Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Fayre!

Well, I must say it's good to be home without further mishaps!

As I walked down to the High Street to do my pre-Christmas shopping, I thought that everyone had gone away. The street was blissfully free of traffic, there were very few pedestrians on the pavement - Kensington, it seemed, had debunked for Christmas.

But no! As I entered the Food Hall at M&S I discovered my mistake - there had indeed been a mass migration, but the residents of Kensington had not moved to the country, they had moved en masse into the Food Hall to stock up on their Christmas fayre!
Never have I seen such chaos - people, people everywhere. Mothers with prams and toddlers underfoot, fathers looking bemused and wishing themselves elsewhere. One elderly lady with a walking stick had a small dog on a lead. Can you imagine the hazard caused by an active small dog on a lead in a Food Hall . . . ? Exactly! The baskets and trolleys were filled to overflowing and, as fast as the shoppers stripped the shelves, so the poor, harassed staff rushed around with replacements, restocking supplies.

It took twice as long as usual to locate my regular goods, but at last I reached the check-out queue. Even here there was a problem. The queues stretched back into the food aisles, finding the least slow-moving was quite a feat. Finally, having positioned myself behind a young couple with a small child, I was able to lay out my purchases on the conveyor-belt.

They seemed a nice young couple, although, caught up in the demands of their Christmas shop, they were a little frenzied.
"The mackerel!" cried the young man abruptly, "We've forgotten the mackerel!"
His wife obediently rushed off to make good the omission.
"Sausages . . . " she hissed in annoyance on her return, adding the mackerel to the mounting pile, "I've forgotten the sausages . . . " and she rushed off again.
Finally, all their purchases were accounted for and, at what should have been a brief moment of relaxation, the young woman's face went pale.
"Walnuts!" her voice was anguished, "I've forgotten the walnuts!"
It was too late to go in search. I tried to console her with the thought that at least walnuts would be a treat to look forward to in the New Year . She gave a wan smile, but seemed far from convinced.
My mind was taken up with thoughts of this strange Western society, where the absence of walnuts can ruin a Christmas, so I was a little surprised when the woman at the check-out till asked for my credit card. I handed it over, thinking that she had whizzed my goods through with commendable speed.
"Your number . . . " she said.
Obediently, I registered my number on the pad.
"Seventy-one pounds, fifty-nine pence," said the check-out lady.
I looked at her aghast. I knew that I'd had to buy Rupert free-range turkey as there wasn't any alternative, but surely this was ridiculous?
The young couple, who had been loading up their trolley with the overflowing carrier-bags, turned round. The check-out lady turned to me looking worried, "I thought you were all together?" she said.
It turned out that, all unwittingly, I'd paid for this young family's Christmas lunch!

They were a very nice young couple, with an attractive small daughter, but they could hardly be classified as the deserving poor - it didn't seem my Christmas role to pay for their lunch.
We none of us knew what to do. Apparently it's impossible to cancel a card once the number has been accepted.
Then inspiration struck, "Have you a cheque-book?" I asked the young couple.
They had.
They gave me a cheque, I wished them a happy Christmas - and we all said goodbye on the best of terms!

As you can imagine, rather than run the risk of being involved in any more festive confusion, I came straight home.

One way and another, this is turning out to be an unexpectedly costly Christmas!