These are not just strawberries, these are M&S strawberries…

Just back from a superb girlie weekend in Norfolk. We abandoned our long-suffering partners so they could do some father daughter bonding – well it was Fathers’ Day on Sunday wasn’t it – and headed off to stay with our old friend, who now lives in an idyllic farmhouse in the darkest depths of Norfolk.

As the weather put a long country walk off the agenda (typical as this time we had remembered to take our boots with us), we decided instead to hit Norwich and indulge in a touch of girlie shopping – the sort where you totally forget that you have husbands and children, and indeed forget that you are the wrong side of forty – and instead hunt out the bargains on the sale rails and spray yourself liberally with lots of expensive perfumes until you smell like the proverbial tart’s boudoir.

It was enormous fun, especially as we had to plan our route from one shop to the next according to the showers and huge black clouds.

As we are all ‘mature’ women, we decided to include  some culture in our day, so we spent an  hour or so in Norwich Cathedral. It was a perfect antidote to shopping. From the moment we entered the Cathedral Close, it was like stepping into a parallel universe where everything was calm and peaceful. If you haven’t been, it’s one of those places that’s well worth a diversion to see. There is an amazing modern extension over ancient ruins, which sits so well together. This weekend it was housing an exhibition on the development of the Bible, including some pages being printed. There was a Tyndale Bible, tiny and well used, but so evocative of a time when to read the Bible in English was forbidden.

Storm clouds over Norwich Cathedral

The stained glass in the Cathedral was remarkable. I’m always drawn to it, partly I think because the use of pattern in the glass often reminds me of the ways that we use wools in needlepoint – sorry, that’s a creative digression – anyway, that was what I liked most. I’ve found this amazing website which has photographs and information about the windows, have a look, some of them are just incredibly beautiful.

We had tea and cake in the Refectory/Restaurant – highly recommended. Apparently you can hire it for functions and I must say, if I lived nearer to Norwich, it would definitely be on my list of ‘possibles’.

We walked back to the Park and Ride bus stop via M&S’s Food Hall – to pick up a couple of things for dinner. What a sight – an entire aisle given over to strawberries and cream (well there were some token raspberries there too). I suppose it is the start of Wimbledon fortnight, you can tell because as we left, the heavens opened – again.

These are not just strawberries, they're M&S strawberries!

Are cardigans an endangered species?

My feet hurt, my back aches and my head is throbbing. Yes, you’ve guessed it, I’ve spent the morning trailing around Milton Keynes, looking for that most elusive of garments – the humble cardigan.

Now if you’re aged under 40, I don’t suppose you even know what a cardigan is, well at least judging by the complete dearth of them on the shelves in practically every fashion outlet in the town. But for me, they’re a pretty useful item of clothing – put them on when it’s chilly, take them off if you get a bit hot. I’m not talking about the strange cape-like, floor length things without buttons ( how are you supposed to wear those?) or those  itsy-bitsy little tops that leave your midriff exposed (surely the whole point is to keep you warm?) no, what I want is a simple full sleeve, button down the centre knitted cardy, like the ones I had way back when…

But oh deary me, clearly I am well off piste as far as the fashionistas are concerned, because finding a simple traditional, shall we even say a conservative cardigan is like finding a gold ticket to a chocolate factory.

I started the day at our nearest TK Maxx (I love those stores and normally do really well there), but not only did they not have any cardigans, they didn’t have any knitwear rail at all! Since when has the cardigan been a seasonal line? Surely in this climate, no sensible woman would be without a cardy on a cool summer evening…

Well, having failed at TK Maxx, I headed off to M&S. Here I thought I would have no problem, after all they supply a ‘classic’ range, aimed I suppose at the over 60’s – just right for me then. But alas no. A few items of knitwear masquerading as cardies, but as most of them had been constructed using a nasty nylon thread that practically gave off static shocks as you walked past and with holes big enough to be suitable for fishing endangered fish species – you know the ones that let the small fish pass through them – not at all the simple black and navy blue, round neck or v-neck, button up, long sleeve cardigan that I had in mind.

Having then failed at Next too (although to be fair to them, I hadn’t really expected to get one there), I was faced with the daunting task of driving up to the town centre itself. At least I consoled myself with the thought that John Lewis would certainly have a nice classic cardy for me. OK, I might have to pay through the nose, but I’d already begun to lose the will to carry on, and even if it was cashmere, I might not have refused to buy.

But it was all academic, for the hallowed halls of John Lewis also failed to supply any nice normal knitwear. In desperation, I trawled the whole shopping centre – if you know the place, you will now be experiencing sympathetic foot aches – two and a half hours after my little expedition started, I finally found what I was looking for – guess where.

And the prize for number one cardigan retailer of the day goes to, wait for it, drum roll…H&M. God bless them. It took a few minutes to find them, nestling in amongst the rather pretty but very flighty looking blouses and other tiny confections, but there they were, just waiting for me. Navy blue and black (also quite a lot of other colours), and would you believe it, only £9.99 each.

Here is a retailer who know their customers are going to need a layer to keep them warm, even when the sun does sometimes shine. What a splendid lot. But above all to be commended for their conservation work, for without them, who knows how long it would be before we became a nation bereft of the humble, but terribly useful cardigan.

Now my advice is that you stop whatever you are doing at this moment and go out to H&M and buy a cardigan. This will send them a message that they are doing the right thing. Then when you get back, write to your MP and demand that the dramatic decline in cardigan stocks in the UK be addressed as a matter of urgency. Do it now, because before you know it, it will be winter again and by then it might just be too late.