This is how it happened. I bought a dress from the website of a popular high-street clothing retailer some weeks ago. My humdrum Ms Average size, or any close approximation of it, had sold out of all local branches, and as a direct consequence, my desire to have it increased exponentially until it was entirely disproportionate to how much I wanted the item in the first place. So I tickled my Visa at the online branch and a few days later went on holiday, looking forward to the parcel that would be there on my return. As a borderline fantasist, I imagined a brown paper package tied up – of course – with string, as though it had fallen out of one of the chapters of Little Woman. Nobody dreams of a dull grey eezee-seal polythene sack. Where, I ask you, is the romance in seeing that wedged through your letterbox?
Anyway. I returned from mes vacances a week later, relaxed, tanned, glowing. At least one of these is true.
There was no parcel.
There was, instead, a card from the courier company explaining that they had tried to deliver my dress, but that I was not in. No flies on our courier in that respect. But in the space where he was contractually obliged to write where he had left the parcel, he had written the cryptic legend 'Inside edges.'
Please explain, I said politely to the customer services department, after a thorough exploration of my front drive yielded no parcel. The call centre drone looked my order up on her computer. He left it behind a tree, she said. There are no trees on my front drive, I said. This did not bode well. I tried to express my conviction that it had been stolen, since to leave any package outside a house on a main road in south London - or any London – was reckless, to say the least. She said she would check again with the courier company and call me back later that day. With numbing predictability, 4 days passed.
When I rang back, a slightly more sentient drone agreed that it was a stupid thing to write on the card and a stupid non-place to leave a package and a refund was the only way forward. Especially as, in my head, I was beginning to doubt my commitment to the dress in the first place, and none of us are made of money.
About a week and a half later, I came home to find a scuffed up, dull grey eezee-seal polythene sack on the shelf in the hall, with a note from my downstairs neighbour saying 'Hi Hanna.' Luckily, with what was to come, he more or less recovered from this inauspicious start. 'I found this while I was cutting the hedge.'
It was, of course, the dress. The courier must truly have stuffed the package into the foliage, right up to his elbow. He is truly the James Herriott of couriers. A courier taxidermist. Whatever. I wondered then if 'inside edges' had actually been 'inside hedges' all along, just mangled by the inferior literacy of the courier? Mrs Jones said she had suspected this all along. She had neglected to mention it previously. Alternatively, the courier may simply have been a cockney.
But what would have happened if my neighbour had shirked the responsibilities stipulated by his lease, and not taken about the hedge with the shears? As Miss Rush suggested, my dress could have been there for years, to be found in the future, Blue Peter time-capsule-style. Presumably the digitally sired robots finding it in the year 2070 would wonder why on earth anyone would want a knee-length viscose leopardprint dress, although it must be said that some people are wondering that right now.
So there I was with a refund in the bank and a dress. Those of you who are involved in Neighbourhood Watch, or who enjoy a TV crime drama, will have deduced that I am now a thief. But should I refund the refund? Is it a fair cop? Must I begin calling my superiors guv?
Or should I run, run for my life with the dress on, and the high, patent shoes that would look best with it in a bag over my shoulder, to be put on when I've finished running?
I don't know what you would do, readers, but in the matter of Miss Jones versus The Man, I am claiming this as a tiny victory.