Yet more rain! It seems unfair that people south of Croydon are being asked to forego baths over Christmas when we don’t even need to go indoors to have one. This morning we resorted to laying planking over the worst of the hen-run bogs and a hundred or so Columbian Blacktails gathered round to gawp. Albert addressed the multitude but it reminded me of mass meetings at Leyland Motors when mad people on the platform harangued a crowd of blokes openly reading The Sun.
An hour later, and by now as wet as Norman Lamont, I headed for Tesco armed with a two-foot long list perpared by she-who-must-be-obeyed who has the unenviable task of preparing meals to feed a hundred people we only see once per year. Arriving at the Tesco car park was somewhat unnerving, I have arrived at Wembley Stadium and encountered less angry motorists. But, with some trepidation, I found a space and followed the crowd of trolley-pushers.
During the course of the year an elderly friend often tells me that she has made her restful daily visit to the superstore. It is, she always says, a lovely place to walk around and to stop in an aisle for a chat. Today she would have been more likely to stop for a fight. There were zillions of people shooting up and down the aisles, pausing only to throw something into trollies already loaded to capacity. Drop a packet of Bisto and you could be sure that someone would crash into you, and be equally sure that no apology would be forthcoming. For everyone seemed very stressed and in a state of high anxiety.
I noticed one rather large lady, who could easily hold her own in the Wigan Rugby League scrum, who was pushing one trolley and towing another. She was clearly in a foul mood and was taking no prisoners. If Tesco award Club Card points for bruises dished out she would be on her way to a free baseball bat.
Having found the majority of what felt like a year’s catering requirement, I eventually reached the check-outs. Because I wanted to be home before nightfall I elected to do my own till work and experienced illogical bouts of gratitude when the computer recognised bar-codes. It did occur to me that stores such as this are on to a very good thing, we select our own goods and oversee our own payment.
It was really like a scene from Orwell’s 1984. Thousands were obediently obeying tannoy announcements and quarrelling only with each other. At one point I joined a jostle for brussels, and we don’t even like the things. From time to time we were told to keep moving, at one point I did so without my feet touching the ground. But, my daughter tells me, one has the advantage of price bargains. I confess that I saw no sign of my fellow clones checking labels and the few that I glimpsed were confusing. A huge stack of boxes of chocolates bore a poster proclaiming that the price was slashed to £5 and two cost only £10.
One man remarked that this was “all about one day”. He is right, for the store reopens on Boxing Day. But it did strike me as sad that what used to be the most magical time of the year has been reduced to this.
In the late 19th century the churches of the time came together and decided to abolish Hell on the grounds that it was adversely affecting recruitment. But today I realised that in the absence of a theological version the people have created one of their own.
I came away reflecting that I would much have preferred being at the Christmas party of the Witney set. But even that may be less joyful this year for the Camron’s are probably nervous about being entertained by Rebeka Brooks, James Maxwell and Jeremy Clarkson since the latter might have a mike concealed about his person.
TOMORROW; A TALE FOR CHRISTMAS EVE