Went to Agen yesterday to buy a dressing gown. I arrived in the pouring rain just about noon.
All self-respecting French men and women were hurrying home for lunch and most of the small shops were closing for at least two hours. But these days one or two of the bigger stores, including Eurodif and Galeries Lafayette, stay open over the lunch hour. So, for those of us who loathe shopping, from 12 til 2pm is almost bearable.
I headed for Galeries Lafayette, passed the small pavement cafes, their empty tables and chairs puddled and dripping in the rain. I've only ever been to the store's ground floor before: an emporium of elegant accessories and a great source of presents (especially scarves) for friends in the UK.
Yesterday I ventured further: to the second floor and women's clothing. I stepped off the elevator to grey, grey and more grey - all beautifully arranged. As my eyes adjusted to the lack of colour, I began to see the occasional touch of red and shocking pink in the distance.
There was only one other customer on the floor. She was trying on a grey cardigan and talking to an assistant. Her eyes flicked over to me and I could see from her expression that I was found wanting. I caught sight of myself in a mirror and had sympathy with her silent opinion: wet hair, damp jeans, thick, shapeless puffa jacket and wellington boots. I looked like a Michelin man. Somehow even in the rain, French women who shop look smart.
I bid a hasty retreat to the basement and the dressing gowns. The one I've bought is fluffy, warm and soft pink. Not a very practical colour to wear while cleaning out the ash from the boiler in the mornings, but maybe just a touch of that French elegance.