Prada to Primark

I was aware I had stopped listening, that I was looking – possibly staring – enviously at the woman on the next table. She was super stylish, she seemed confident and comfortable in her own skin, as she sipped her glass of champagne. But what I was most taken with was her Harvey Nichols bag. I don’t think I was actually dribbling, but I may as well have been.

We were in a swanky restaurant in Leeds celebrating my husband’s birthday. A place I would have loved a few years ago; a place some would call pretentious; a place that has a champagne menu; a place full with enough designer handbags to set up your own Harvey Nichols handbag department; a place full of busy, successful people. But now this is a place I felt self-conscious in, like people would somehow know that my jacket was from TK Maxx and my jeans were from H&M, that it was obvious I was not part of the gang anymore.

When I had the big job – and the big income to match – me and my Prada trousers would have been very at home there. And whilst I know money doesn’t bring happiness (and I do know this, because I am much happier now and have a lot less money), it does bring with it a certain level of confidence and freedom.

I carried on staring at her bag; I knew I was being ridiculous. It is seven years since I could afford to step in the door of shops like that, I have had plenty of time to adjust. And most of the time I don’t think about it. I know how lucky I am to have a husband who has financially supported me through this time, I know how lucky we are that he has a good job, and I am grateful for the wonderful life I lead.

And I don’t think I would go back to my old ways even if I did have the money. When I used to buy Gucci and Prada, and be on first name terms with the assistants in Karen Millen, I was in a very different place: I was single and living a frivolous lifestyle; a lifestyle I don’t really aspire to have anymore. We now choose to spend most of our money on travelling and I think I would now see a £500 handbag as A LOT of air miles. At the risk of sounding like a grown-up, I would rather see a new part of the world than have a designer wardrobe.

But now and then, I miss having the choice. And this was one of those moments. And of course, I don’t know anything about this lady’s life, just because she had done some fancy shopping does not mean she was happy, it just means she had done some fancy shopping.

I had a word with myself and brought my attention back to my husband, the least I could do on his birthday (also he had told me to stop staring!).

I didn’t think anymore about it and got back to appreciating my life and not envying someone elses. Then last week we had the kitchen tiled. The young man who did the work was here for a couple of days so I got to know a little about his life: single, 29, lives with his dad, has a nine-year old daughter. We got talking about having children and I was sharing my well practised story of not having any maternal genes. He replied, that if he was in our situation (married, lovely apartment, financially stable) that he would want to have another child.

I smiled to myself, the Tile Man is looking at my life, like it is that Harvey Nichols bag. He thinks I have something that he doesn’t have, something he would like for himself.

And I know we do it all the time, we see someone in the street, or meet someone new through friends, or at work and we make assumptions. We talk to someone (or in my case not even talk to them) and we create an image of their lives in our heads, an image that could be way off the truth.

Those Harvey Nichols bags aren’t going to mean a thing if her husband beats her, she hates her job, or has a sick relative, and so on.

And I know when people don’t know me they see something that is not the truth: they see a glamorous, well-off woman (I don’t know why, but even though I shop in cheap shops now I still look like I have money…) who doesn’t have to work. They don’t have any of the back story. They don’t know that not working has been one of the biggest challenges of my life; they don’t know why I am not at work; they don’t know what has brought me to this situation. And that’s okay, why should they?

So Lady with the Harvey Nichols bag, I am sorry for staring. I truly appreciate everything I do have (I could write a whole post just on how blessed I am) and when I’m doing my gratitude journal at night, who cares that it doesn’t involve a new Louis Vuitton bag. And hey, you can get some really good stuff in TK Maxx.

When does your green-eyed monster show up? (It can’t just be me…)

14 thoughts on “Prada to Primark

  1. No of course it’s not just you! I totally know what you’re talking about. Every day I see people heading off to their well paid office jobs and/or spending lots of money on food and clothing. I often feel envious of not having the choice to be able to do that, bring in more money for us to even more comfortable and reduce my anxiety about money (or possible lack of when reliant on one income). Like you I’ve had similar experiences where people seem to think I’ve got a cushy life. I suppose I have in many ways and I’ve given up correcting them and helping them to feel sorry for me for the struggles I’ve had. I don’t have the choice to go and get a full-time job but then many working people don’t have the choice to give up work so it works both ways – I just have to keep reminding myself of that. Thanks for letting me know it’s not just me!! 🙂 xx

    • Hey Lovely

      It’s always interesting to hear your perspective. And I absolutely agree with you about the benefits of not working. Certainly, now I am well enough to enjoy my life I would say that I am on a cushy number in comparison to my husband and friends (it didn’t feel like that when I was really poorly of course, and plastered to the sofa for days on end. But hey those days are GONE!)

      I too don’t bother explaining anymore, it’s too exhausting. And I have fun with it, when people ask me what I do I have all kinds of interesting responses, which are vaguely related to the truth.

      You keep doing what you’re doing and those choices will come back to you. Three minutes GET is just the start for you, I know it (then you too can flaunt your posh shopping bags!)

      Thank you as ever for the blog loving – always appreciated.


  2. Other people’s kids! I portray this kind of laid-back hippy mum kind of vibe, but secretly I count how many words other kids know and how well they hold a crayon and all sorts of crazy things!

    Thanks for this post, I needed some persepctive!

    Blue Skies,
    Charlotte xo

    • Hey Charlotte

      This is so funny. Do you write it down in a secret notebook and them next time you see the same kid track their progress? 😉

      Jeez, our heads are crazy places aren’t they. Sometimes I watch the nonsense that is going on in my mind, I think my god woman, what is wrong with you.

      There is some comfort from knowing we are not alone ha?

      Thank you for coming by Hippy Mummy (you secret is safe with me…)


  3. For me it is house lust. I would love to have a nicer place. A more ergonomic kitchen. Higher end furniture. Some one to help me with interior design. Clothes don’t do it for me. Never have. But I do like a well laid out architecturally unique house.

    I also miss being able to walk into a book store and picking up anything that meets my fancy and walking out of the store with a big pile without a second thought. Now I bargain shop and buy books used and make damn sure I want them and am going to read them before purchasing them.

    However, I do have the gift of a better relationship with my son. We spent lots of time together because of my CFS/ME and we grew closer as a result. This would never have happened without the illness. He is more precious than any kitchen or pile of books.

    • Hey Peg

      All this time and I never knew you had a son! And a better relationship with him is such a wonderful outcome of the nastiness that is CFS.

      Like you, I miss some of the things I used to be able to do, but in reality, I have come out of this whole experience with a new appreciation for so many other parts of life.

      Always lovely to see you here. I hope things are still improving for you…xx

      • They are. I’ve been on glutathione IVs for five weeks now with dramatic improvement. I’m in the middle of changing up my diet to help my guts heal hoping that will improve the CFS as well. It all seems to be working slowly. Yay!!

        I just referred another online friend to your blog. She is interested in the Lightening Process. If you hear from Green Girl Fights Fatigue tell her I said hello.

  4. Hi Karen
    This is your best to date, I loved it! It has such depth and insight and yet injected with sufficient humour to keep it fresh.

    THe intriguing line in my last response? Well I have started my own business in the health and well being range of products and thought you might be interested in the products. I work in Castle Marina opposite Sainsburys if that is convenient to you we could meet for a coffee at Costa or Starbucks on a Monday or Thursday, Tuesdays are a bit hectic! Otherwise I am free on Wednesdays and Fridays. Call me on 07804 953 034, it would be lovely to meet up if you are happy with that. xx

    • Hi Maggie

      WOW – best to date. Thank you 🙂 Interestingly, the words you have chosen to describe the article are exactly what I am trying to achieve with my writing. I just need to figure out how to do it again!

      I would love to meet for coffee. We are away next week, but I will text you the week after and we can sort something out.

      Good luck with business…xx

  5. I agree, best post to date Karen. Thoughtful insight, beautifully put. Of course being a totally together girl means I don’t have any irrational, envious thoughts, it’s simply fact that my life would be perfect if I was as skinny as the girl standing in front if me in Starbucks!!!! Love you xx

    • It’s funny to hear you call me Karen!

      You are lucky I am feeling nice today so I don’t feel the need to tell the truth and share some of your irrational thoughts with cyberspace (though that would be a lot of fun…)

      Oh not that girl with the hot-pants again?! Just think how cold you’d be…

      Love you too Besty.

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