Ask me the biggest downside to being a Mum and the answer might surprise you. Strangely, it's not the sleepless nights. It's not even the self-enforced social isolation night after night. No, the answer's simple: it's John Lewis. Or, to be precise, the increased frequency of my trips to John Lewis.
If my American readers wonder what the heck I'm on about, John Lewis is an English department store. Some might say The English Department Store. It's as popular with the British chattering classes as holidaying in Tuscany and voting New Labour used to be. Its London flagship store, on Oxford Street, oozes self-satisfaction, as encapsulated in its motto: "Never knowingly undersold". (Unless, that is, you're shopping online, as people often are these days, when its prices are wildly out of kilter with its rivals.) In fact, the only thing worse than its Oxford Street outlet is its Sloane Square branch, which insists on calling itself Peter Jones, even though everyone who lives outside Chelsea knows that its still just John Lewis, despite its Kings Road address.
But back to my specific beef with John Lewis. It's just too useful to new parents. From its "nursery advice service" for Mums-to-be, to its stranglehold over the plain white bodysuit ("onesie") market, John Lewis is a one-stop shop for Mums and Dads. Which should be a good thing. Yet I resent it. I resent its very usefulness because it gets me every time. That is to say, it gets me thinking I have to shop there, yet every time I venture into its clutches I have a hellish experience and deeply regret it. Like my trip to buy a nursing bra. Or this week's foray to its children's shoe department.
Stupidly, I forgot it was half term. Cue half the Mums in London attempting to buy new school shoes for their offspring. Because I hate shopping there so much, once I've schlepped all the way there, and specifically battled my way up to the fourth floor kids' department, I'm damned if I'm going to leave without buying anything. Which meant I had to endure a half-hour wait for someone to measure Louis' feet and, even worse, meant I felt obliged to purchase the only pair of shoes in his size that they deigned to stock. An ugly, clumpish, khaki number by Clarks that won't go with any of his cute summer outfits.
What's worse is that I fell victim to the Clarks curse that says that once you become a Mummy you insist on your child wearing Clarks' shoes "because they're sensible" even if they're hideous. And to think, I could have togged Louis out in a boxfresh number from Selfridges' ridiculously overpriced, over-labelled children's shoe department. I keep thinking about taking them back, but then I'd have to go back to John Lewis. And then, because I was there, I'd have to buy a stack more stuff to try and ensure that I never have to go back. And then the whole sorry cycle would begin.