This is how the West Country Times broke the news of my retirement earlier today.

DBLW has been my life for more than 50 years. Walking away won’t be easy, in every sense. I keep telling myself I’ll be busy writing the House of Brazil retrospective, Just My Look which has been commissioned by People’s Friend. That will take me up to October. Don Chaff has helped me to convert the back bedroom into a study. He couldn’t get the bed out, not on his own, but there was just enough room to fit a dining chair in there along with an old ironing board which makes an ideal desk. I feel like Jean Plaidy when I’m up there.

After October I want to get back to writing the first instalment of my memoirs. Setting Up the Apple Cart will cover the years 1932 to 1957. I am also working on a project for the theatre. They say, write about what you know. Ruche the Musical is set in a west country ladies wear shop where the two protagonists sing and dance their way through a tense autumn sale in 1985. Think Glengarry Glen Ross meets Grease 2. I don’t want to give too much away but one of the more up-tempo numbers involves a car crashing through a plate glass window at high speed.

Next year I was thinking about visiting my old friend Lee Majors in Hollywood. It’s been almost 10 years since we’ve spoken so there’ll be a lot of catching up to do. Lee used to be President of the Appleton Marsh Playing Fields Association when he lived here; he made a lot of friends in this part of the world. Margaret might come with me.

I do intend to go on the mini safari through Haldon Forest during the black fallow deer rutting season. Whether Flo will go with me this year is another matter. Perhaps I can persuade  Connie Jackson.

I also intend to make more time for our local MP Neil Parish. He doesn’t know me very well, yet. I feel there are a lot of issues that he’d appreciate being made aware of. At the moment I am especially vexed by the soap dispensers in the town centre toilets. The other day I spent a full hour trying to get soap out of one. It was like an aerobic workout. I felt like Olivia Newton-John.

So, 80 years. Who would have thought it? Who would have thought they’d ever see Flo take the helm of the flagship DBLW store. She’s by no means the finished article but I’m sure she’ll pick it up and she’ll do just fine. Kirsty will be helping out to begin with.

I once said, it used to be the big things I didn’t understand: God, the universe. Then it was the small things that I didn’t understand: memory sticks, iPods. Now I find the spectrum of things that I do understand is narrowing rapidly. With every day that passes the world becomes just a little more inexplicable. It’s difficult to explain. Flo knows what I mean. Everybody goes on about mid-life crises but let me tell you, late-life crises are much worse. Maybe it’s because, by then, you’ve run out of choices.

I’m tired. I don’t feel myself. Today I’ve looked my age. It doesn’t help that I’m over-faced with Toffifees and Bombay mix. The Teasmade is primed. I have some hard skin on my elbows that I want to rasp. I’m going to have a lie down.

It’s a sign of the times. DBLW is having it’s first mid-season sale since Bette Middler topped the charts with her power ballad From a Distance in 1991.
Back then negative equity were the two words on everyone’s lips although the concept was nothing new. A smart viscose blouse with puff sleeves costing £18 from DBLW one day would fetch no more than a £1 in the Sue Ryder shop the next. Kirsty’s Picasso was worth 25% less as soon as she’d stalled and juddered her way off the dealership’s forecourt – 30% if you count hitting the bollard. But it was as though the phrase negative equity was invented just for property.
I’ve owned my own house since 1968 so I shouldn’t worry, but I do. Neg-Eck hasn’t yet reached Appleton Marsh but according to the West Country Times it has set up camp outside Bovey Tracey. It’s very bad news for my customers. Take Margaret Chaff. She’s old enough not to have a mortgage but then she’s led a rackety life, squandering money on a lean-to here or a holiday to Carmarthen there; her collection of Capodimonte figurines would stretch from here to Torquay. I saw Margaret just this morning. She looks haunted. It wasn’t long before we were talking about money:
“You can’t take it with you, Doris,” she said, stoically.
“Well you certainly can’t,” I told her.
“We’ve had the estate agents around, Doris,” she said.
“What for? You’re not selling are you?” I said.
“It’s too big for us,” she lied.
“But you’ve just had the lean-to built,” I said.
“That was over ten years ago,” she said, looking astounded.
“Was it really?” I said, trying to look not in the least bit astounded, to compensate.
“And anyway, it’s an orangery not a lean-to.”
I looked at her questioningly.
“That’s what it says in the sales particulars, Doris,” she said. “Don says our orangery is a listed building. He says it lists to the left.”
That set us both off. We laughed and laughed.
“Seriously,” Margaret said at last. “The estate agent said the orangery knocks ten thousand pounds off the property. He valued the place at less than when we bought it.
“But you bought it in the summer of 1976!” I said. “That can’t be right, Margaret.”
“It didn’t have that electricity pylon in the back garden when we bought it.”
I hadn’t thought about it like that before.
“And that funeral parlour opposite was a flower shop in 1976.”
She was right. I could remember it.
“We’re in negative equity, Doris,” she said, her shoulders sagging.
“Can’t you sell some Capo?” I suggested, trying to be constructive.
“The Capo market is flat,” she said. She told me how even the tramps on benches weren’t fetching much. “Capo has lost its lustre,” she lamented.
Oh Margaret, I don’t know what to say,” I said to her.
Perhaps I withheld the brutal truth out of a misguided loyalty. Perhaps I could see that Margaret was a woman on the edge. Perhaps I needed to serve a customer and had to cut her short.
Whichever one it was, Margaret left the shop and took her troubles with her while I served the customer.

No, I’ve not landed a top job in the Deutsche Bundesbank!

Thank you to all those of you who pointed out that Angela Merkel was wearing an outfit from Doris Brazil Ladies Wear at this week’s EU Summit. This tangerine crowd-pleaser, made by Croatian fashion house Split Personality, is also available in Teal and in Taupe.

Mrs Merkel and I are cut from the same cloth. It’s a case of right time, right place for both of us. I shall be writing to the German Chancellor to congratulate her on her choice of outfit and drawing her attention to similar garments from the DBLW power-dressing rail.

I think it was Bette Davies who said that old age is not for sissies, and how right she was.

Nothing prepares you for it. When you’re young you don’t ever think you will get old. Those girls wearing ankle chains won’t believe it if you tell them that one day they’ll be sporting corn pads instead. All those flowery tattoos that adorn their bodies will inevitably wither.

Old age, on the other hand, does do a brilliant job of preparing you for death. The way I feel these days, I dare say when the time comes it will be a blessed relief. All I ask is that I go with a modicum of dignity – no dramatic death spirals to the floor please, no fixed look of horror on my face to haunt the neighbour who discovers me; spare me the open mouth and strand of spittle.

I’m eighty in July. Flo calls it the new seventy but I don’t listen to anything she has to say. Margaret Chaff is trying to persuade me to have a birthday party to celebrate me getting this far, but here is the rub – all my friends are the same age. Can a gathering of eighty year olds really be called a party? Won’t it just remind us that the next time we’ll all be together will probably be to pay our last respects to one of us?

I don’t know what to do for the best. I’m going to sleep on it. I’ve primed the teasmade, I’m at work in the morning, I’m going to bed.

“Oh, Doris, how can we go on like this?”

What Veronica meant was, “Oh Doris, how can a business survive a perfect storm of punitive rent, low footfall and discounted sales?”

Veronica and Peter opened “Say Cheese”, an artisan cheese shop, on the High Street at the end of last year. Peter had been running the Paco Rabanne franchise in Debenhams in Exeter when a health scare made him to reappraise his life. He and Veronica decided to follow their dream – appropriate given we’re talking about cheese here – and open their little shop in Appleton Marsh.

Well, Veronica and I hit it off straight away and over the months she has become a frequent visitor to DBLW, even purchasing two hard-to-shift tabards for her and Peter to wear in the shop.  It was to only be expected that Veronica should come to look upon me as a mentor and life-coach so it came as no surprise when, this morning, she turned to me for advice.

 “V,” I said. “To you and Peter I expect high fashion and curdled dairy products seem worlds apart but they’re not so different. The first rule of retail always applies – give the customers what they want.”

She nodded, taking it all in.

I switched into coaching mode. This is where the coach (me) knows that the answers lie within the coachee (V) and sets about skilfully teasing these out with insightful questioning.

“When people come into a cheese shop, V, what do you think they want to buy?”

“Cheese?” she suggested. It was a good start.

“Yes,” I agreed. “Well done. And what is Britain’s most popular cheese?”

“Cheddar?”

“Cheese brand?”

She thought about this, searching deep inside herself for the answer.

“Cathedral City?”

“Correct. And V, what do you think is Britain’s second most popular cheese?”

“Pilgrim’s Choice?” she ventured.

“That’s right,” I said softly, still in coaching mode.

“And V, now can you tell me what is this country’s third most popular cheese?”

She had to think long and hard about this.

“Dairylea Triangles?” she said, eventually.

“Well done V,” I encouraged her.

“Now, which of these three cheeses do you stock?”

She looked at me with dilated pupils and I knew, V had just found the answer within.

This week at DBLW, security is under the spotlight – or two spotlights to be precise.

As a forward-thinking businesswoman I have responded to a recent security breach at our flagship store with a series of measures designed to ensure the perpetrators cannot perpetrate again.

Firstly those spotlights. Two 3000 watt halogen security lights mounted above the shop door will discourage loiterers after dusk. For anyone stopping to admire the fashions in my shop window they’ll think they’ve arrived at a film première. They’ll see the bones in their arms when those critters are activated. 

Secondly, all DBLW staff have been issued with I.D. cards. At the moment we’re just talking about Flo, but in time the scheme will be rolled out to cover our summer intern.  Predictably, Flo had words to say about this – “overkill” and something about “feeling stupid” amongst them – but I quoted Henry Ford back at her (“if I’d asked people what they wanted they’d have said a faster horse”). When she wouldn’t desist from her protestations, I ignored her and that proved to be more effective.

Thirdly, I’ve bought for the staff room which says: “WARNING – THIEVES OPERATE IN THIS AREA.” My hope is that this measure will discourage whoever it was who finished off the last of the Abbey Crunch without even asking.

We’ll see what effect these measures have before DBLW moves to DEFCON 4.

I only took delivery of my new Dyson DC39 (with its much vaunted radial root technology) last Wednesday and already it’s presented me with something of a conundrum.

The point it this. I keep my house spotless and always have done. So I ask you – what is it that keeps filling up the dust container? I must have emptied it a dozen times already. At first I thought it was destroying my carpets but whatever is in the perspex canister it is a greyish colour and my Axminster veers towards a more vibrant colour palette. When I deposit it in the wheelie bin my head is enveloped in a choking cloud of dust and here is the curious thing – it doesn’t smell unpleasant. Think of a cross between Avon Bond Girl 007 and Yardley’s Old English Lavendar.

Could it be dead skin? That’s what I’m thinking.

But so much of it?

Over the years could my scaling skin have worked its way down into the carpet fibres and been trodden in?  If that is the case, I tell you, I’ve already sucked up three whole Doris Brazils. What a shame they can’t be re-hydrated – I could do with the company. And if it turns out that’s what’s happened I am left wondering what my Electrolux has been doing all these years apart from making an infernal noise to give the impression it was doing something useful?

The DC39 instructions say to clean the filter every 3 months but I’ve been doing it every day, tapping it against the outside wall like there’s no tomorrow. It’s quite a workout at my age. I’m hoping a good downpour will sort out the grey marks down the brickwork. 

The rest of me will be collected on Tuesday morning and taken to landfill. The refuse operatives will get a pleasant surprise when they smell the contents of my wheelie bin. I bet they’d be interested to know what’s going on. I might leave a note out to explain.

My cylinder vacuum cleaner has conked out. I bought it in the 70s and it still has the same bag. I didn’t expect it to go on forever but I was cautiously optimistic that I would cross the finishing line before it did. Now I’m faced with the prospect of buying a new Electrolux – at my age.

This morning Flo minded the shop while I popped along the High Street to do a little research at Maxwell’s Electricals of Appleton Marsh. I say popped – it took me an hour to get down there. It was Leslie Maxwell Senior himself that served me.

“I recommend a Dyson,” said Leslie, pointing out a garish plastic see-through contraption.

I had to laugh.

“Why would I want my understairs cupboard to look like a discotheque?”

“It has suction second to none,” he declared. “It uses dual cyclone technology.”

“Have you seen my house, Leslie?” I asked. “The most it will have to cope with is the occasional savoury snack spillage. Dual cyclone sounds a bit overkill.”

“Don’t dismiss the idea, Doris. This weekend we have 20% off the DC39,” he said, gesturing towards another vulgar purple thing.

“The DC39 has radial root technology and a triggerhead tool which is turbine head controlled at the handle, so no bending down.”

Leslie is a salesman. He knows which buttons to press.

“It has a stubborn dirt brush, Doris, for removing hard-to-shift dirt.”

“What are you trying to say, Leslie?”

He backtracked.

“In case Flo wants to borrow it, Doris. You’ll find when you own this machine you’ll be the talk of Appleton Marsh.”

Another button pushed.

“And it comes with a 25 year guarantee, Doris.”

I looked at him askance. If you’ve never seen one of my askance looks they’re hard to describe, but Leslie recognised it for what it was.

“Leslie, as you know, I am by nature a glass seven-eighths full person but even I don’t think I’ll be claiming on a warranty when I’m 104 years of age. What’s more, you’re older than me and wouldn’t be around to honour it anyway.”

He nodded.

“We do a 5 year guarantee as standard,” he said.

“Now you’ve gone the other way,” I said. “Do I look as if a 5 year guarantee will see me out?”

“No, no. Not at all,” he smiled, turning on the charm. “You look as young today as the day I first set eyes on you.”

I shook my my head in pity.

“You do talk claptrap, Leslie.”

I shouldn’t have sworn but honestly – he first set eyes on me over 50 years ago when, by my recollection, my skin wasn’t like ancient parchment covered in liver spots and my hair was dark and at least covered my scalp.

“So, let’s talk turkey. How much for the talk of Appleton Marsh machine?

“£439 less your 20% discount is…”

“£351.20,” I said, saving him the bother of finding a calculator. “But what will I have to pay?”

“I can maybe knock off another 5% because we’re old friends.”

“And what about if I don’t want the 25 year guarantee?”

If he’d forgotten that he was dealing with the arch-negotiator, he knew now.

“Okay, I’ll knock off 10%, so that’s a 30% discount, but your guarantee will only last 5 years.”

I wasn’t listening.

“What about a discount for collecting in person?”

“Look Doris, let’s just call it £300 – for you.”

“Can I pay in instalments?”

He looked at me suspiciously. I knew what he was thinking.

“Only over 12 months,” I said.

“He still looked me up and down with an actuarial eye.”

“Doris Brazil you drive a hard bargain,” he laughed at last, spitting into the palm of his hand and extending it. Leslie’s airways are a bit mucousy these days so I didn’t participate in the ritual shake.

“Deal,” I said. “Deliver it on Wednesday afternoon at three o’clock. And don’t be late.”

It’s a slight incline back to DBLW and it took almost an hour and a half to haul my weary limbs back by which time Flo was almost at meltdown.

“What took you so long?” she whispered. “I’ve had four customers in since you left. I had two at once!”

“Not now, Flo,” I told her. “I need to rest my legs. You ‘man’ the counter while I take my break.”

I made sure to avoid eye contact with her as I made a bee-line for the DBLW staff room. Flo doesn’t know it yet but that little act of petulance just cost her another Employee of the Month award.

Exciting news!!!

I am taking a break from working on my warts and all, no holds barred, take no prisoners autobiography, “Setting Up the Apple Cart”, to work on a new project about my fifty years at the leading edge of the west country fashion curve.

“Just My Look” will be a hardcover retrospective, a glossy celebration of the House of Brazil told in an irresistible combination of stunning colour pictures, power quotes and inspirational little vignettes from yours truly.

The contract has been signed and I’m now working with the editorial team from People’s Friend on the exact content.  I am hoping that former youthquake “It Girl” Jean Shrimpton will write the foreword. Jean now owns the Abbey Hotel hotel in Penzance – Kirsty’s boyfriend, Sebastian, fitted a carpet there last year and thinks he can swing it for me.

Expect the low-down on plunging necklines, a sleeves rolled up guide to tee shirts, the inside track on racy lingerie and the word on the street about the word on the High Street.

Prepare to access all areas of Doris Brazil. 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.