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1,001 things not to do in London: shop under the influence

Posted at 11:15 am, December 2, 2012 in Fun London
© Matt Herring

Sozzled shopping may seem like a good way to take the tedium out of buying gifts this Christmas. Time Out’s Executive Editor Michael Hodges thinks otherwise. 1,001 things not to do in London No 41 – Shop under the influence.

A startled cry, a yelp of terror, a moment of mad balancing between safety and disaster, arms flailing and legs pedalling frantically at thin air, and then down he goes. The man tumbles all the way back to the bottom of the escalator losing several bags of shopping on the way and hitting his head on every other step, before landing violently in Womenswear, which he has only recently left. Above, on the famous West End store’s vertiginous moving staircase, a lone box, gift-wrapped and be-ribboned, continues its journey upward without him.

Several women, all of whom are successfully engaged in Christmas shopping without falling off anything, look on as the man – in his early thirties and, apart from his disastrous acrobatics, apparently normal – tries to get off the escalator and gather his shopping. He doesn’t succeed: as soon as he picks up one package he drops another, and when he does step back on the escalator he falls over again. The women shake their heads, wondering, I suppose, if the London male will ever change. Or if he will always retain the ability, whatever his social class, ethnicity or religion, to get this very basic skill – buying things from shops – so badly wrong.

We are about to find out. Christmas is upon us and if Western consumer capitalism is to spend its way out of crisis, then we are all obliged to do much more shopping than we have ever done before. It’s clearly how Jesus would want us to celebrate his birth. Consequently, the centre of our city will once more morph into a festive yet merciless wonderland that will remove money from our pockets while simultaneously obliging us to listen to excerpts from David Hasselhoff’s 2004 album, ‘The Night Before Christmas’.

If you are going to survive such an assault on your senses and come out at the other end both sane and with the correct purchase, then you need steely resolve, ruthless focus and a complete grasp of how shops are laid out. In short, you need to be a woman.

The man juggling gifts at the bottom of the escalator is no woman. Though – to his credit – in embarking on his annual panicked attempt to buy anything that might possibly constitute a Christmas gift in late November rather than waiting until late December, he has pulled off a very female thing.

But he has also done a very male thing. It’s apparent now that, unable to face the full horror of festive purchasing, he stopped en route to soothe his nerves with alcohol. The result is a man with zero fear of Christmas shopping but also, unfortunately, zero ability to negotiate a moving staircase.

Dutch courage is rarely a good idea in the retail environment (even the Dutch know this – go to Amsterdam and you’ll find the male shoppers are invariably sober) and there are obvious dangers to going for a drink before you buy something as laden with meaning as a Christmas gift for a loved one. Squiffy men become foolishly brave when confronted by the cheap, the tacky or the insanely inappropriate, thinking,

‘She’ll love this, she really will,’ rather than, ‘This is a potentially relationship-ending gift.’ This can lead to Christmas morning scenes that are a bit short on merriness once the wrapping paper comes off: ‘A Sparkle and Glitz My First Make-Up Set?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Simon, I’m 32 years old.’

But it’s not only men that make shopping mistakes, as the woman who now steps on to the escalator with her skirt tucked into the back of her tights proves. Up she goes, towards what I fear (when she realises) may be a very bad place. Electrical Goods, to be precise.

Also not recommended: four more fraught London retail experiences

Limehouse, 1857
A child is seized by a tiger at Charles Jamrach’s animal shop. Jamrach throttles the beast until it lets go of the child. The child’s family sue (Jamrach, not the tiger).

Deptford, 1951
An elephant escapes from New Cross Empire, and, ‘trumpeting’, enters a post office, causing the queue, a counter clerk later tells the press, to ‘disappear like magic’.

Wandsworth, 2012
Wandsworth’s Southside shopping centre decides to terrify shoppers with 3D artworks that make it look like there are bottomless pits instead of floors in the centre’s lifts. It works.

Sidcup, last month
In London’s first ‘fox mugging’, shopper Louisa Power is held up by a vixen outside Sidcup Co-op. ‘It sniffed my bag,’ recalls a shaken Power, ‘then grabbed it out of my hand.’

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