It's that special time of year again, where I waste a day of my annual leave entitlement in retail hell.
At least pre-Christmas Friday morning on Oxford Street isn't too nightmarish. I can wander from shop to shop relatively unhindered without being hemmed in by the bag-carrying hordes. All looks fairly normal - traffic jams, scaffolding, dull Christmas lights, buskers in Santa hats - apart from one thing... the sales! Not every shop has a sale, of course, but in any normal non-recessional year surely there'd be none. So why venture into a full price department store, not when there's a bargain basement chain store just across the road? BHS appears to have given up all hope of selling festive novelties and is flogging the lot off at half price. I'm easily tempted inside a shoe shop where 50% off appears to be the norm. The shop's interior already looks like it's January, with stacks of genuinely bargain cut-price footwear up for grabs, while a few hardline brands lurk at full whack in one corner only. I'm almost tempted, but move on unshod.
The pavement clears, and a smiling lady in a red tabard turns her gaze upon me. Oh bugger, I'm about to be chugged. Normally I'd be safely protected by my headphones, but the power's failed and I've made the fatal mistake of removing them. So I attempt to shoot her my best "piss off, curl up and die" face in the hope that she'll turn away and bother some other poor sod instead. No such luck. I frown a little more convincingly. She edges towards me with a beaming grin.
Grrr. I was perfectly happy until she turned up. But with just two ill-chosen words my mood darkens and an inner gloom descends. Oh for goodness sake who do you think you are you patronising uncharitable scum? How dare you lecture me on my state of mind when you know absolutely nothing about it? I know it's your job to wheedle your way into conversation with strangers and thereby extract direct debit promises from the guilty and the gullible. But did your training really suggest kicking off with a tactless faux pas which serves only to demoralise your intended victim? I feel the urge to spit in her face or punch her in the stomach, but thousands of years of evolution prevent me.
Damn, that really wasn't insulting enough. I should have let rip with a four-letter riposte and told her what I really think, but my mouth retreated before my brain could speak. I should have told her to mind her own business, or to take lessons in positive customer engagement, or just to piss off, curl up and die. I should have vowed never to give another penny to the international charity she purports to represent, because ultimately her coin-shaking assault was their responsibility. Instead I walk swiftly past, inwardly huffing, every scrap of Christmas spirit instantly dissipated. And she turns to approach another innocent shopper with some alternative fixed-grin opening gambit. Cow.
Thankfully my inner smile returns a few minutes later, the incident overshadowed by a few bars of Jona Lewie pumping out onto the pavement from an empty clothes shop. And I continue to wander around shop after shop after shop, staring at all the unnecessary over-priced trifles, and buying nothing. Some time next week I'll probably return and stare at exactly the same festive fluff again, except this time I'll buy some of it out of sheer desperation. Because the only thing worse than buying a disappointing Christmas present is buying no Christmas present at all. Thank goodness everything's half price this year.