An angel was smiling on me today – in Topshop, Oxford Circus of all places! With Rheumatoid Arthritis I near to never go shopping in person now opting to make my purchases online where there are no painful armloads of clothes to carry or equally painful queues not just for the changing rooms but for also then for the till. And then of course for the tube ride home where my TFL ‘Please Offer Me a Seat’ badge goes mostly ignored. But today I had to shop in person as I needed a few things last minute things for a weekend away.

The new series of Stranger Things is being promoted big time at this branch of Topshop with plentiful merchandise and a pop up Netflix cinema screening the entire new series, all in time for Halloween. And a stranger thing happened to me… I was in so much pain carrying a heap of clothes in the gigantic flagship store thinking ‘If only someone would carry this for me’. Then like Mr Benn’s shopkeeper, ‘Nicola’ personal shopper appeared like magic offering to take my items!

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Nicola told me to carry on shopping and just go to Personal Shopping when I was done and all my items would be there waiting for me. And they were! My chosen items were hung up on a clothes rail like some kind of fantasy walk in wardrobe – in a large bright room, pink armchair included. Oh and air con, very important when you’re in pain and prone to falling unconscious!

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It was all very civilised compared to the trauma of queuing for the hot basement changing room of that Topshop branch, the pain getting more excruciating by the second throughout every bone and muscle of my body, my organs slowing right down and the awareness of the increasing pull of gravity making the pain even worse leading me every step closer to falling unconscious in the hot atmosphere which is another of my conditions. The trauma doesn’t end there of course as the pain and organ fatigue then lingers for at least the next week accompanied by fevers. Hence again why I rarely shop in person anymore. But nope this experience was world’s apart I wondered if there was a catch but there wasn’t, the service was free.

I realise I was just lucky that day, Nicola had no idea of my conditions she was just doing her job. But it made me think; ‘why are these services not available to disabled people as default?’ It may be that some retailers offer assistance on request but it certainly not consistent or readily accessible across the industry. And that’s kind of the point disabled and sick people should not have to ask for ‘special treatment’, because let’s face it, it is not special treatment. It is equity. It’s simply enabling us to access the same everyday services as bodied people such as shopping. Even if we can use something Blue Badge – esque to request the service so that little explanation is needed and something similar to take us to the front of the queue for stores which do not offer a personal service. Just thinking aloud. Shopping online is not a bad thing by any means it is more convenient for everyone not just those of us with chronic illnesses, however sometimes waiting for delivery isn’t an option and just sometimes we want to feel the breeze in our hair and the fabric through our fingers like everybody else.

I told Nicola of my health conditions and how she had saved me that day, she gave me her contact details so I could book ahead with her next time if I wished. As Ice Cube said: Today was a good day! 😊

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