Thursday 8 March 2012


Yesterday, I attended a Focus group organised by a huge and very well-known clothing manufacturer and retailer. The subjects were knickers and bras. With a degree of mischief threatening to become unmanageable, I found my inner voice chanting "vicars and tarts" to itself as I did the bustling necessary to arrive on time. I'm sure my Mother would have been as horrified at the thought of a forum discussion on knickers and bras as she would have been had she been invited to a party with a theme of vicars and tarts . My naughty response will suggest to you that my own mindset is also not that far behind. Since I am, however, really only 40, I did feel equal to what I expected to be quite a challenge. The system was for some fourteen women to sit around a table with a Focus group specialist, a designer, a structural engineer and,in the morning, a knicker expert and, in the afternoon, an expert in bras. As it happens, I have attended one of these gatherings at this institution before. It was led by a man. He, having written the email of invitation, was unwell and, therefore, not in. Very sensible, I thought. Schoolgirl giggles could have been the only possible outcome if the ensuing process had been led by a man; even this man who seemed unlikely ever to watch a woman dress and undress. The instruction was to say which of our knickers we liked best and why and which had disappointed. Purchase from another source was to be acknowledged along the lines of ' what are they doing better than we are?' I was sitting where I was second in the round. (This matters, as will emerge). Now, Liz wears what I can describe only as 'school knickers': fitting round the backside, over the bulge and up to the waist. I love them. I have progressed, through the years, from this firm's pretties to this firms sensibles. My comment was that, pure cotton as they may be, they had shrunk. Time had been spent in selecting a pair that had and a pair that hadn't, to prove my point. Dear Reader, the entire team was round me like a piece of elastic. My undies were photographed, felt and recorded and the upshot was that my address was taken with the promise that I should receive replacements at their expense. Of course it matters, silly. If they shrink they are no longer capable of covering the bulge. They rest in an uncomfortable squeeze in the middle of it. This dilemma is meaningless to you young ones, but it is jolly disconcerting to the elderly aspirant to some degree of elegance - the line, silly, the line. You have probably guessed, but the relevance of being second emerged as we went round the table and the most frivolous, lacy, racy bits of nothing were displayed and examined, in colours I had walked passed with eyes averted when I was in the shop. I would have slunk out leaving my sample behind had I been any further round the bend...double entendre intended.
The afternoon was even more of a challenge. I was forced to confess I didnt buy their bras. I tried and they don't work for me. Expecting to be thrown out, I suffered even greater shame: the attempt to persuade me to have another go. If you have been at the receiving end of a concerted campaign by expert marketeers to get you to buy their product, you will have some idea of what I went through. Charm, discretion and a brickwall politeness finally exhausted me to a point where I agreed to a new fitting and another try. Well, you would wouldn't you when they are half the price of what I had bought and there are so many to choose from? But, actually, no. There were so many to choose from I was quite overwhelmed.....and exhausted. What kind of a world do I live in, I asked myself, that I can spend a whole day focussing on my underwear when the outside world is as the outside world is. Death, destruction, cruelty, tragedy: what can it possibly matter? How can a group of women, a group of experts and their employer call this Focus? But when I had run out of green ink, I realised that this particular employer gave work to more thousands of people world-wide than my imagination could encompass. So, drown your scruples and focus on that. Bore da
PS Mountain View, California. Do, please, put me out of my misery! Who are you?

No comments: