I do know her real name, but I always think of her as Mrs Cleansleeves.
That's the name of my local dry cleaners ,which she and her family run. It's always a pleasure to go there, because there she is with her infectious smile and wry good humour. Customer service and relations: brilliant. She should be running the National Health Service.
She's never failed to retrieve whatever garments I've lost the tickets for. The family does serious wizardry with the most impossible stains, and they'll sometimes put a garment through three or four cleans just to make sure it's perfect.
Our relationship got onto a new level of mutual interest and confidence when she admired one of my favourite dresses, and I told her I'd got it for ten pounds in a charity shop.
Oh, she said, I'd never have thought you could get anything as good as that in a charity shop.
So then followed the discussion of where you can find the charity shops that are full of such things. Mainly, they're in districts where some of the residents only wear an outfit a couple of times before they turn it in so they can make room in their mega-wardrobes for the next must-have thing. But there is this one up in north Finchley where you can find the most amazing stuff if you hit it on a lucky day, and the people who donate books read all the same stuff I like to read.
I'd dropped in on Friday to collect my daughter's winter coat (three weeks after I should have done, and of course I'd lost the ticket). I told her my daughter had just got engaged.
So when we'd got through why I'm really happy about it, even though she's still so young, she started telling me about her fifteen year old daughter. No ambition, she said. Just wants to be married. I can't understand it. And we mulled over the wisdom of not appearing to oppose sentiments like that, because if you do, it makes them all the more determined to have their way.
Does that mean she's wanting you to find her a husband, I asked.
Yes, it does, she said, and she looked at me cautiously. Er, we do try to have the family arrange.....
Because who could love her and care more for her good, I said. And she beamed and relaxed because she realised I was sympathetic to arranged marriages. Unlike most people born in Britain, both sets of my grandparents and all their generation had arranged marriages. And as far as I've been able to find out, they seem to have been quite as happy, and in quite a few cases, happier than my parents' generation, who were the first to make their own marriages.
She told me that her parents had arranged her own marriage on the basis of just an exchange of photos. Though she and her husband had then corresponded for months before they met for the first time. On the day they married. But she said that she did feel that they had got to know each other.
And he's a very good man, she said. Now my sisters, they were both married within a month of the exchange of photos. That was all. When they were married, they each got into bed with a complete stranger.
There wasn't time to pursue that. We got into talking about the astronomical costs of Jewish and Hindu weddings. I told her my friend who knows about such things said you can't do a Jewish wedding in England for less than twenty thousand pounds. In terms of affordability that's about nineteen thousand five hundred beyond my means. I told her I'd raised my daughter to expect a fizzy drinks-and-crisps sort of wedding if she chose to get married. But though she'd be fine with that, there's other expectations. So it's me versus the twenty thousand pounds.
Mrs Cleansleeves told me she's got the same attitude to Hindu weddings as I have to Jewish ones. You can't do a Hindu wedding for less than twenty five thousand pounds, she told me. And we both rolled our eyes over the people who get themselves into astronomical amounts of debt to fund weddings which present them as much richer than they really are, and what's the point, when you could give the money to the young people to fund their lives together. Or avoid a subsequent life of misery trying to pay off the debt.
I think Mrs Cleansleeves might have quite a struggle with her daughter if she still feels the same way five years down the line.
The odd thing is that on that Friday, there was also a programme about weddings--English weddings-- on Woman's Hour. It was riveting, because they had a woman who's written a book called The Wedding Bible ( I can just imagine) and a wonderfully subversive wedding sceptic, who kept saying things like, why not get the wedding dress at Oxfam? It was about how you can do budget weddings, and it made me feel slightly better about the twenty thousand pounds Jewish wedding baseline, because it actually says on their web site, that the average cost of an English wedding is... nearly twenty thousand pounds.
And I didn't like to tell Mrs Cleansleeves, who hasn't got to that point yet, that the TV programme I saw on weddings in different ethnic communities had a very unpretentious Hindu woman on it who said that the average Hindu wedding costs forty five thousand pounds.....