The odd, late and uncomfortably mismanaged service of thanksgiving for the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, has thankfully passed. The coroner's inquest into her death (and that of Dodi Fayed) first opened in January 2004. It reopens in October and may very well outlive me. Coroners' inquests into violent and / or sudden deaths of Britons are held to determine who died (Diana and Dodi), when they died (Dodi at the scene, Diana some hours later) and how they came by their death (road traffic accident, let's hope – anything else will take up way too much newsprint). The inquest will be a Jarndyce v Jarndyce for lawyers, especially lawyers whose careers have already peaked and can bank it as a pension. Since I never read the Daily Express, I'm not up to speed with who the coroner is now. Is it three who have quit so far, or only two? Nor do I know whether or not the US National Security Agency has agreed to send over a shedload of classified documents about Diana (but I hope not – it'll take months to comb through every line and comma).
All I know is that Diana's face will never be off the telly or out of the papers. Her latterday pictures, vibrant, clean and beautiful, are still eminently recyclable, poor woman. So are the unfluffed, unstyled ones when she was very young. Only the high-haired 1980s ones are beginning to look odd. Fashions in looks and faces always look risible 20 years after their time. It takes another generation before their retro charm reappears. (Your grandmother always looks better in family photos than your once-fashionable mother in her nightmare 1970s clobber.) Ten years she's been in that unquiet grave. It'll be decades yet.
James Thurber's aunt (so he said) never sat under electric lights because she thought they leaked. Aunt Thurber stuck to gas-lamps; she was clearly not an early adopter. Me neither. I never dared buy anything from an online shopping site, not even an airline ticket, nor eBay nor Amazon, mainly because I thought the internet leaked. I imagined they'd bank my money, shout Sucker! and run off to Nigeria without sending the goods. I also couldn't work out how you buy things without being there. Trying them on (clothes) or flicking the pages (books) or feeling them (organic veg). Let the dog see the rabbit, I say.
Then my old washing machine sickened and died just before Christmas 2002. (Hold that date: it's a watershed in the short history of internet shopping.) Anyway, I schlepped in person and in haste to Currys, which is always hell and worse when it's covered in tinsel. They had my model of washing machine, but no deliveries until after New Year. So I went home in a fury and looked for a virtual model online. The thumbnail image was too small to see, but the website promised NEXT DAY DELIVERY. Heart fluttering, I pressed add-to-shopping-basket and filled in the credit-card form. "Congratulations Vickiwoods!" said the website chirpily. "You have purchased a W866 for £536.75! Please call our Freefone number to arrange delivery." Next morning, a bloke rang up and said: "I'm on the A339, where are you?" He rolled a new washing machine into the kitchen 10 minutes later. I thought, Blimey – it works.
Christmas 2002 was when online shopping broke £1bn a year in the UK, so maybe I wasn't such a late adopter after all. I dipped a toe, gingerly, ordering a couple of books, which arrived weeks late. I still couldn't get my head round cyber-food, even though every working woman I knew was getting a week's groceries online and Tesco Direct vans whizzed past my window every half hour. And I still avoided it for clothes, even as every high-street retail outlet was doubling its online sales month on month. In March of 2006, I lunched with a modishly-dressed friend in Le Caprice, who looked at me pityingly: "Duh! Net-a-porter! Try it on at home, send it back if it doesn't fit. How old are you, anyway? Old enough to know your own dress size." I looked up www.net-a-porter.com: Burberry bags, Bottega Veneta shoes, Pringle jumpers, lovely. Expensive. Trinny Woodall uses net-a-porter and so does Beverley Knight. (I'm not sure who Beverley Knight is.) Charlotte Church browses Asos (As Seen On Screen, www.asos.com), which sells those cheap clothes "in the style of" Mischa Barton/ Lindsay Lohan/ Paris Hilton/ Sienna Miller/ Kate Moss.
Last Christmas, total annual online sales in the UK reached £11bn. And that's just retail. It doesn't include holidays or travel or car insurance. By the end of this year it will be much more. The historic rainfall event that passed for summer 2007 kept us all off the streets and on our screens: online sales for July alone topped £4bn. Which includes £56 from me for two bottles of Klorane Pomegranate Conditioner that I'd have had to go to France for otherwise, and two tubes of Elizabeth Arden 8-Hour Cream. Both of these are "niche products", ie 8-Hour Cream is in limited outlets and costs £24 when you get there. It was 20 quid online, which I paid cheerfully. Having just looked it up again, I see I should have scrolled further down: I could have had it for £15, £12.50 or a very acceptable £9.95.
For Tesco, the online boom can only get bigger. Some of us try to shop anywhere but Tesco, especially for our snobby niche-products. But they are raising the stakes. This month, a 1,000-page catalogue of Tesco Direct is adding "a number of niche products" according to a cheery bloke called Steve Robinson. "It suits Tesco's philosophy to go in and raise the bar in sleepy environments by bringing down prices." His big success this year was with "equestrian goods such as horse blankets and bridles". Merciful heaven. How niche is horse-wear? A Frenchwoman I know always comes to England for her bits of tack: she likes a bride anglaise. You would have thought that specialist saddlery companies would be left to quietly get on with the niche market in horse-wear, without Tesco barging in. I Googled in search of horse blankets, lightweight fleece, six-foot, cheapest, and found one for £26.50. Tesco Direct has one for £9.95. Honestly, you could buy a tube of hand-cream for that.Reuse content