270 – The Shop

Well, it's a magical plate, but unfortunately it comes from The Owl Service, so you might not want to eat chips off it.

In the past I’ve been accused of–as Tim Smith put it–giving no insight whatsoever into my life or character–in other words, talking a lot without actually saying anything.

Which is deliberate, of course. I like playing devil’s advocate, saying things I don’t really mean and standing up for causes I don’t really believe in. Anyone who talks at length can’t help letting some of their true, regrettable demeanour slip through and on occasion I’ve probably come across as quite ugly, the kind of person you wouldn’t want to spend time with–which would be an utterly accurate depiction of my character. But I’ll accept that my perspective of myself might be skewed and that what I perceive as truth on this matter might not be entirely objective.

Even though it is.

Anyway. Here, in today’s post I’d like to be perfectly lucid with you. Let me tell you a truth that contradicts certain things I’ve said in the past but which is undoubtedly the truest of of these things, the truth that will end this discussion once and for all. Disregard everything I’ve previously said and let your peepers witness the awesome power of a truth I like to call Factimus Prime, which is:

Physical shops can suck my nut.

Yes, physical shops, the shops I’ve spoken of in glowing terms–albeit the wan glow of nostalgia: the kind of glow a kid who’s just eaten his Ready Brek might emit. Take everything I’ve said about shops before and fuck it all in the bin. I didn’t mean what I said about record stores. I lied when I spoke fondly about book shops. Geek stores, selling comics and second hand science fiction novels, three for two quid? Bollocks to those. All physical shops are rubbish, and today I’m going to explain why.

But first, let’s consider the alternative.

Imagine, if you will, that there’s a magical plate in your home. This magical plate makes money disappear–hardly an impressive magic trick I know, but please, let me explain.

This magical plate makes money disappear but once the money’s gone in its place appears anything you want. Well, just about anything; certain things are regrettably beyond the powers of even the magic plate, so if you want to bring Mr. Squeaks back from kitty heaven, sorry son but you’re shit out of luck.

If, however, you want another, non-magical plate commemorating the life of Mr. Squeaks, that’s doable. Just place a picture of your ex-cat on the magic plate next to your cash and whatever mysterious forces make the plate so magical will work things out.

So wish for whatever you wish for: an object that already exists or might conceivably exist, once not beyond the realms of possibility; it might help if you imagine a book or a film or maybe a set of thimbles, something you’ve seen around perhaps, that you would very much like to own. Place you money on the magical plate, close your eyes tightly and wish as hard as was ever possible, and when you open eyes, poof, the money’s gone! And in three to four working days what should appear on your plate but the very thing you wished for.

Yeah, the magical wishing plate is Amazon, or if you prefer, all online shops. You really should have worked that out by now.

You might scoff–a magical plate? Preposterous!–but for those of us Generation Y-ers and Baby Boomers and whoever the hell else I was talking about yesterday, with memories long enough to remember the bad old days when the closest we had to Amazon was the Kays catalogue, this might as well be magic.

Hell, when I was younger Argos was magic. So many toys! So much choice! And where was everything stored? Why, in a fantasy land beyond the door behind the counter, where shop workers went in carrying your order chitty but never come back.

Until they returned five to ten minutes later with the thing you’d ordered.

That was fabulous; it was worthy of applause. And if Argos became so crowded during Christmas shopping season its snaking queues clung together like the world’s most intimate conga line than that only made it more magical. All those frustrated parents lining up to bring home Star Shower Barbie and Roboticus Rex, for Father Christmas to spirit away in the middle of the night and bring back once Christmas Day had rolled around. How amazing it was to be a child in Argos in December, gripping the gloved hand of a parent who looked like he or she had swallowed somebody else’s bottom burp. How wonderful, jostled by legs, nearly trampled upon as you reached the front of the line only for mummy and daddy to be told they’d sold their Star Shower Barbie stock three weeks ago and would you like to buy Puddles the Dog instead?

That’s it. Christmas is cancelled. Santa’s dead and Christmas shopping killed him.

Shopping’s supposed to be a joyous phenomenon. I know this because all the television programmes funded by advert breaks cropping up every seven minutes or so keep saying “Hey, look, isn’t shopping amazing?” Tiffany and Amber spend all their time at the mall, wanting new shoes and new phones and lusting over Chet Chesthair, the dreamiest guy in middle school–and aren’t Tiffany and Amber the coolest? Don’t they wear the smartest designer clothes and drink the yummiest designer drinks? In fact, doesn’t everyone on television do that? Don’t even the mealiest downtrodden worms have wardrobes carefully chosen by people who make a living picking out clothes that’ll make people look good? Everyone in telly-land’s outfitted by their own personal Gok Wan while everyone watching at home is told that shopping’s an acceptable–nay, encouraged–pastime.

It’s buying stuff! Who likes buying stuff? I hate buying stuff and deep down inside I’m guessing most of you hate it too.

Now getting stuff, that’s a different matter. Here, look, I’ll give you something for free. Pretend I am: it’s a free thing; it’s a book or a game or–what do you like? Makeup? Okay, free makeup, from me to you. No, it’s no bother. Just take it.

Or.

Or you could go and buy it for yourself, from a shop. Free stuff, or buying stuff: it’s up to you.

If you’re worried there was a catch to me giving away freebies then well done! You’re just as paranoid as I would be in your shoes. It’s why I generally don’t accept freebies–especially not free food, which someone’s obviously laced with either LSD or mucus–but if you’re not paranoid and you didn’t suspect there was a catch I’m guessing you were well up for getting free stuff instead of going shopping for it.

Because what is shopping, exactly? Aside from a miserable little pile of lines. I mean

Here’s where that aforementioned insight comes in. As someone who’s actually been shopping before, I’ve noted that it boils down to exchanging money for goods. I stand on one side of the counter, I present the thing I want to (checks nametag) Karen on the other side, she pops it into a bag, I give her money, she prints a receipt and pops that into the bag as well, and hands the bag to me. “Thank you.” No, Karen: thank you.

And then it’s off to the next shop to dance the same fandango with (checks nametag) Mark.

Except that’s not how I shop at all: I shop by placing my cash on a magical wishing plate and waiting the required number of days for my order to show up.

Aside from the convenience and incredible choice of having a magical wishing plate–and who wouldn’t want one of those?–why do I shop like this?

Because believe it or not, magical plates are cheaper than boring old shops.

There are other factors. For one, Karen has an IQ more associated with something you’d clean off your shoes, had problems folding the bought item to fit it into the bag, refunded me the wrong change and was so irritated at having to deal with me she wore the sour expression of someone last minute Christmas shopping at Argos. Meanwhile Mark didn’t get around to serving me for ages because he was too busy talking to a kid whose attempt to grow facial hair looked more like a mishap with a set of spider’s legs, and Mark’s store smelled like the kind of cheese even a Frenchman would turn his nose up at. Even before I’d made it to the counter with my purchase Mark’s mate Orbolox shadowed me around the shop, keeping a careful eye lest I cram a book the size of a Wendy house into my coat pocket and fussed anything I touched back into place as if he was Adrian Monk off his medication.

And I had to pay for petrol or bus fare to get to the shop in the first place, and it was raining, and everyone else in the shopping centre was just as dour and hateful as I am, and we all shoulder-barged each other while teenagers with stupid fringes called us names, and thanks to the sound system in every shop I went into I heard Rolling in the Deep so often and it’s become so deeply engraved into my brain I’m going to sue Adele for stealing my song, the song I now can’t not hear because it plagues me like Poe’s raven, not saying‘Nevermore’ but There’s a fire starting in my–OH MY GOD MAKE IT STOP.

The only people who ever look happy when shopping are starry-eyed lovers and kids who’ve escaped their parents’ attention to roll around the shop floor pretending to be hoovers. It’s the kind of activity we must have been brainwashed into partaking in, because otherwise why would anyone bother?

Oh, right: the shopping experience. Getting to pick something up and own it within minutes. Sure, you’re paying extra for the privilege–in cash as well as in sanity–but you’ll have it and you’ll have it soon, placed in a bag, hurried home, opened at leisure.

And you can talk to people–if the staff behind the counter actually know what they’re talking about, but don’t know so much they bore your tits off answering questions about the item that you never asked in the first place.

And it’s nice to hold things, isn’t it? It’s nice to lift something up, weigh it in your hands, look at the back of the box . . .

Then put it right back down, go home and get it from the magic plate for ten quid less, like a normal person living in the twenty-first century.

I realise people who do this–people like me–are arsenic to physical shops. We wear out welcome mats and take our cash elsewhere. We are, bluntly, what’s wrong with the economy.

But look, it’s a magic plate! I’m not limited by shelf space or the shop locale; I’m not overcharged as some kind of ‘convenience tax’ to keep a shop running, so that I might overspend there again at some point in the future. I put my money down, I make my wish and as if by magic, the thing arrives. I know some people can’t wait a few days for orders to arrive: I’m a gamer, and we gamers attend midnight launches for crying out loud. It’s ridiculous; this launch night ‘Day One’ mentality beggars belief, but it’s simply shopping fever ramped up to its maximum level, proving people will pay extra for immediacy and hollow, stinking ‘experiences’–and probably invisible wrapping paper as well, if it was being offered to them.

Curmudgeonly, sour, bitter old man, busting the economy for the sake of a few pennies.

OR

Someone who knows a magical plate when he sees it.

You have your insight: you make your choice.

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