Post-Traumatic Sales Syndrome

I’ve had quite a bad cold over Christmas. I’m a man so it’s probably not really that bad, I just suffer it badly. Anyway, the point is this: I’ve been couped up, eating too much, drinking too much, swallowing handfuls of Beechams Flu Plus and Lemsip Max Strength every four hours and not being totally clear-headed for more than about six and a half minutes at a time.

So, it was with some trepidation that I decided I would brave the sales today. Actually, my wife decided I would brave the sales today but that’s hardly the point – the decision was made by the same process as ninety per cent of my other decisions so I will claim it as one of my own and maintain the tenuous grasp on my independence and masculinity.

We went to a local Shopping Centre, one of the biggest outside the city centre that not only houses a Game store but also has a Zavvi and some stupid girly clothes shops that would keep the missus out of my way for half an hour while I splurged all of our money for the next month on ridiculously cheap game-related merchandise. Or so I thought. What transpired was the most unpleasant shopping experience of my life. Or at least since the time I fell out of my pushchair and put my teeth through my lip but I only vaguely remember that so I don’t think we can really count it.

Our day out shopping started as they all do, we got into the car and drove the short trip to the shopping centre, into the car park, straight up to the roof – nobody ever parks on the roof because the lifts are slower than an arthritic tortoise with a stone in his shoe. No spaces. This is where my normal shopping experience ended and the catalogue of disaster started. I drove around that car park for twenty-five minutes and not once did I see a space without at least two other cars trying to beat each other into it. Fair enough, it’s busy, we tried the other car park. No luck.

We ended up having to park in Marks & Spencer’s car park which was over the road and we only got that space out of pure luck. So I had to endure M&S before we could make the ten minute walk to the real shops. M&S is like a very middle class jumble sale only without the tombola and a raffle for a bottle of Pimms. There were hundreds of over-perfumed octogenarians pulling jumpers to pieces in an attempt to check if they were real cashmere. It was horrible, I’d rather take my chances in TK Maxx any day of the week.

That hideous experience out of the way, we made the unwelcome trek to the proper shops. I should have known from the treacherous journey through the car park that things were going to get worse, I was nearly killed by a Mercedes with a “I slow down for horses” window sticker. It appeared that horses were the only mammal they were prepared to slow down for.

Entering the shopping centre we encountered a scene not unlike those aid shipments you see on the news, where a truck arrives with a couple of dozen sacks of rice with “Gift From The USA” written on the side and four thousand people kill each other with lumps of donkey shit in an effort to get their share. It was carnage, in my head I edited it like those battle scenes in Platoon, all quick cuts and long fades of people with desperate expressions falling down and screaming. I take a deep breath, and into the Heart of Darkness we go.

Why do people take their kids shopping? It can’t be pleasant for anyone involved. The child, if in a pushchair, is used as a weapon to carve a path through a crowd of people who were, only five seconds earlier, standing normally but are now balancing on one leg rubbing the heel of their other and cursing at the back of a crazed parent and the chocolate-covered WMD they’re wheeling maniacally through the walkways.

Old people are no different, they don’t bloody work, they get free pension money off the taxpayer and most of the crinkley feckers can park in the disabled spaces (because apparently reaching 106 is a disability) so why the hell don’t they do their shopping in the daytime through the week? No, they would rather walk in the middle of the pathways, with the most enormous, nylon shopping bags you’re ever likely to see on the busiest day of the year at roughly the same speed that a glacier is formed. Why they don’t have the decency to stay indoors and try not to inconvenience anybody is simply beyond the reach of reasonable thought.

So, avoiding all these triggers to my rage I made my way to a cash machine, needing to lift a few quid, just in case I saw something I’d like to buy. There was a queue. Of course there was a queue, that’s reasonable, I joined the end of it, fighting the urge to kick the old man two spaces in front of my every time he coughed into a lavender-fragranced hanky. There was a young gentleman in a white tracksuit and white baseball cap with Burberry tartan trim in front of me in the queue. Now, I’m not Trinny & Susannah but didn’t Burberry go out of fashion a couple of years ago? And wasn’t it the most hideous thing you could wear, even then? My rage moved instantly to focus on this new target. The old, coughing man was safe. For now.

As the queue progressed I found myself more and more enraged at the back of Mr. Burberry’s head. At what point in his day did he think that a white tracksuit was going to make him look good? Why was he wearing a hat with Burberry trim when the whole world has been doing nothing but take the piss out of Burberry tartan for the last 2 years? How does someone get a neck that spotty? Why, oh why is his mobile phone ringtone some cheesy eurodance rubbish with a chipmunk singing over it?

Luckily the queue for the cash machine was moving fairly briskly and the track-suited one moved forward for his turn. I stayed the customary seven feet back so I could only see his PIN if he was stupid enough to stand too far to one side. 2487 in case you wondered. I was standing for what felt like three days. What was taking him so long? I only wanted to lift £50 out of my account and this nob-head was trying to hack into the Pentagon or something. Hurry up, you spot-covered freak before the pistules on your neck burst and cover that shiny white tracksuit in spot-goo. Seriously now, I think he’s attempting Rachmaninoff’s third with the key-tones on the number pad and he still hasn’t got any money out of the thing. I am amazed that more people aren’t brutally beaten in shopping centres.

Finally, 2005’s worst-dressed athlete moved away and I got my turn. In and out in less than a minute, that’s how it’s done. Now, to find my missus and buy some cheap games. Where is she? Has my long-suffering wife chosen this moment to disappear and leave me patiently waiting for the divorce notification to arrive in the post or has she been the unfortunate victim of a push-chair killing? Ten minutes pass, I give up looking and decide that I’ll just lean on a wall and wait for her to find me. She’s a better searcher than I am. So, time ticks on and eventually she finds me but for some reason she doesn’t look too pleased that I’ve just been leaning here and waiting for her to come to me.

I’m made to do BHS and TopShop before she lets me look in Zavvi, whose sale is shit anyway, games are hardly reduced at all and even their Blu-Ray, which they have a 2 for £25 offer on are sparse. The shelves are almost bare and there are signs up on the windows to say they will not be honouring gift vouchers or offering refunds. It’s all a bit depressing really. It was also quieter in there than anywhere else we’ve been all day; I could have parked quite comfortably between the DVD box-sets and the Album charts.

Now I have to suffer Next before I’m allowed near Game. This is a nightmare of epic proportions. All their sale stock seems to be in a big pile in the middle of the floor and approximately seven million people are climbing all over it. There are shoes and scarves whistling past my head as I give my wife a boost up onto the edge of the pile and return to my role in logistics. Basically it’s my job to make sure that anything my wife finds and wants to buy is securely carried to the tills. There is nothing of value to be found in Next’s sale, it was a harrowing experience with no pay-off. Like watching a live performance from Girls Aloud, all the time waiting for that perfect, beautiful gunshot to ring out but it never comes.

So eventually my moment has come and I am to be allowed to visit Game. I turn the corner to find a huge queue and a burly security man allowing about fourteen people into Game at any given time. Why is this the most popular place in the shopping centre? Are Game giving away a free PS3 with every DS sold? Well, I wish I could tell you but as it turned out my patience wouldn’t stand the Disneyland-style queuing system they had in operation. I’ll be doing my Sales shopping via the internet this year, I’d much rather put up with the many and varied faults of the postal system than lose my left leg below the knee to a toddler and his Burberry-clad spot-factory father.