secure enough for a mobile phone or a glove. Yes, I said, I could live with that. Good, she said. And could I come back in a little while? I said that I was working round the corner until five and would happily come back then. Are you English? she asked? Yes, I said. And do you live here in town? she asked. Nearby, I replied. Then we said our goodbyes and I left, promising to come back later to collect the jacket. As I went out of the door I could hear her excitedly telling a couple of colleagues who were seated busily making repairs, She’s English, you know. I left with a smile and went off to teach bored teenagers who would rather be anywhere other than stuck inside learning English after school.
Later on I went back to the shop and the smiling woman recognised me immediately. She retrieved my jacket and showed me the two press studs that had been neatly sewn on the pocket and looked absolutely in keeping. My mobile and a glove will be perfectly safe in the pocket once more. Then I took out my purse, looked at her with that sort of “how much” look that needs no words and she waved me away. She really waved me away and didn’t ask me for a single, solitary Euro cent. Now there’s a shop I’ll go back to the next time I have a broken zip, and I’ll be happy to pay what it costs next time. As I left the shop, with a big smile on my face, my first thought was along the lines of the milk of human kindness and all that. And my second thought was – Thank God I’m not Liz Jones.