I hope you and yours are about to have a terrific festive period, enjoy your reunions with your friends, families and loved ones, eat and drink far too much, fall asleep after your lunch – or main – meal and generally have a good time.
Yesterday (Christmas Eve) my traditional ritual of frantic last-minute shopping, bungling the wrapping of my presents and descending into an alcoholic stupor in front of the rubbish festive fare on the television was interrupted by an early obligation.
Son Barry having happily made a brief return to Blighty from overseas for the occasion, inevitably combined his visit with ‘other things’. First amongst them was collecting his Land Rover Discovery from the specialist garage that has been customising it to his design for the past three months. My commitment to the cause was to act as chauffeur. This duty I duly discharged by driving him out towards Oxford – sticking around whilst he went through the work done in detail with the mechanics, just in case the car was not ready to drive away – and then proceed home again alone, listening to Radio Five Live on my radio.
Amongst other things, he has had the two rear seats removed and replaced with an underfloor steel superstructure so that he can pack equipment inside it and still fill the cabin with more equipment, or indeed use to as a crew sleeping quarters, when the floor panels have been put back. He has spent a fair amount having the car customised on two different occasions and amassing about £5,000’s worth of off-roading equipment. When we arrived at the garage earlier, the mechanics said it was the highest-spec’d Discovery they’d ever worked upon.
I’m now leaving Barry on his own to smooth over the fact that, instead of sticking around for the family party being joined by his sister and boyfriend, who specifically wished to see him, he and a pal will be driving to Scotland first thing tomorrow (Boxing Day) to spend five days hiking and camping on and around Ben Nevis.
Back home, after a spot of lunch, I then moved to my main task of the day – the Christmas shopping.
Quite apart from obligations as regards presents, I had also been detailed to get some vital food items.
You know how newspapers and television programmes delight in poking fun at the stereotypical male Christmas shopper, beetling about on Christmas Eve and getting in a frazzle?
That was me – straight from Central Casting – yesterday in south-west London.
First, for a plan, I decided to begin at the shop furthest away from home (that I knew I was going to have to visit) and then gradually work my way back.
The worst element of all was (inevitably) buying the food. The first supermarket I visited was completely sold out of three of the five items I had to get – including mince pies, for Pete’s sake(!) – and so I had to visit another afterwards in order to complete my quest.
Shopping, and particularly queueing at the check-out, in a densely-packed supermarket – when you are buying just two or three items and you’re behind a series of large middle-aged ladies who are each purchasing enough festive-season-related food to feed the whole of West Africa for a month – is not a little stressful.
‘Why was I queueing at one of the check-outs when I could have gone to the ‘basket’ only quick-pay section?’ I hear you ask.
Because the ‘basket’ only quick-pay section had a queue of thirty people in it, that’s why!
The thing I discovered about last-minute shopping is that it is broadly similar to last-minute exam revision. You can surprise yourself with what you can achieve when the chips are down and it’s either shit or bust.
Close to 4.00pm, as I trudged homewards laden-down with four large bags, two of them with further (smaller) bags nestling inside them, I was acutely conscious of the combined pity and amusement with which those passing me going in the opposite direction (mostly couples holding hands and/or ladies walking with their labradoodles or toy dogs) were regarding me from the lofty perch of their status as smug, self-satisfied, ‘We’ve already done all our shopping’ superior beings.
Happy Christmas, everyone!