Just before Christmas the pre-Christmas sales had begun. These had been preceded by the pre pre-Christmas sales – which had started in October. It all went to emphasise the fact that England is more or less 50% off.
The pre-Christmas sales were relevant to me because I needed a new suitcase: my daughter (who has a carefree and careless attitude towards life) had borrowed and then lost my much-loved original suitcase. The lost suitcase had served me well and had made it through the rock-and-a-hard-place lands of Africa and beyond. It was that good. As far as suitcases go, it was irreplaceable.
So, I set off for the shops hoping to take advantage of the sales.
The large department store was arranged on several floors; the suitcase and travel luggage area was somewhere up on the fifth floor.
I dawdled for a while on the ground floor trying out some of the perfumes that had names like ‘Moonstone’, ‘Blitzkreig’ and ‘Power Play’. The designs of the bottles were spectacular and I reckoned that 50 years from now they’d be collectors’ items. I dawdled again on the first floor admiring the new fashions for men. The cashmere jerseys in burnt orange or plum or cerise looked like they would go well with the perfumes that I’d seen on the floor below. And I began wishing that I had enough money to buy one of the cashmere jerseys. As I dawdled I started to notice the joyful Christmas carols that were being played over the store’s loudspeaker system. The carols were interspersed with various Christmas songs: As usual someone was continuing to dream of a white Christmas and, as usual, Rudolf the Reindeer had a red nose. I carried on upwards to the second and then to the third floors. On each floor I enjoyed looking at the lovely things on display.
By the time I reached the suitcase zone on the fifth floor I had become so used to the Christmas songs that I’d started to hum along to one of them. I’d heard the song three times as a result of my earlier dawdlings. I even had a fair idea of the words: the song was all about ‘Santa Baby.’ I was still humming and murmuring ‘Santa Baby’ as I approached the shop girl who worked in the travel and luggage department. The girl looked terrific. She was slim and wore black and looked as bright as a night-flare – as bright as a burning blue-black star. She had laughing eyes too.
The girl let me examine the various suitcases – but as I sampled them I couldn’t get the words of Santa Baby out of my head. In fact, I was more engaged with Santa Baby than with the suitcases.
Then I began to wonder what the shop girl thought of the Christmas music: So I asked her: ‘How often do you hear the Christmas songs?’
‘Don’t go there,’ she replied.
‘I suppose they must drive you nuts,’ I said.
‘You can say that again,’ replied the girl with the laughing eyes: ‘They’re on some continuous loop so I hear them about 100 times a day.’
‘That must put you off the songs for life.’
‘I try to screen them out of my mind,’ she said.
‘I’ve been singing Santa Baby,’ I said.
‘Oh don’t. PLEASE DO NOT SING Santa Baby.’ She paused. And then she added: ‘I always thought Santa was an old man with a white beard.’
‘So did I,’ I replied.
We both smiled at the thought of Santa’s transformation. Santas can probably morph into anything they like.
Moments later, I added:
‘I suppose the unrelenting music must raise Health and Safety issues: It can’t be good for the state of mind.’
And then I said: ‘I hope you don’t go crazy.’
Before the Christmas lights had time to draw breath she replied:
‘That’s always a good idea.’