With apologies for the rather pregnant pause between 'So where did last week go? Part 1' and this continuation, may I just remind you, dear reader, of where we were:
...So I bumbled out of the restaurant (N relieving me of some of my bags) and scooted off down to House of Fraser, which was the one shop I had originally intended to go to. I had about 10 minutes at best to pop in and then grab a cab for the station. As I hurtled through the cosmetics on the ground floor, heading for the lift, a voice called out 'Have you got a minute?'....
...well, I had about ten, as I said. I really didn't have any to waste on a sales assistant, standing slightly forlornly by his stand, eyes begging me to respond. I guess it must have been the drink and my general good humour which made me give in to his request. 'Just one minute' I said, trying to sound firm. 'yes, just one minute' he confirmed, unconvincingly. He looked like a throw-back to some early eighties pop band: all dark spikey hair, high cheekbones and pale face. Camp as a row of tents too - but then I guess that goes with the territory if you're a bloke flogging women's cosmetics. I can't see N rushing for that one. I edged towards him, a tad nervously. What was I about to be screwed for? (I knew I would be, I always am). He asked to see my nails. Oh God, no. Not my nails. As he perused the skin on the back of my hands, parched as a pygmy's arse, I found myself muttering excuses - 'I do a lot of gardening, you know' - for the dark lines of dirt under my unpolished, shabby fingernails. Having thought I'd dressed quite well that day, I suddenly found myself feeling decidedly un-glamourous. He pounced on the gardening bit saying how he had just the thing for my 'gardener's hands' (think Carol Klein). Oh-oh, I thought. Fell right into that one. I glanced at his own fair delicate digits (decidedly more feminine than my own) and suddenly spotted the unnervingly shiny nails glinting in the store lights. Didn't seem quite right on a bloke. He continued burbling away while I took in some more details. Strange accent. Where was he from? Then I noticed his lapel badge pinned to his black shirt - 'Vlad'. So, a Russian then. Or something equally exotic for House of Fraser on a wet Tuesday afternoon in Manchester. He smelt a bit. I felt like trying to sell him some deodorant. Obviously the stress of the job coming out. He wittered on endlessly with much false jollity and I'd hardly noticed he was rubbing away at my nails with a natty buffer thingy and producing quite startling results. I mean, I have a drawerful of nail buffers which Father Christmas keeps giving me - but this was something else. I was hooked. Help. I suddenly found myself dishing out cash for the set - buffer, nail file, cuticle oil, hand cream. A gardener's dream. He was right. Sensing blood, he moved in with the speed and accuracy of a Great White, sharp glisteningly white teeth barely veiled behind those pale lips. The clock ticked. He thrust a hand mirror in my face and asked me which of the wrinkle sets under my eyes looked the worst. I said they both looked as bad as eachother (should get to bed earlier). In an instant he was ripping open a new box, reassuring me that the volume of cream inside (10 times the amount of a normal eye cream) justified the price. I supposed he had a point. He then hooked a small amount of unguent out of the pot with his ring finger in the swift deft way that only those flogging creams to poor fools like me can muster and started dabbing it, rather intimately, around my right eye. I felt tingling (that was the ginseng, he assured me). It felt nice. He shoved the mirror in my face again and asked if I could spot the difference. No, I , said. I couldn't. But it was a nice sensation, and it was my birthday, so I parted with my cash in a happy, it's-my-birthday-and-I'll-do-what-I-want-to kind of way. Then realised I had precisely eight minutes to catch my train on the other side of Manchester. I rushed out of the store, abandoning the reason for my original entry therein, and hailed a cab. I threw him the money ('keep the change') at the traffic lights and ran into the station, casting around to see which platform I needed for the Buxton train. I flung myself at it, sat down in the first empty seat I could find and the wheels started rolling within about 10 seconds of my sitting down. Another precision operation from Yours Truly where, in my life, every second literally counts.
Feeling faintly smug, with the thought of dinner with friends still to come, I whipped out my newly acquired super-buffer and enjoyed a happy half hour filing and buffing and creaming my gardener's hands into something closely ressembling Christy Turlington's. I felt a bit girly, but sod it, it was my birthday, after all. Vlad would be proud of me (as he giggled all the way to the bank).
(to be continued)