Monday, 12 December 2011

The First Great Trial of Christmas: Christmas Shopping

I should imagine you’ve barely recovered from the excitement of yesterday’s X Factor result, so what you need is another exciting edition of my blog to calm you down. I should first apologise for my shocking lack of blogging recently, it’s been nearly 3 weeks – or approximately the time I’ve spent traipsing up and down the high street and shopping centres Christmas Shopping.

That’s right I have just about completed The First Great Trial of Christmas: Christmas Shopping. Before embarking on Christmas shopping you need to decide which of the three basic routes you wish to adopt:

1. The Gift Voucher Option - Gift Vouchers, or for the more modern amongst you Gift Cards, are where you have your perfectly useful cash in the form of pounds sterling, that can be spent in any store with very limited restrictions. You take this cash into a store of your choosing and swap it for a new form of cash that can only be spent in that store, and must be spent within 24 months of being converted, cannot be used in conjunction with any special offer, and can never be converted into any other form of cash no matter how hard you try. Put like this it makes perfect sense. The good news about this major inconvenience you can inflict upon your friends and family is that it’s very easy to wrap. The main problem with this option is if, like me, somewhere back in late October-early November you had a Utopian vision of the perfect Christmas in which family and friends opened up the perfect, well-thought out presents you’d got them, Gift Vouchers probably didn’t feature. They represent virtually zero effort!

2. The Online Shopping Option. Online shopping is the future apparently, you go online and find your loved ones the perfect gifts, or after two hours of looking through the Boots website you go “sod it” and get them a set of toiletries. After several attempts to attempt to pay for these goods using your credit card, they are eventually dispatched to you, and it’s at this point you realise the estimated delivery date is April. At some point these will be attempted to be delivered to your house, when a card will be popped through the door telling you, that you were “out when we came to deliver the package”, even though you were in – because you have no social life. You’ll then be given the option to go and collect the package from your “local” depot, usually somewhere in Crawley, or for a small fee of £5 you can have them redelivered to your nearest store for collection, thusly removing the entire point of collecting online in the first place other than to pay an exorbitant postage & packing fee. Given my flat doesn’t have a letter box (for complicated reasons), it represents Fort Knox to the postman and thus online ordering is not for me.

3. In Store Shopping Option. Having exhausted all the above options I am left with the last resort, of actually going into a shop and purchasing goods in person. May god have mercy upon my soul.

So a couple of times over the last few weeks I headed to Westfield in London, the original one, not the “Stratford City” one – since when has Stratford been a city?:

Apologies for the lack of focus, my hands were shaking as I was having a fit before entering the store!

Here’s more proof, I should point out it’s 3pm in the afternoon not the dead of night as implied in this photo:

I was particularly excited about my trip to Westfield, because two years ago I went Christmas shopping there and was refused a free sample of alcohol in Marks & Spencer because I looked too young. Result!!! That wasn’t just a boost to my ego, that was an M&S boost to my ego!

If you believe the news reports, then if you do decide to go shopping in real shops rather than online, you should be walking into a ghost town, with shop keepers begging you, the only shopper in sight, to purchase their wares – this is a lie. For the purposes of December Westfield has been twinned with Purgatory and represents the second busiest place you can go shopping in Central London, unfortunately to get there I have to change tubes at Oxford Circus, the first busiest place you can go shopping in Central London. Surprisingly enough this didn’t go well, and so I have put together a list of the 10 most frustrating things about my Christmas shopping experience, in the hope that this will give you some insight and tips and allow you to avoid the pitfalls I’ve succumbed to. At the very least it will allow me to vent my rage and get these things off my chest.

1. Bags. Invariably you will want to do all your Christmas shopping in one go to avoid countless trips to hell and back, which means at some point you will end up with thousands of carrier bags. What you certainly don’t want is your bloody carrier bag to split:

This results in countless stops as you slump in the fire exit of a store, whilst you rearrange all your shopping like some decrepit bag lady. Then you have to go into Next and demand that they give you 8 extra large carrier bags, even though you’ve only bought a box of cufflinks, to re-triple bag your shopping before all your bags explode all over Westfield in a shit, very unfunny version of Buckaroo. And let’s be honest Buckaroo wasn’t fun to start with.

2. Picky Relatives. Some relatives can be picky, I shan’t name names just in case they are reading, but they lay down ground rules for getting them Christmas gifts: No clothes (I have no room in my wardrobe), no toiletries (the bathroom is full), no food (I’m on a diet), no gift vouchers (they’re not personal enough), no alcohol (I’m a recovering alcoholic and it would be inappropriate) – that last one might be a lie. Then when you ask what you can get them they say “Oh don’t worry you don’t need to get me anything”. Fine I won’t. That approach should go down about as well as a Christmas card from Wikileaks at the White House. So instead for the sake of peace I navigate Westfield for all eternity (or the time it takes Louis Walsh to answer the question “In one word who do you want to send home from the X Factor tonight?” – depending on your chosen measurement of time), looking for a gift that like Piers Morgan’s charisma doesn’t actually exist. Best I could find is a reindeer that pooes chocolate covered raisins – any good?

3. People. Christmas shopping would be bearable if it weren’t for the fact that other people are there. Apparently it’s too much to ask for Westfield to be cleared for my visit, because all these other selfish people are busy buying gifts for their loved ones – gits. The main problem is stores are generally crammed full of much merchandise as physically possible. They are usually laid out such that one medium wasted person can easily pass up and down an isle, this as a policy fails when you try to pass down the aisle with 84 bags of shopping whilst coming the other way is a woman armed with a double buggy and an arse the size of a badly parked Vauxhall Vectra.

4. Buying for Yourself. The fatal pitfall of Christmas shopping is buying for yourself, understandable when everyone else is so difficult to get for, but still you must resist that pair of jeans, DVD, computer games console or new car, particularly as undoubted if you do get it, someone will have already got that exact same thing for you for Christmas (probably not the car). As a rule of thumb if you’ve bought yourself an entirely new wardrobe, and all you’ve bought for other people is one packet of gift tags – then that shopping trip is generally not considered to be “Christmas shopping” and is in fact known as “shopping”.

5. Sunday Closing. Many years ago when I was young, sometime around the Bronze Age, Sunday opening was very rare. You had to go a big town to find shops that opened on a Sunday and then it was only big department stores. Now everywhere is open on a Sunday regardless of whether you want it to be or not, and as society we now can’t live without it. Hence my annoyance that one store is Westfield proclaims itself to be “Keeping Sunday Special” by not opening an Sundays, this is not helpful, I have come shopping on Sunday because I work during the week. What about “Keep Wednesday Special”? I’ve never got time to go shopping on a Wednesday, its Frozen Planet night after all (aren’t he penguins sweet?). Moral high grounds are all good, but don’t let them inconvenience me.

6. Decorations. Shopping centres and town centres at this time of you attempt to display a selection of festive decorations in order to calm you down and make you feel festive during the shopping period. For example:

As you can see Westfield have gone for decorating their trees such that they appear to have survived the aftermath of Chernobyl, this is not making me cheerful. Quite frankly given that I’m so stressed during shopping that even the presence of scantly clad models handing out vodka and crisp fifty pound notes would probably do nothing to calm my nerves, you can imagine how I feel about snowman suspended from the ceiling like Russel Grant on Strictly Come Dancing. Not calming at all.

7. Christmas Music. I would say my tolerance for Christmas music is higher than most, I am in fact listening to some now as I rant about my shopping experience. Though one particular year when I spent October having a Pizza Hut meal with a friend and was forced to listen to the same Christmas CD on loop for two hours, I did have a different opinion to Christmas music. However, the general rule is, it’s all about appropriateness. It wouldn’t have been appropriate to begin the allied Shock & Awe assault on Baghdad to the soundtrack of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face. Similarly the sound of children screaming, valuable crockery smashing, and people rowing in Westfield is not best rounded off by a rendition of Cliff Richard’s Mistletoe & Wine.

8. Receipts. Over recent years I have noticed a disturbing trend to receipts, they either handed to you with a pile of paperwork consisting of a series of vouchers that I don’t want – do I look like I want half price children’s books or £5 off my next No. 7 purchase? I don’t think so. Alternatively they are printed on ridiculously long pieces of paper, recently I went to Hamleys to buy some toys – no I’ve not become a paedophile, they were comedy gifts for a friend! I only purchased two items, but because of the promotional blurb and an offer for money off at Leeds Castle printed at the bottom of the receipt, I was a presented with a receipt that was a foot long – genuinely I measured it (god I need to get a partner, my life is dull). What if I had children and bought a stocking full of toys? I’d probably have been presented with a receipt long enough to embalm myself in, or at the very least form a noose and end it all – which in fairness in Hamleys at Christmas time may be the only option. The upshot of all this is my wallet is now filled with enough receipts and money off vouchers that I could beat a whale to death with it, it’s thicker than the Argos catalogue – although not quite as thick as an Argos employee. And the one solitary fiver in there has spontaneously combusted due to being compacted in with so much paper.

9. Shops that make you Queue Outside. At Westfield there is a number of desirable designer shops that wish to make them seem more aspirational than they really are, to this end they make people queue up outside in a roped off area. I’m sorry but f**k off, you aren’t the log flume at Chessington World of Adventures, why on earth do you think I’d want to queue up to see all the things I can’t afford in the shop that you don’t have in my size. I think you’ll find I’ll be doing my Christmas shopping in good old unfashionable M&S where everyone is welcome. Admittedly everyone will think their gifts are unfashionable, but at least they’ll stop being my friends and I won’t have to go Christmas shopping for them ever again.

10. Shop Assistants. Now I have been a shop assistant, in fact pretty much all my after dinner anecdotes are based at my time working in a shop. So I do know the pressure some shop assistants are under, and many of them are very good. However many of them complete troglodytes, shambling around the store like a disembodied Margaret Beckett. Case in point, I spent thirty minutes in Boots, the world’s most impossible store to navigate (every aisle’s bloody bottles and no matter how they label the aisle I still don’t know where to look for what I want). This half an hour consisted of me being sent repeatedly upstairs and downstairs by different shop assistants who themselves hadn’t a clue where the item I wanted was. Still it’s better than in shoe shops. Typically there’s no one to serve you at all, so you grab the one shoe on display then wander round like sodding Prince Charming looking for Cinderella to see if she’s got the other crystal slipper in a size 11. Which results in them just nipping out to the stock room, which judging by the time it takes them must be located on the dark side of the Moon. They then finally return to say they don’t have a size 11, but they do have a size 6 would that be any help? Only if I wanted to wear them on my hands you idiot!!

11. Inappropriate Drinks. To ease the pain of Westfield shopping I arranged to meet a friend at Costa for a drink and a chat / moan about our tedious lives. Feeling rather festive I decided to order a Frosted Mint Hot Chocolate – how something can be Frosted and Hot at the same time I’m not quite sure, but it was on the Christmas menu nonetheless. I was then asked if I wanted chocolate sprinkles on it, to which I said yes and then was presented with this:

I’m sorry what the bloody hell is this?! As a terminally single man, I don’t want to be presented with a beverage that’s had more romantic existence than me. Why not just rub it in and present me with a chocolate muffin shagging an apple turnover, or a cheese and ham baguette surrounded by hundreds of other cheese and ham baguettes having a wonderful birthday. F**k you! It is not helping, it ranks up there with people snogging on the escalators of the London Underground, don’t do it I will push you to your deaths – you have been warned.

12. People who claim to have a Top 10 of things to rant about, but get carried away… Yeah alright sorry, I got carried away. I am off to have a lie down and some strong medication, hope this guide proves of some use or failing that you ostracise all your friends and family in the next 12 days and don’t bother. If only.


Holly said...

"For the purposes of December Westfield has been twinned with Purgatory" Hee hee!

I'm going online after reading that!

PS. Thank you for my present :-)

Matt said...

Holly you'll destroy the High Street!! What would Mary Portas say?

PS. You're welcome (I should point out Holly didn't get a present just for commenting on my blog, just in case other readers feel doing so will get them a gift!)