Friday, December 02, 2005

Retail therapy

Gratuitously off-topic (hey, it's Friday).

I hate big shopping malls, but it's getting near Christmas and medium-sized Ulsterbabe says she's badly in need of some cool designer outfits, so I prised the barbed wire off my wallet and got the car out.

Talk about hordes! Mainly 15 - 17 year-old girls, some with boyfriends in tow, some hunting alone. Walking two paces behind my daughter I was beginning to consider the benefits of Islam when I did one of those mall-walking things that happen almost involuntarily, imperceptibly, after a few decades of retail shoulder-jostling.

Subconsciously, my mind went into yellow alert as I detected a Sharon approaching from 9 o'clock, chewing a big piece of gum and, more alarmingly, on a direct collision course with me as she approached "Teeny Slapper" or whatever the shop was called. What to do? Well, where I come from, there's an unspoken rule that if you're walking down the street and someone wants to cross your path, they darned well have the manners to let you trundle past before cutting a perpendicular dash to the retail establishment of their choice. Boy am I out of touch! She never even looked at me. Kept walking as if I didn't exist. Now I don't know about you, but I'm not partial to being ignored, so I kept walking. Same pace, same stride.

Red alert.

I'm close enough now to hear the smack of chewing gum above the sound of someone strangling Robbie Williams. On the point of impact, though, my instincts took over. I slowed just enough to let her pass, but carefully measured my deceleration to ensure she brushed my chest with her shoulder - just enough to give her the message. Again, my presence failed to register. However, as my right foot moved forward for another step it connected quite carelessly with a 4-inch heel, causing a moderate amount of "Essex two-step" for an entertaining second or so. Unbelievably, no reaction whatsoever, she just roboted her way into the shop as if nothing had happened.

On one of my shopfront waits, while pondering the fact that I was the only adult within screaming distance, I got thinking about how much "other people's" money gets spent in these places. By which I don't mean stolen money, just parents' money, grandparents' money, even boyfriends' money. The people who spend it aren't the people who earn it. Similar in many ways to the Great Pension Problem now besetting the developed nations as we begin to contemplate oodles of baby-boomers like me enjoying 30-year retirements with only a few young people working their buns off to pay for it. (I firmly believe the day will come when governments regret encouraging healthy lifestyles and introduce tax breaks for OAPs who smoke). Anyway, I'd love to tell you how I solved this great demographic problem of our age, but I was jolted out of my reverie by an excited daughter eager to explore the next part of retail heaven.

"Just one more shop, pleeease?", and a look one cannot possibly disappoint. This time it's Benetton, haven of jumpers just asking to be shaken out, and - way at the back of the store - (you've guessed it) Sharon, now grimly working her way through a rack of tops. She had adopted that familiar diagonal stance so beloved of hardcore shoppers, resting her weight on one leg, shoulders and head at an angle, one hand on her bag and the other clawing its way successively along an endless line of hanger hooks. Her jaw snapped the chewing gum with such regularity you could set your watch by it (maybe she had a silicon implant, boom boom!). Anyway, I stood fixated by the sight of this consumer automaton and realised with a growing chill that my twilight years would, if God spares me, be paid for by the likes of her. My purchasing power in retirement would depend upon Sharon's economic output. And the longer our non-smoking, moderately drinking, regularly exercising, healthy-eating fortysomethings live, the harder she'll have to work.

I decided it would be a shame to sponge off the poor girl in later years without having said 'hello' when I had the chance - albeit in a fleeting manner - so I leaned forward and opened the conversation with, "Excuse me, did your mother never tell you to keep your mouth shut when you chew?".

She barely moved. Without leaving the hardcore retail position, she tilted her head backwards and looked at me, expressionless, her eyes focussed on some indeterminate point two feet behind the bridge of my nose. My heart started to race. Silence. For a moment I thought she was going to fling the rack at me, hurling me backwards and precipitating my death by four or five money-saving decades, but instead - true to style - she simply returned to her never-ending quest with a few extra-loud smacks, just for effect.

My daughter appeared. I decided it was time to leave. "Come on, young lady, time for some real shopping", says I forcefully, striding out of the store like a man with a mission. "But where are you off to?", she asked, bewildered at my sudden enthusiasm.

"The health food shop".


At 11:05 a.m., Anonymous Paul said...

"Come on, young lady, time for some real shopping", says I forcefully, striding out of the store like a man with a mission. "But where are you off to?", she asked, bewildered at my sudden enthusiasm.

"The health food shop".

Well, I would have said Winemart but each to their own I suppose!

I'm only surprised that the CIA hasn't yet investigated the torture possibilities inherent in such shoppng centres.

At 11:19 a.m., Blogger Jonny said...

Excellent post. laughs. Here's to unnaturally long life, and the Sharons of this world who will graciously support it!!

At 12:54 p.m., Blogger Hugh Green said...

Great post John.


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