I had the day off today and decided to spend it Christmas shopping in central London – not quite as mad as it seems because, during the morning at least, there aren’t too many other shoppers about on a weekday. After about an hour and a half I found I had been in and out of a dozen shops and bought precisely nothing.
The problem was that I was on the lookout for presents, whereas the shops were full of gifts. Presents are nice things that you give to people who want them. ‘Gifts’, on the other hand, are entirely useless things designed purely to be bought, wrapped up, exchanged for other gifts with people you don’t know very well or like very much, unwrapped and then thrown away (by the ruthless) or left lying around in attics by the rest of us. I’m talking novelty salt shakers. I’m talking anything with a reindeer on it. I’m talking strange food gifts, like bottles of chilli peppers, or boxed olive oil, or anything chocolate covered that wasn’t originally designed to be chocolate covered. The really organised should buy their presents in October, not because they can then spend the next two months being insufferably smug (although that would be a bonus) but because in October the shops are still reasonably full of the sort of stuff you might want to buy, instead of being full of tinsel and flashing lights and scented crap that plays tinny renditions of Jingle Bells until you want to throw it in the fire.
Anyway, after I’d fought my way through the Christmas carols and the tables piled with ‘humorous’ books and novelty ‘reindeer poo’ I found that some shops were still selling reasonable amounts of stuff, and that’s when I encountered my next problem. Somebody has outlawed the selling of lambswool sweaters for women. Or so it would seem. The sweater present was the easy one, the gimme, the one I wasn’t worried about. I’d just go to Marks and Sparks and buy one, no problem, right? Wrong. Where have I been? M&S has gone trendy, trendy enough that a basic sweater is no longer an option. For men, yes, men can still buy items of clothes that are not fashionable. But not women. Women must buy rayon sweaters, or cashmere sweaters because that is the law. And they must buy them in this season’s colours, as that is also the law. I tried everywhere, the stodgiest shops I could think of – Austin Reed, Burberry, Scottish Woollen Mills – and not one of them dared buck the trend. Somewhere there must be a clandestine shop, approached down a back alleyway, accessible only to those in the know, where women’s clothing can be purchased that does not conform in every detail to the writ laid down for this season’s clothing, but I couldn’t find it. In the end I was faced with a choice: 90 quid for a cashmere sweater, or a cardigan.
Next year everyone’s definitely getting goats.