Thinking Aloud on Boxing Day

Seasonal Consumerism.

I am still trying to digest the large Christmas Dinner that I enjoyed, and the presents received are still in a pile where they were left after being unwrapped. Ollie got new soft toys, and still can’t decide which one he likes best. The 26th is upon us, which in England is still known as Boxing Day. Although it is a Public Holiday, all of the shops will be open at some stage, as the post-Christmas sales begin. At one time, we only had ‘January Sales’. People would anticipate bargains to be had on the second of January, often queuing overnight outside big department stores. The clever shop owners would have loss-leaders featured in the windows. Televisions for a few pounds, or a half-price mink coat. The first through the doors would grab those bargains, and feel very pleased with themselves. But such once-a-year events are long behind us.

Now we have Black Friday and Cyber Monday. They are followed rapidly by Pre-Christmas sales, and immediately after by the Boxing Day sales. Before the shops close today, they will already be tempting buyers with previews of the New Year sales that start next week. As customers rush to buy things which are supposedly reduced by up to 50%, other less happy shoppers have to see huge reductions on things that they paid full price for on the 24th. Vouchers and cash received as presents yesterday will all be spent by the time it gets dark today. Having to endure a whole day with no shops open yesterday unleashes a buying frenzy once they are all trading again.

Logging onto my emails this morning, my Yahoo account was chock-full of sale offers from companies I have used online. Amazon suggesting things I have already bought, with the friendly comment “Buy them again?”. It never seems to occur to their computerised sales adviser that I am unlikely to buy exactly the same things that I ordered last week. Cookies provide fertile ground for companies I may have glanced at fleetingly, with obscure suggestions that I might like to buy some bags of gravel for the driveway, or rubber sealant for a cracked gutter. And let’s not forget the holiday companies. Holiday adverts traditionally begin on Christmas Day here, with TV advertising full of suggestions for exotic foreign holidays, cruises, villa rentals, or Disney trips. When the UK is in the grip of gloomy weather, and we are shivering in below-freezing temperatures, the sight of a tropical beach, or someone sipping drinks by a sun-soaked swimming pool is guaranteed to make you think about escaping the winter.

So, what I woke up thinking about today was this. How long will it be before most shops are open on Christmas Day? How long before companies just cannot bear to miss just that one day of trading? Most people no longer celebrate the religious aspects of the season, and I am convinced that many bored people would like nothing better than to get to the shopping malls on the 25th, instead of watching re-runs of old kid’s films after a heavy lunch. They could get an even earlier start on the sales, and the shops would save money by having to print ‘Boxing Day’ on their banners. I am also sure that many shop staff would welcome the extra pay from working on a public holiday, and anyone who is still religious would not be forced to work.

It will be a lot like Sunday shopping, which started as an experiment, with the reduced opening hours. At first, it felt strange to go shopping on a Sunday. Now, it is one of the busiest days of the week in most supermarkets. I always used to say that I would never see Christmas Day opening in my lifetime.
Now I’m not so sure.

What do you reckon? Say within five years?

Merry Shopping!

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

This morning, I woke up thinking about catalogues, specifically those used for shopping, before the age of the Internet. When I was young, there were mail-order catalogue companies that were household names, like ‘Freeman’s’, and ‘Littlewoods’. Those things were huge, much larger that telephone directories, and very heavy for a child to lift. They used to arrive a few times a year, with the seasonal Christmas catalogue being the most anticipated, as it was packed with more toys than usual.

My Mum always had at least one of the two mentioned above, sometimes both. They literally sold anything you might want for the home, from a new bed, to a set of spoons. Clothing and shoes were featured heavily, from a wide range of suits and dresses, to underwear and hosiery. They didn’t sell foodstuffs, but the Christmas special would feature hampers stocked with luxury items, shortbread in tins, and a huge variety of sweets, sold in ‘selection boxes’.

The prices were always shown as small weekly payments, as these companies serviced the market of customers who could rarely afford to pay for something up front. They would employ collection agents, who would call at the house with a payment card, collecting the small amounts for anything from twenty-six weeks to sixty weeks, depending on the total owed. Those collectors became familiar figures around the neighbourhood, as almost everyone in our street used a catalogue for everything except food shopping.

As a child, it never occurred to me that the total cost of these goods from the catalogue companies was exorbitant. They simply operated as credit agencies, charging huge amounts for everyday items far in excess of what they would cost if bought from a shop with immediate payment. But for working class people on tight budgets, before the time of credit cards and other methods of payment, they offered the chance to own something that others took for granted, paid for in relatively tiny amounts, affordable from a weekly pay-packet. They accepted the criminal interest rates as part of life, and didn’t think too much about it.

As I said, I was unaware of this. To me, those wonderful catalogues with their appealing photos were like a Bible of consumerism. In those days, there were no supermarkets, and no dedicated superstores selling toys. To see all the items visible in that huge catalogue would involve visiting dozens of shops, all over London. But here it all was, in a huge book, which I could flick through at leisure. And flick through I did. Whenever a new one arrived, I would quickly check to see if anything new had been added, sometimes comparing it with the previous issue. The toys were generally at the back, so I would open it that way round, working my way through from the last page.

For at least a week, I would revisit my favourite pages. As my birthday approached, or Christmas was on the horizon, I would tear strips of paper, and write the item number or letter of what I liked most, slipping the paper into the relevant page. In this way, I hoped to give my parents a guide to what to buy me, without the awkwardness of actually having to ask them outright. It didn’t always work in my favour of course, but I used to greatly enjoy the process. What was sheer joy for me represented months or even years of debt for my parents, but I was oblivious.

Catalogues still exist of course. These days, many are much smaller, and only give some indication of what might be available on a website. Others arrive unsolicited in the post, and end up in the bin, unread. People still pay excessive interest rates to buy gifts for their children, though usually from shops that exist to offer the same weekly payment system, and they are few and far between. Modern day children can browse online, using laptops, phones, even Tablet computers.

But there is no longer the simple wonder of anticipating the arrival of a massive catalogue, filled with ideas and pictures that could delight you for months on end.

It’s starting already

As everyone knows, yesterday was the first of October.

Of course, it immediately started with a vengeance. I received emails for Halloween ‘specials’. A flyer came through the door, advertising a local supermarket. Pumpkins were on sale, and already reduced.

Some bloggers were starting early too, mentioning special ‘scary’ film posts, building up to the supposed wonder of Halloween.

Then I went out late afternoon, to do my usual ‘big shop’. I could have been very confused. I may well have believed it was already the 30th, not the 1st. Costumes on sale, alongside socks with pumpkins on them, tights with skulls printed on them; witches’ hats, plastic brooms, and tubs of sweets for trick or treat. Once I got to the food aisles, I discovered a new phenomenon, ‘Halloween Food’. It seems that multi-packs of sausages, large boxes of oven-ready nibbles, and various designs of chicken bites, are all now required eating on the 31st.

The long confectionery section was also laden with ‘special’ boxes and packets. The same old sweets and biscuits, their wrappers in fancy dress, to cash in on Halloween. Obviously, a chocolate wafer biscuit is more appealing if it has a cartoon pumpkin on the wrapper, dressed as a witch. That makes them taste better, I’m sure.

OK, I am an old grump, and I hate Halloween. For someone of my age, in England, it is relatively new, and did not feature here at all, until I was in my late thirties.
But come on, consumers. Are you really going to keep falling for this crap every year?

Sadly, I suspect you are.

A Beetley Monday

For many of you, it is the start of the working week. Others might be about to go on holiday, heading off to airports, or packing up the car for a long drive. You may have appointments, a job interview, or be busy dealing with children already bored with the long summer break from school.

But for me in Beetley, it’s just another day. It might just as well be Friday, or Sunday. Days of the week have little or no relevance for me. Ollie has to be walked, dinner cooked later this evening, and if I get time, I might watch a foreign TV serial on catch-up, or maybe even a film I have recorded. Late afternoon on a Monday, I get in the car and go to the local supermarket to do the ‘big shop’. Some people hate shopping, but I don’t mind it at all. The huge air-conditioned shop is a pleasant place to while away an hour as I stock up for the week. I am also content to know that I won’t be back again, util next Monday.

Sometimes on a Monday, I might also do some housework, or even gardening, if it is absolutely necessary. But it is unusually hot here at the moment, so both of those are off my agenda. So it looks like another quiet day in rural Norfolk. Fingers crossed.

Thinking Aloud on Boxing Day


In England, we call the 26th of December Boxing Day. The name comes from the tradition of servants being given boxes of gifts by their employers, or perhaps from poor people making clay boxes to use to collect money, door-to-door. You can choose which version you prefer, but it has nothing to do with the violent sport of Boxing, fortunately.

The shops are all open, and the big new year sales have already started. Bargain hunters will have risen from their beds when it was still dark, to get in the queues for the cheapest and most desirable offers. Following on from the mass buying frenzy leading up to Christmas, the shops will be packed again, as people starved of just one day of potential shopping flock to the malls, and city centres.

So, I woke up thinking about shopping. Not that I will be doing any. Those of you old enough to remember will recall when shops were not open all the time. Most shops were only open from 9 until 5, and often closed for lunch too. There might be a half-day closing midweek, and on Saturdays, most were only open until lunchtime. Nothing at all was open on a Sunday.

The arrival of shop-keepers from different cultures saw shops opening much later, and all day Saturday too. Eventually, pressure from both big business, and the desire of the customers, forced a change in the Sunday Trading Laws and shops started to open on Sundays too. But only until 4 pm. Very soon, Christmas Day was the only day when shops did not open, and that didn’t apply everywhere. Petrol stations remained open, as did the small shops attached to them. Local shops and small businesses owned by people of other faiths decided to open as well, and it became relatively easy to find somewhere to spend your money, even on the 25th.

I am now wondering ‘how long’? How long before every day is a shopping day, and every hour in it a shopping hour. Of course, online shopping is already 24/7, but I am thinking about physical shops, with real people having to work in them; feeding the desire to buy, to browse, to window-shop, and to generally congregate in these cathedrals of consumerism. I’m guessing it won’t be too far off. And in the process, we will have lost more than just a day of religious observance. Tradition and culture will have changed too, driven on by the demands of globalisation and profit.

What do you think about shopping?

Black Friday?

Sorry, but it’s another moan about ‘American Imports’.

We don’t have Thanksgiving in the UK, at least not yet. Though I am sure they are thinking about ways to sell more turkeys, greeting cards, Quaker hats, and pumpkin pies. If the retail giants could convince the powers that be to add another day off work to the calendar, we would soon be falling in behind the marketing of another imported festival, I have no doubt.

Of greater concern is the very successful establishment of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping spree. This suddenly appeared without warning a few years back, and has inexplicably established itself as part of British culture with no resistance whatsoever. Overnight, people were talking excitedly about ‘Black Friday’ as if it had always been here. Email inboxes were inundated with apparent ‘Special Deals’, ‘Must-have bargains’, and ‘One-day only offers.’ Shortly after, ‘Cyber Monday’ arrived too, giving the retailers a chance to shift all the rubbish that we didn’t fall for, three days earlier.

The news media love all this. They relish showing us people literally fighting over huge televisions, trampling over each other to get that thing that they simply must have. Then they add the serious note, in the interests of ‘balance’. Scammers, con-artists, non-existent bargains, fake goods sold as genuine. The fraudsters love Black Friday more than most. We have long been used to the frenzy of bargain-hunting here. After all, the January Sales have been an institution for as long as I can remember. But we need to sit back, take a breath, and think about what these new trends actually represent.

Shops are far from stupid. In advance of this beanfeast, they bring in lots of shoddy goods. Brands we have never previously heard of, sizes that they couldn’t shift all year, and unusual colours too. The electrical goods are mostly old technology, soon to be superseded by the ‘must-haves’ of 2017. The package sizes are generally smaller, and where genuine bargains actually exist, they are soon sold out, leaving buyers scrambling to get anything, to claim they have secured a ‘deal’. And the supposedly massive discounts have proved to be anything but. Inflated ‘recommended retail’ prices, never previously charged anyway, are cut by impressive percentages, but in many cases are actually higher than they were last week.

So I urge you to resist. Refuse to buy on Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. Vote with you wallets, purses, and pockets. Let them know you do not believe the hype, and refuse to be led like sheep by the retailers. Fight back, and hopefully we may see an end to this farce. Just say NO.

Dereham at Christmas

As regular readers will know, I don’t go into our local town of Dereham very often. I may drive around the outskirts occasionally, to get to the supermarket, or my shift at the windmill, but I tend to avoid the nearby mini-metropolis whenever possible.

This year, the traders (and perhaps the Town Council) have made some effort, with tasteful decorations above the shops, and a very nice illuminated tree in the Market Place. The recent addition of a large McDonald’s burger restaurant on the edge of town, and an increase in the population, from the newly-opened housing estates, seems to have increased traffic, and started to cause some difficulty with parking too. The building of a large Aldi supermarket close to the existing Lidl and Tesco will not help things, I am sure, but it will give the local residents more choice, so that might be something positive.

After almost four years here, we have seen a change though. The sleepy town that we knew in 2012 is now often bustling. The local free car park that used to only ever be two-thirds full, is now short of spaces most days. In the huge Tesco, that I once believed might have to close for lack of trade, it is becoming harder to park, harder to shop in the aisles, and more difficult to pay for the goods at the checkouts. Despite the gloomy forecasts for retail outlets, even the smaller shops look busy, at least as far as footfall is concerned.

But this increase in popularity must come at some cost. More and more applications are in, for permission to build large housing estates on the edge of the town, or in the small villages nearby. Local Doctors will not be able to cope with the demand, and schools are also unlikely to be able to accommodate the increase in children needing places. The narrow streets of the one-way system might well become clogged with traffic, especially at school-run times, and the evening rush hour. The valuable free parking in the town will be under more pressure, as the local bus services to the surrounding villages are not planned to expand.

Increasing the population without laying down adequate infrastructure beforehand might well be good for Council revenues, and for the shopkeepers and traders in the area. But eventually, something will have to give, and the Christmases to come may well not be as pleasant as they have been in the past.

A trip into Town

This morning, I had to make a trip into Dereham, the local town. I often drive through it, to get to the large supermarket on the outskirts, but I rarely have occasion to stop there. Today, I had to take a suit to the Dry Cleaners, as I will wear it next week, to a friend’s funeral. I was also going to pop into the branch of my bank there, and perhaps have a look around some shops.

I parked in the large free car park at the northern end of the High Street. As it is not one of the market days, it was easy to find a space. It was very cold in the wind, and occasional sleet made the short walk unpleasant. The shop where I left the dry cleaning is also a shoe repair and key-cutting business. The pleasant young man who runs it is always cheerful, and he must be a hard worker too, as he juggles all three sides of his business alone. It will be ready on Saturday, which is just in time for me.

Leaving his shop, I had a look around. The town was wintry and unwelcoming. Large puddles made negotiating some areas tricky, and the other shoppers were shuffling, bundled in heavy winter clothes. At that time of day, almost everyone out was either elderly, or young mums with prams and pushchairs. For the older people, it is a familiar routine, a daily walk around the individual shops. A chance to escape four walls, endless hours of television, and being able to see others; perhaps even bump into someone they know. They stop for a cup of tea and a cake, at one or other of the cafes there; a break from the norm, and a brief spell of warmth inside. For the young mums, it is not that different, and the baby gets some fresh air too.

I went into some shops, not really intending to buy anything, but open to inspiration, or clever merchandising. But it was just the same old stuff, and I found myself spending a few extra minutes in a sportswear shop, as it was nice and warm inside, and the friendly staff were happy for me to browse unmolested. I still notice how chatty the local people can be, in great contrast to London. A man of about my age, walking ahead of me, turned to warn me. ‘Watch that bit, it’s slippy there’ he said, indicating a section of path that I was nowhere near. Negotiating a narrow pavement alongside a parked lorry, another man stopped to remonstrate with me about the inconsiderate parking, seeking confirmation that I was as angry about it as he was.

I decided to go into the bank to draw cash, rather than use the ATM in the cold outside. The couple in front of me were dividing cash into different sections of the lady’s handbag, and putting other banknotes into envelopes. They were so engrossed in this task, that they didn’t even notice that I was queuing behind them for some time. If I was still in London, I might well have said something, asked them to move to a counter to complete their budgeting. But I am no longer faced with the pressures of big city living, so I just waited, smiling amiably.

Walking back to the car park, the sleet was getting insistent, but it was not halting the progress of those elderly shoppers. Most were making straight for the large ‘Poundland’ store, where everything, as the name implies, costs just £1. This is a false economy of course, as the perceived value does not take into account pack sizes, the durability of the products sold, or the quality of anything you might buy there. Still, it is nice to get five things for £5, even if you realise later that you didn’t actually need them.

Back out of the sleet, cosseted in my car, I was home in ten minutes, to a welcome from Ollie. These days, a trip to Dereham seems like an adventure in a big metropolis. My life has surely changed.

Selling Yourself: Part Two

I was a bit fed up with records by now. I wanted to listen to them, collect them, and discuss them, not sell ones I didn’t like, to argumentative heavy metal fans, and old ladies. I researched new markets in which to invest my skills.

Food, and shopping for food, was changing dramatically by then. Large supermarkets, called Fine Fare, Safeway, and Tesco, were beginning to dominate high streets, especially in the suburbs. Even the traditional grocery shops, represented by Lipton’s,  J. Sainsbury, and the ubiquitous Co-Op, were enlarging their stores, and reducing the amount of goods physically served to the customer. Self-Service was the new shopping catchphrase, and working women were no longer the housewives of the past.

Along with the busier lifestyles, came the need for food that was easier to prepare, required less fuss and bother, and could all be bought in one place. It wasn’t quite the death of the High Street, as we know it now, but it had definitely been diagnosed with a terminal illness. There was a new service being provided by companies, to meet the needs of these new shops, as well as continuing to supply more traditional outlets; Van Sales.

This was a change to the previous practice, where they ordered for next day delivery, or from a central warehouse. This was immediate, at a regular time each day, and could be increased or decreased, dependent on sales. For the shops, it removed their fears of being left with out of date fresh foods, and for the suppliers, it meant that they could take the reins of ordering and merchandising their own brands. I decided to step onto the running board of this new trend, and see where it took me.

To an outsider, it might seem that there is not a great deal involved in selling sausages, pies, bacon, and cold meats. They are staple foods in the UK, bought frequently, reasonably priced, and widely enjoyed. It is not a small thing though, it is a massive market, fiercely contested by those involved, and at the time I speak of, worth a huge amount of money. Companies were recruiting fast, and I joined the ‘number two’ company in the field, as a van salesman covering an area in South London, on the borders with Kent. There was no induction course, or training modules, delivered in a nice classroom environment. It was a 6am start, at a depot in a car park in Catford.

I got a company overall, a cash bag, and a list of products and prices, which got cheaper the more that were bought. I was accompanied by a grumpy trainer, for three days only. He ran me around, made me do all the heavy work, and shouted at me from start to finish. It was on the go, physical work, with no time for breaks, and being under the pressure of time, for the whole day. Luckily, that day was short, as nobody wanted fresh food delivered after 3pm. By Thursday, I was on my own, and decided to calm things down a bit. I planned my route differently, and got all the smaller customers out of the way first. They were the ones most likely to complain if I was late, or didn’t have what they wanted. Once they were dealt with, I could offload the bulk of the goods into a couple of supermarkets, sort out my paperwork, and pay in any cash taken. These vehicles were not refrigerated, so it was important to sell everything daily, as it could not be kept overnight.

I also got to keep the van, to use privately if I wanted to. I didn’t mind, as it saved me commuting in my own old car. My Dad was less amused though, as the company logo, of a laughing pig carrying a sausage on a fork, was painted all over the vehicle. He didn’t want this parked outside his house in Bexley Village, as he thought it was seriously lowering the tone. I had to park it further down the street, near a large hedge that shielded the offensive sign-writing from easy viewing. I liked the solo nature of this new job. Nobody to answer to, planning your own day, and finishing pretty much when you wanted. The downside was the juggling act, constantly trying to have enough to meet demand, but not being stuck with stuff either. It was not an exact science, so measures to deal with any problems had to be rapidly learned.

As I said, the vehicles were not chilled, but they were insulated. This meant that in all but the hottest weather, goods would stay reasonably fresh overnight. Sell-by dates were a new idea, and generally printed on the wrapper of the item. Bulk goods, like trays of unwrapped pies, or large bags of catering sausages, did not have a sell-by date. I had to learn, like a sorcerer’s apprentice, to invoke the magic arts of the food salesman. This was not difficult, as we all met every morning, to collect our goods for the day, and would have a quick chat, as we loaded our vans, and checked our deliveries. I listened and learned, very soon applying these new found skills.

Sell-by dates are easily dealt with. A dry Brillo Pad will remove the date, either causing doubt, or just enabling resale, in places where dates are unimportant.  This takes time, naturally, but it is worth it, when you know how to capitalise on it. A certain percentage of goods were always written off, as spoiled, damaged, or simply beyond sell-by. These figures did affect commission and bonuses, but that was irrelevant, as our money was already earned. Any packaged goods that went out of date, could be easily sold on, unwrapped, and sold as ‘catering’ products. Sausages would be moulded into larger packs, passed off as bulk supplies for caterers. Pies were even simpler, as they were just placed in a tray, and sold as goods for cafes, or catering establishments.

It says something for the fallacy of the whole ‘sell-by’ ethos, that no-one ever died, or became ill, or complained, as a result of this ‘date adjustment’ policy. There was a much easier way to ‘fiddle’ things. This involved duping the original customer, by way of short deliveries. Sausages and pies were delivered in large plastic trays. These could be very heavy once filled, and given the large orders placed into some shops, difficult to manage. All the major supermarkets employed a ‘back door man’. They would check your order, and countersign that all was correct. We had a ‘cat and mouse’ relationship with these guys. They knew we were up to something, and we had to fool them. They had numerous deliveries being received at once; they were under pressure, and showed it. The plastic trays we used had slots in the sides. This was to enable the checkers to view the delivery, and count them in. We were normally one up on them though.

When I started, I noticed that my colleagues always carried empty egg boxes, although we did not sell eggs. I soon found out the reason for this. Placing egg boxes between the layers of sausages and pies, could give the impression that we were delivering full trays of goods, when we obviously were not. This was potentially a gamble, as discovery might lead to arrest or charges, or at the very least, serious complaints. If undiscovered, these short deliveries could prove incredibly lucrative. Substituting the egg boxes, could leave as much as 12 pounds of sausages, or 24 pies short delivered, sometimes 20% of any order. In a large shop, this could add up to a substantial amount of money,  available at least five days a week. The goods not delivered, would be unwrapped, and sold to a catering customer.

Sometimes, they might even be delivered later, to the same supermarket that eventually paid twice for the same goods. I accept now , that this is dishonest, and illegal, and offer no justification for my actions. At the time, it was ‘the game’, and we all played it, and saw nothing wrong in it. Naturally, this element of dishonesty increased our income immensely, and could more than double our actual salary. At busy periods, such as Easter, and Christmas, it was literally a licence to print money.  It is fascinating, to me at least, to realise that I earned as much money in the mid 1970’s , as I was earning before I retired from work, in 2012.

Greed is an unfortunate desire in humans, and it eventually took me over. I had heard that the ‘Number One’ supplier was looking for staff. They had a depot within walking distance of my home, and offered half as much again in basic pay, but no use of vehicles. I decided to give it a go, seduced by a much later start time, of 7.30 am. I quickly discovered why they started later. They finished later, a lot later. Working for the brand leader was an education. The volume was immense, the vehicles stacked to bursting. We went out with a minimum of two, sometimes three men, one driving, as the others struggled to prepare orders, in the moving vehicle. There were twice as many customers, and the volume put into supermarkets was beyond comprehension, with twice daily calls to the larger stores. From the time you hit the first call, until finishing late, around 5pm, you were running around, and shifting huge amounts of food.

The stacks of trays were often ten feet tall, and they had to be dragged from the van, into the shop, and all priced and merchandised into position. Even at a very young age, I returned home exhausted, and dreading the next day. And there were fewer fiddles. I had to live on the salary, and a few ‘catering perks’, along with free breakfasts. I was working twice as hard, for less money overall, and soon realised it couldn’t go on.

It is worth mentioning the sheer volume of goods involved. There were Pork sausages, Beef sausages, Pork and Beef sausages, as well as chipolatas, and bulk packs of catering sausages. Pies were available in assorted flavours. Pork Pies, Large Pork Pies, Pork, Ham and Egg slicing pies, Steak Pies, Chicken Pies, Mince beef Pies, Steak and Kidney Pies, Chicken and Mushroom Pies, Slices, and Pasties. Bacon was available in bulk packs, or retail packs, and involved Back bacon, Middle bacon, Streaky bacon, and could be un-smoked, or smoked. Then there were skinless sausages, Scotch Eggs, and numerous joints for carving; Beef, Pork, Cooked Bacon, and Hams.

The product list was enormous, and our stock was accordingly huge. Some days, we had sold out by 11am, and returned to refill the van, and start all over again. As the brand leader, the supermarkets called the shots, and could make us return late, as late as 5pm, to deliver additional pork pies, or sausage meat, depending on the season. I was soon sick of the sheer toil involved, and the lack of ‘extras’.  I needed another move, and began to look for something else to diversify into.

It didn’t take long.

Shopping Follies

I seem to have a strange connection with illness or boredom, and shopping. It is mainly since the arrival of the Internet of course, as this enables you to shop freely from home, despite not feeling your best. There is also TV shopping though.

Before I had Internet access, there were only the Shopping Channels. In the UK, the front runner was, and still is, QVC. It is all too easy to underrate the skill of the presenters on these shows. How they manage to remain enthusiastic, and keep finding something interesting to say about a product, after looking at the same thing for almost two hours, is an art in itself. Flicking onto this channel, with the intention of ridiculing its very existence, is a foolish move. No sooner has the first snort of derision passed, and you will find yourself in the queue on the phone, waiting to buy that item. Such is the hypnotic talent employed, you will readily purchase something that you had not only never considered buying, but you really never needed anyway.

I recall watching late one night, in the days when there was little else available, to while away the hours of insomnia. I saw a small iron advertised. It looked like a ‘normal’ steam iron that had shrunk in the wash, and was being sold as a travel iron, ideal for foreign holidays. As it was demonstrated, I could actually see myself using this on my next trip abroad. No need to iron everything before I left, or wrangle with hotel staff, trying to borrow an antique electric iron, that was hardly worth the effort. I sent off immediately, and was delighted with my purchase. I even used it once, on a two-week trip to Bulgaria. Even though it needed five refills to iron one ordinary shirt, I congratulated myself on a purchase well-made. I still have it. Somewhere, in a box.

Another time, I watched a ‘presentation’ on paint pads. As someone who abhors DIY, these seemed to be a lazy answer to my hatred of painting. I called in, and ordered the full set. They remained in a cupboard somewhere for many years, until I finally needed to paint something. Funnily enough, they did actually work. They were easier than brushes to use, and to clean, and the straight edges really came in handy, around doors, or fittings. The trouble was, I had hung onto them for so long, the glue holding the pads to the applicators had become perished, and they soon came adrift. I couldn’t return them, as I had bought them years earlier.

Then I got the Internet.

I soon had accounts with Amazon, Play, and numerous other companies. Laid up with a bad case of ‘flu, I rapidly acquired a huge collection of ‘bargain’ DVD films, and numerous books. I remember that box sets were very attractive to me at that time. Many are not only still unwatched, they are still sealed in the wrapper. Some of the books have not only never been read, they have not even been opened. They went into packing cases, and did the rounds with me, as I moved from place to place. Gadget sites seemed to target my bouts of inactivity, bombarding me with special offers. I bought things for opening recalcitrant jar lids, and other things for getting those off, if they stuck. I had corkscrews that turned themselves, and cheese knives that had cutouts spelling ‘Fromage’. There were other knives, guaranteed to stay sharp forever, and knife sharpeners, in case they didn’t. One particularly pointless item, was a ‘space-age’ wine cooler; a kind of silver foil duvet for wine bottles, that wrapped around them, keeping them chilled. The trouble was, I only ever bought red wine, and that didn’t need chilling.

Although I seemed to be aware of this tidal wave of buying, I was also powerless to stop. I got a steam cleaner, so that I could not only do my housework, I could sanitise that housework as I went. If I couldn’t justify buying something for myself, I bought presents instead, stashing them away, until a suitable gift-giving occasion arose. If I was really ill, and actually took a week or two off work, I would be getting deliveries for days afterwards, as the parcels began to arrive, in a steady stream. I bought mops that you could spin in a strange device attached to the bucket. Despite frantic spinning, they never seemed to be any drier than when they went in. I had ionisers, thought to improve air quality, and assist better breathing. They certainly collected dust, you could see little piles of it, all around them. To get rid of these piles, I had to get a mini-vacuum, as getting the big one out for such a trivial task, seemed unnecessarily troublesome.

Then I discovered Ebay.

Unlike many Ebay buyers, I am not addicted to the thrill of the bidding. It just irritates me. I am mostly a ‘buy it now’ man. No messing about there; buy it, pay for it immediately, parcel arrives, leave feedback. Job done. I once bought fourteen heart-shaped items for Julie, on Valentine’s Day. These ranged from decorative boxes, to dinner plates, and strange stones, all more or less in the shape of a heart. She was touched, I was happy, and they all went straight into a box, where they reside to this day. I started to collect ceramic items. After all, I was an admirer of Art Deco, and this was a reasonably cheap way of collecting things from that period. Once we had filled four storage boxes, with items that have never seen the light of day since, I called a halt. I had to go ‘cold turkey’ on Ebay, refusing to log on, and never checking my account. But then, I got bored at work. Twelve cameras later, I stopped once more. They are all in a box, intended for display, once I had moved to Norfolk. The problem is, that we don’t have the spare space for a large cabinet in which to display my definitive camera collection. So, in the box they stay.

Since retiring from work, and moving here, I have managed to buy very little, or so I thought. Garden implements and gadgets, hoses, electrical tools, they are all necessary, surely? The once half-empty shed is now full of garden and DIY must-haves. For someone who does very little gardening, and hates DIY, that is a little extreme, not to say pointless. I have had to put the brakes on. DVD films and books, are now only to be received as gifts. I definitely do not need any more stuff for the garden, and there is no space left for anything to do with the kitchen, or cooking. After all, I am on a pension, and don’t have the money any more.

A parcel arrived today. It contains a broom with rubber ‘bristles’, and a doormat that is ‘guaranteed’ to absorb water. I confess that I weakened, and had a quick look at the JML website last week. At least they will come in handy, won’t they?