This was the first novel that I wrote back in 2001 when I first moved to Spain to live. I had written short stories before and non-fiction health books, but felt the need to bring a little romance and humour into my writing.. the result was the semi-autobiographical Just an Odd Job Girl.
About the book
At 50 Imogen had been married for over 20 years, and was living in a big house, with money to spare. Suddenly she is traded-in for a younger model, a Fast-Tracker.
Devastated, she hides away and indulges in binge eating. But then, when hope is almost gone, she meets a new friend and makes a journey to her past that helps her move on to her future.
Last time Imogen discovers the joys of working in an telesales advertising role…
Chapter Thirteen – Makeover and the art of buying a car.
It was time to prepare for my shopping trip into central London. I planned to hit the shops and enjoy a bit of a spending spree. I took a shower and decided, for some obscure reason, to put my reading glasses on to apply my makeup. Big mistake!
My hair at one time had been auburn and had flowed down my back in a heavy wave. Over the years, I had my cut shorter and shorter, but it was still shoulder length. Unfortunately, that is where the good news ended. On the advice of contemporaries and most women’s magazines, I had resorted to colouring my hair at the first indication of grey hair, and because they advise you to go lighter as you get older, I went blonde. I am not sure what you would call the colour of my hair now, as it had not received any attention whatsoever for the last six months. It was a sort of muddy blonde colour at the split ends, moving up through various shades of grey, white and reddish roots.
Not a pretty sight, and it was compounded by the bristling caterpillars that seemed to have taken root where my eyebrows used to be. This, combined with several rather long hairs that were growing luxuriously on my chin, caused me to leap backwards from the mirror and whip the glasses from my head.
Drastic measures were called for immediately. I had to revise my shopping schedule to include a lengthy appointment at a hairdressers and beauticians. It would be difficult to find a central London salon at such short notice, but I grabbed the telephone directory and desperately scoured the hairdresser section and started ringing around.
Thankfully, on my third attempt, I found a salon in Knightsbridge that had a cancellation for mid-day. I didn’t dare ask the price, it would have been very impolite. Well, the money was sitting in the bank earning very little interest and I had to consider that any self improvements that helped me get a job would be a much more worthwhile investment.
I hurriedly dressed in what I hoped was appropriate attire for Knightsbridge. This necessitated wriggling into yesterday’s panty girdle, which felt a little looser, (one can dream), but it was more likely it had been stretched by the previous days wear. My expensive skirt was held together with a large safety pin and I wore a long top over the skirt to hide the improvisation. With a jacket, the ensemble did not look too bad, but I did not make the mistake of wearing my reading glasses to view the result.
Within twenty minutes, I had walked to the tube station and was on a train rattling its way into central London. Dead on the dot of twelve I opened the door to the hair salon where I was divested of my jacket, and horror of horrors my top as well, exposing both my girdle, straining at the seams, and my safety pin. The girl who was helping me graciously looked the other way, but I am sure I did not imagine the look of amusement on her face. Of course, she was far too well trained to allow this to show too visibly. With a gleam in her eye, she calculated the great deal of money that was about to be spent by ‘Madam’ before she would be allowed to leave the salon.
I was escorted to a chair in front of a mirror that can only have come from one of those funfair side-shows. You know – the ones that make you fat, thin or distorted. This mirror was both fattening and distorting especially for the person sitting down at the time. Not only that, but it showed every blemish on my face, and each grey and white hair on my head. I assume that they wanted you to feel as bad as possible about your current appearance so that the change they were about to perform would look more stunning. They certainly had their work cut out in my case.
As if I did not feel bad enough, my stylist arrived. Why is it that the mirror managed to make me look like a vision from hell, but make her, this stick thin woman behind me, look stunning? Every blonde hair was in immaculate place. The makeup was obvious but subtle and her hands, resting gently on my shoulders, were soft and beautifully manicured. I hid my bitten fingernails beneath my gown hurriedly, and looked up into the mirror and her face.
‘My name is Monique and I will be your stylist today.’ She said in soft, encouraging tones.
If she felt intimidated by the task ahead of her, she was gracious enough not to show it.
‘What may we do for you today?’ she continued, running her fingers lightly through my mop of hair.
Was she blind? I decided that if I was going to be spending a fortune for her expertise, I might as well take full advantage.
‘I leave that entirely in your expert hands.’ I replied trying not to sound too desperate.
‘I have been on an extensive trip abroad and I am afraid everything has been dreadfully neglected, so please feel free to do what is necessary to enable me to feel less travelled.’
One has to have a cover story, and must never admit to voluntary neglect on such a grand scale as now appeared in the mirror in front of her.
‘Leave it to me.’ She announced understandingly and turned to two assistants who were standing behind her.
‘Bring the colour chart! Book the beautician for an eyebrow wax and manicure in twenty minutes, and bring a selection of magazines and a glass of Champagne for Madam immediately!’
Ah. A woman after my own heart. Confident that I was in capable hands, I relaxed into my chair and avoided looking into the mirror.
Within minutes, I was bustled about, fussed over and manipulated into several different positions. A colour was decided upon without any consultation with me. After all, I had handed over full responsibility for my transformation. Hadn’t I?
I banished any mild misgivings to the back of my mind. Whatever they did to me, I could look no worse than I did now.
Two hours later, I was ready for the unveiling. I had sneaked an occasional glimpse in the mirror during the process but had been unable to determine exactly what was happening.
I opened my eyes slowly and lifted them to the mirror. Oh my God! He did exist after all. It was me, but not me – if you know what I mean. My hair was a lovely warm shade of beige blonde, with highlights. It had been cut into a bob and lay smooth and sleek against my head, falling gently to my shoulders where it sat, plump and gleaming. My eyebrows were almost non-existent, but as I peered closer, I could see they arched delicately over my eyes. To say I was stunned was putting it mildly, and I looked up at the stylist as she stood behind me.
‘Oh thank you, thank you.’ I gushed.
She smiled knowingly at me and I suspected that she knew exactly which journey I had been on for the last few months and that it had not involved air travel.
‘Don’t leave it quite so long next time Madam. You have lovely hair and skin and it is a shame not to treat both with care.’
I took her admonishment to heart and staring down at my soft, manicured hands, I nodded a little emotionally.
I followed her to the reception desk and was whisked behind a curtain to retrieve my clothing. I came out and gave what I hoped was a generous tip to my saviour and watched her make way across the salon to her next customer. I turned to the receptionist who had my bill prepared in its own leather folder. I was beaming from ear to ear and it says a great deal for my acting ability that I managed to keep that going as I viewed the cost of my reformation. I could have restored a three-storey building for the cost. But, who’s counting? I felt on top of the world.
I found myself outside the salon amongst the bustling crowd. They milled around me, rushing to and fro between appointments and shopping. I beamed at each and every one of them. They skirted my small spot of pavement, assuming I was a mad woman, not an uncommon sight on the streets of London in this day and age.
I dragged my thoughts back to reality and was lucky enough to hail a cab that was just dropping off his previous fare the other side of the street. Time to get on with the rest of today’s project, and go and spend further money on self-improvement at the shops. My original idea, to be honest, was to hit Oxford Street with all it’s moderately priced high-street shops, but my ‘new look’ inspired me with a desire for a more exclusive choice of clothing.
Although we were only a few streets away from my destination, I was in a hurry to get there, so I stuck my head through the cab’s front window and uttered the immortal cry of serious shoppers everywhere. ‘Harrods, please.’ I leapt in the back and sat back for the short ride.
This was not a shopping trip but a ‘Showping’ expedition.’ Let me explain the difference.
Shopping is what you do in the supermarket, high street and on a weekly or daily basis.
‘Showping’ is an entirely different kettle of fish. I can best describe it by relating a story about a friend of mine called Stephanie.
One Saturday afternoon she went off to do the weekly shopping at the supermarket. She had one of those nippy little two-seater sports cars that would have needed a shoehorn and a crane for me to get in and out of. She loved her car, but was frustrated by the lack of boot space. It only had room for half the number of carrier bags of groceries that she needed for her weekly food shopping. This meant that the other half had to be crammed into the little passenger seat and in the foot well.
Stephanie worked as a successful independent business consultant and was therefore in possession of her own money; she had also recently come into a rather large inheritance. So, on this particular Saturday, she decided to make some changes. She reasoned that it was a bit daft for a woman her age to be driving around in a little sports car and that it was time to get a more suitable vehicle for her needs. It just so happened that on the way back from the supermarket, there was a car salesroom that was open on a Saturday afternoon.
Stephanie parked in the forecourt and pushed open the heavy, glass door. She glanced around the showroom and immediately saw the very car that fitted her requirements. A young salesman sauntered across arrogantly, introduced himself as Nigel, and nasally asked if he could be of any assistance. She explained that she wanted to test drive the black car in the corner and he obligingly went and collected the keys. He said he would drive, condescendingly pointing out that traffic was very heavy and that she might like a quieter road to try the vehicle out, once she had seen how the car handled with him behind the wheel.
While he had been at the desk, she had noticed him whisper something in the ear of an older man sat at a desk. They had both sniggered and she had the distinct impression that she had been labelled both middle-aged and on a thrill seeking exercise. She decided to indulge this little misconception of theirs and demurely sat in the passenger seat of her chosen car.
Nigel decided that he would give her the thrill of her life, and shot out of the showroom, across the forecourt and into the late Saturday rush hour. Holding the wheel with one hand and caressing the gear stick with the other; he dodged through the traffic. He kept glancing across at her and smiling as if expecting gasps and exclamations of horror from his companion and whistled to himself as he approached the entrance to the motorway. He shot down the ramp and joined the stream of cars heading home, manoeuvred into the outside lane and really put his foot down. He glanced across to my friend, and if he was hoping to see white knuckles and clenched teeth, he was disappointed. She just turned to him and smiled sweetly as he continued his childish little game. As they approached the next exit he indicated and cut across two lanes of traffic. He sped up the ramp onto the roundabout and was just about to cross the motorway for the return trip when my friend laid her hand on his arm.
‘My turn I think, don’t you?’ She said demurely. She fixed him with a very determined gaze and he shrugged and pulled into a convenient lay-by. My friend went around to the driver’s side and they swapped places. Nigel fastened his seat-belt and sat back prepared for what he obviously considered to be a sedate ride back to the garage. Ten minutes later, my friend pulled into the forecourt and went around to the passenger side of the car. She opened the door and Nigel unpeeled himself from the black leather seat and unclenched his white knuckled hands from the dashboard. She viewed his ashen face with some satisfaction and proceeded him to the desk at the back of the showroom where the older man sat looking somewhat puzzled at his younger colleague.
Stephanie looked down at the man and said quite simply. ‘I’ll take it.’
With that she wrote out a deposit cheque and told them to have it ready by Tuesday when she would be back with the balance in the form of a banker’s draft. With that she exited the showroom with a flourish and roared off in her little white sports car.
When she returned home, she informed her husband that she had bought a new, larger car that provided her with adequate space for shopping. He was quite frankly delighted, as he had thought it was a little inappropriate for her to be driving around in a sports car at her time of life. He naturally enquired as to what make of car she had bought, not too bothered as she was using her own money. ‘Oh!’ she said, without emotion, ‘It’s a three–door Japanese hatchback.’
Sure enough on his return from work on the following Tuesday there it was in the driveway, a three-door hatchback, masquerading as a nearly new Nissan 350 Z!
Now that’s what I call ‘Showping’!
Stephanie’s lifelong little hobby of rally driving had proved to be rather useful on this occasion, and we, as her friends, felt that she had struck a blow at the establishment for all of us.
I doubted that my next few hours were going to be quite as exciting as Stephanie’s had been, but I viewed them with as much excitement.
When I arrived home, in the early evening, and paraded up and down in front of my bedroom mirror, I was as proud of my purchases as she had been of her’s. I was due to see Andrew in the morning, and hopefully, he was going to be suitably impressed by my transformation. As I prepared a steak and salad for my dinner, I decided to leave the television switched off and continue my exploration of my past, and my talents, for the rest of the evening. I did feel rather guilty as I tucked into my rather large steak, and virtuous greenery, as meat was the worst thing I could be eating while reminiscing about the Mayhew School for Boys and Girls.
©Sally Georgina Cronin – Just an Odd Job Girl
Next time – Catering at the Mayhew school for boys and girls
One of the recent reviews for the book
After devoting her life to her family, Imogen is replaced by a younger woman (a fast-tracker) after twenty years of marriage and must overcome her self-doubt to move on to the next stage of her life.
Just an Odd Job Girl is a highly entertaining story of a fifty-year-old’s voyage into a working world she thought herself ill-equipped to handle until a new friend shows her just how much she truly has to offer.
There are many laugh-out-loud moments as Imogen relives her past vocations, everything from a nebulous job on the docks to a dentist’s assistant, a job in a funeral home, a restaurant manager, and more. It soon becomes obvious that Imogen is a Jack of all Trades and an asset to any employer.
Many wives and mothers of the era were stay-at-home caretakers for their families. They set aside career aspirations to make a safe and loving home for their children- often at the price of their own sense of value. Then the kids leave home, husbands become restless, and suddenly, the wife is left to absorb the loss and find her way to a new beginning. Not easy for anyone.
This is a highly entertaining read told by a wonderful storyteller. I especially enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek humor and the delightful ending- a well-deserved 5 star read!
You can find my other books and their recent reviews: Sally’s books and reviews 2022