My wife is traumatised from Christmas shopping in Melbourne. The traffic is mad, even mild mannered people are turning into road rage poster boys. People are tearing around the supermarket with their trolleys pushing and shoving, the queues in shops are full of nasty people. This article made me laugh and I post here for my wife, who will probably never see it.
Burwood Westfield is packed with shoppers. I can’t imagine how they could squeeze one more person in here. It’s like that Guinness Book of Records stunt, in which 47 teenagers tried to get into a Volkswagen.
Just getting a park is a major battle. In the parking lot, drivers circle like predatory lions, waiting for a weary shopper to appear pushing a trolley. As soon as we spot one, we try to be the first to pounce – claiming the shopper as our own. We motor along behind, with our front bumper bar as close as possible to the prey. No way is anybody else going to get this guy’s spot: he’s mine.
The process is without major danger: providing the shopper doesn’t stop suddenly.
Once I snare a park, I battle my way inside the centre and into the sea of frantic shoppers. People are desperate to buy. They heave themselves at displays of fancy soap like Russians in a bread riot. All the soaps have got these girly-posh names like Evelyn and Trilby, or Figtree and Algernon, but there’s nothing girly-posh about the shopping style. I see one woman shoulder through the crowd and grab hold of a gift pack of Somerset and Stevens Lavender Infusion, before letting loose a little vicious mumble.
“That’s Auntie June done,” she says to her friend, using the word “done” in much the same tone as a Mafia hit-man standing back to admire his latest bloodied corpse.
Not that I’m being critical. I know the problem. You trudge through crowds hoping that something will suggest itself; that the perfect gift will suddenly materialise before your eyes. The problem of what to get Uncle Steve or young cousin Trish is so intractable, so beyond all human understanding, that you can’t bear thinking about it. You try to focus on it, but the mind is unwilling: it just keeps shying away, like a horse unwilling to attempt a particularly difficult jump. Far better, you decide, to wander aimlessly until something suggests itself.
The result, some three hours later, is a desperation so intense and palpable that almost everything starts to look just perfect.
“Kitty litter? Well, she does have a cat, and if I wrapped it prettily …”
“Socks? Well, he does have legs …”
“A skateboard? Actually a lot of people in their 80s take it up …”
I’ve seen the desperation from both sides of the counter. As a teenager, I used to work in my father’s newsagency for the week before Christmas, and I have a vivid recollection of how people would queue up and down the shop, with piles of merchandise in their arms, picking up more from the stands as they waited to be served. Every time they picked up a product, they could cross a name off their list. And so desperate were they to cross off names, they hardly even looked at what they were picking up.
“Surely young James would like a Yugoslav news magazine,” you could see them thinking as they added a well-thumbed copy of Nedeljni Telegraf to their pile. Or: “I think anyone, however old, can use a protractor and compass set.” Or: “This set of five rolls of masking tape would be an excellent surprise.”
My father would glance up at the lengthy queue as we raced to take their money. “You could sell ’em buckets of sand tonight,” he would mumble admiringly, as we threw some more coins in the till.
Back at Burwood, I watch as a man loads his trolley with what looks like a pallet-load of biscuits. They’re the same biscuits we all normally eat, but packaged in a Christmassy tin. This allows the manufacturer to charge five times more.
The man ends up with 10 tins in his trolley, which makes me wonder about the scene at his place on Christmas Day.
The first two or three relatives who open their presents may be able to feign surprise, but how about relative eight, nine and 10? “Wow, biscuits! I would never have guessed. I thought it might be a CD.”
I fight my way into the DVD shop, and then into the bookshop, and then the chemist, but I can’t find anything. I remember Jocasta’s father and his present-giving idea from her teenage years: each year he would give her money, but packed in an interesting way. One year, it was $1 notes pinned together to look like a piece of fabric; another year the notes were scattered through a copy of Bleak House. At the time, we mocked him for giving cash, but now I understand the enormous wisdom he displayed.
Today I shall retire defeated, ready to fight another day. I just wonder if Jocasta would be interested in a Yugoslav magazine, or maybe a lovely bucket of sand.