I DIDN'T realise at first that I was on Mission Impossible. It seemed a simple enough quest: I was after a bobbin of pink thread.
I already had red thread, brown thread and navy thread. But it had to be pink, because I needed to take up the cuffs of a pink jacket.
Now, if I'd needed pink thread five years ago, I would have known exactly where to go.
The high street of the town nearest me had a shop that stocked all sorts of haberdashery.
It sold those iron-on name labels I need for the kids' school uniforms. It sold miniature cloth roses you could sew onto a little girl's hair clips. And, yes, it stocked thread in any colour you fancied.
Alas, that little shop has long since closed its doors. I don't know if it was done in by the recession, a road project that had jackhammers outside its doors for months, or the general dwindling of interest in sewing, knitting and the like.
All I know is, it's gone, leaving consumers like me in the lurch.
It's not the only irreplaceable little shop that's disappeared from my high street.
There used to be a tiny store that was like an Aladdin's Cave for the home, selling everything from plugs for your kitchen sink to little candle-holders in the shape of a train for a child's birthday cake.
Then there was the hardware store that operated out of a kiosk.
Whether you wanted a toilet plunger or plain brown wrapping paper, they'd have it squirrelled away. Gone.
The same thing's happening on traditional high streets in towns all around the country, and even in Dublin city centre. For decades we relied on these small independent enterprises, but now they're vanishing.
In theory, I have more choice than ever before when I go shopping.
After all, the country binged on shopping centres during the Celtic Tiger years. If I want a pricy item like a wide-screened telly, there are lots of shops to choose from.
But when it comes to the little everyday things I need, em, every day, I have no choice whatsoever. In fact, I can't get my hands on them at all.
I was optimistic enough when I first set off in search of my pink thread. I drove to a nice, big shopping centre--a clump of chainstores just like umpteen others around the country. I methodically worked my way through one chainstore after another: first Woodie's, then Heaton's, then Choice, then (in desperation), Lidl. Not a speck of pink thread to be found.
All is not lost. I do know of a few, resilient sewing shops that somehow survive. All I need to do is get into my car and drive to the nearest one--some 20 miles away.
Ah, but not to worry. There's always the internet, right? That's where the consumer rules, where anything that's legal can be summoned to my door with just a few clicks of the mouse. Yeah, right.
Oh, I can indeed order a bobbin of thread, in any shade of pink I like. Alas, for a €1.80 bobbin of thread, I'd have to pay €6 delivery.
That means the thread would end up costing me four times what it should.
On the upside, I could sidestep the delivery charge by, oh dear, ordering more than €70 worth of goods. Great, if I were opening a tailoring business. One big rip-off, if I simply want to take up the cuffs on a jacket.
Now, if I were an economist I could no doubt hold forth on how these small shops are disappearing because they're inefficient, uncompetitive or lack the scale to compete in today's marketplace.
But I'm not an economist -- I'm a consumer, and all I can do is mourn those wonderful, independent emporiums where I could get my hands on the goods I lacked.
And, yes, I'm still in need of pink thread.