The secret’s out; I’m back in England. Just for Christmas and the New Year mind, but back nevertheless. The first thing I noticed when I stepped off the plane was how ordinary I felt. Having been something of a pseudo-celebrity and the only white man for miles around in Shizuoka, all of a sudden I’m just another drop in the ocean; no more special service or interested stares to make me feel important. The second thing I noticed was how dirty London is. I never noticed it before, and when I went to Japan I don’t remember thinking that it was particularly clean, but oh do you notice it when you come back. Trains for instance. Trains in Japan are spotlessly clean and well kept inside and out, the bullet trains are among the fastest in the world, they are always dead on time and the Narita Express (their version of the Heathrow Express) has a key-combination bag locking system for peace of mind; not that anyone ever nicks anything in Japan anyway. Yes, you have to pay a little more for it but when everything runs with clockwork precision, people don’t mind quite so much. London trains by comparison are noisy, late and ugly, with smears on the windows and dirt covering the carriages. The seats are so stained they look like an exhibition in the Tate Modern, and you daren’t touch anything for fear of contracting a deadly disease.
This was all normal before, but now I’ve been spoilt by Japan’s ridiculously clean and efficient public transport system, life in England will never be the same again.
Christmas and New Year should be a time of celebration; a time to reflect on the year that is about to disappear into the history books forever. Yet, as I sit here on New Year’s Eve, on my own, nursing the flu and preparing for the incredible excitement to be wrought from the television schedule, I am celebrating that at least the shivers have subsided for the time-being. How is it possible to wear 2 t-shirts and a woolen jumper, cover yourself with 2 quilts, crank up the heating and still be shivering, I ask you? I am supposed to be out eating curry and attending groovy warehouse parties and instead I am sat on the floor of my sister’s front room ordering a takeaway and crying to you lot about the unfairness of it all.
In my present mood, it is just about possible to be optimistic, but it’s no fun, so I’m going to continue down this negative path with some thoughts I had while I was out harvesting the germ-infested London air.
What’s the most depressing thing you can do?
Yes let’s get right to the nitty gritty shall we? None of this fannying about with the drum-rolls and the less important things that no-one cares about; this one cuts right to the bone. Here it is:
Many men the world over will be nodding their heads in agreement already, but wait, there’s more:
CLOTHES SHOPPING IN LONDON DURING THE SALES
…and then the stakes got higher, but the bookies were left wanting more:
CLOTHES SHOPPING IN OXFORD STREET DURING THE SALES AT RUSH HOUR
There we go. That ought to get even the most die-hard shoppers at least slightly onside with where I’m going here.
Why do we do it? We know the day will never end well even before we set foot outside the door, but still we insist on buying that shirt that they couldn’t sell during the season, and which they only ever have in XXL sizes because there’s £10 off it! TEN POUNDS! That could feed a family of 4 for 2 days! Look how much we SAVED! And look! Look at this limited edition top from NEXT! It’s got random text and numbers all over it! That’s so original, and there’s £15 off! BARGAIN!
If you’re clever, you’ll be able to disregard the rubbish and occasionally find something that’s not bad, but you can bet that you spent the entire day sifting through stores like they were all part of one gigantic T.K. Maxx in the vain hope that one little gem might be hidden in this huge pile of man-made manure.
Shoe shops are the worst. They are staffed by a high turnover of young, trendy twenty-somethings who are probably just out of uni and faced with the most pathetic job-market in years. The only use for their MA in Maths is knowing which shoe size to get for the customer; their frustration is palpable. Then there’s the customer’s stress. A new pair of shoes is a very personal thing; they can (I’m told) make or break your outfit, so you have to make sure you get the right ones, and that requires a lot of looking in a mirror. I don’t know about you, but there’s a limit to how long I can look at myself in a mirror in front of people before I start getting vanity alerts. This time limit is halved for every customer looking my way and so, during the sales, I barely get the shoes on and stand in front of the mirror before I put them back in the box, hurriedly put my old, comfy pair back on and scamper out of the shop telling the pursuing shop assistant that “I’ll think about it” before I vanish into the dark, never to be seen again.
Think about this before you hit the January sales folks. Stay indoors, have a nice cup of tea and watch a film instead, because you’ll get much more satisfaction from that than the paisley fleece you’re going to end up buying after a day of crowded, cold, shopping misery.
Happy New Year.