MY FRIEND LAURA, the Thrift Queen, threw a party this weekend. The theme was Russia, which I took on board with aplomb, dressing as the Spirit of the International Worker, honouring those post-Revolution stone giantesses in the middle of Russian cities.
I dug out a denim headscarf, and found a denim dress with puffed sleeves and a round neckline. It was from Prada, rather than GUM (the one-stop megastore in Red Square), but since Moscow is in hypnotic thrall to high-fashion brands at the moment, I didn't think that was unduly incongruous. Forget Pravda. Get into Prada.
To this mix, I added a pair of Chanel shoes (for which reasoning, see above) and my daughter's Brownie sash. This is ornamented with several sewn-on emblems (trefoils, small mammals) and badges symbolising various accomplishments. I added a red star enhanced with Lenin's profile to it, but even without this I think it could have easily passed as something from the days of Brezhnev.
To complete the look I carried a wicker trug full of leafy carrots, as if plucked straight from Ukrainian soil. Naturally, I got the bunch of carrots from my favourite thrift supermarket, namely Lidl. I now make fortnightly pilgrimages to the Hackney branch of this German cost-cutter. I know I am not the only Islingtonite to do this.
Only, this time my experience of doing the family shop was not one of unalloyed pleasure. When I rolled up at Lidl, I noticed the trolley area was being menaced by two hooded youths of about 12 years old, one of whom was severely facially disfigured. How severely? Think Freddie Kruger (A Nightmare on Elm Street) meets Jason (Friday the 13th).
Their routine went thus. A customer approaches the area and releases a trolley, by inserting a £1 coin. The disfigured child comes up very close and asks, quietly but insistently, for another £1. If you refuse, he abuses you. On your way out, having unpacked your trolley, you have a choice of two options. You either abandon the trolley, with the £1 deposit inside it, or run the gauntlet of the trolley park, at which these two youths will return to you and threaten to deface your car if you pocket your £1 rather than giving it to them.
The Lidl staff inside all knew this was going on, but the shop is clearly not going to run to installing uniformed, salaried trolley staff, like they do in the Islington branch of Sainsbury's.This, dear reader, is the unsavoury side of thrifty living. Standing in the checkout queue, I was not worrying about Lidl's social policy, as much as about how I was going to get out unscathed.
I started wishing I'd never abandoned Tesco online shopping. I even contemplated returning to the outrageously priced yet cosy Waitrose. Such is my fair-weather thriftiness; I dump it whenever the going gets tough, or when it starts raining and a taxi goes past.
In the end, I asked the store manager to escort me to the car - which he did. The youths didn't dare approach. The manager told me how he likes Lidl, which now has 410 stores in the UK. "Do you know, it's the country's second quickest growing store?" he said. (Apparently Ikea is the fastest.) "You need to get some help in the trolley area," I observed, "otherwise all your new customers will leave."
But was this the right thing to do? After all, my tormentor was only a child, and with such a dreadful face, who could really blame him for using it thus? I mean, it's tormenting customers at Lidl or a walk-on part in a slasher movie. These are the only options available. He clearly needed help, but no one was willing to help him.
The issue affected my behaviour at Laura's Russian soirée, when I took my costume too seriously and berated a guest who admitted he was against the congestion charge.
"What do you mean, it's wrong to charge an £8 flat fee for all drivers?" I demanded. "How about thinking about what's best for the greater number of people? You should be proud to travel by bus! You should be delighted to travel by tube! London is not a private place but a communal experience!" Apart from the car park at Lidl, that is. I don't know if I've thought through socialism carefully enough. Maybe I should have put on some pointe shoes and come as a prima ballerina.