But whoever can afford to buy a mortgage at this time of year? As we queue it becomes apparent however, that all like ourselves are excitedly withdrawing money. “Gizz our dosh, please?” we silently beg; and there it is finally, a wad of virgin £20 notes. Ah! but before we spend, spend, spend, let’s go get some Dinky Donuts; their sweet, sickly, pungency pervades the air like the smell of candy floss at funfairs. Oh!… let’s have some hot chocolate as well whilst we’re at it, because the air is getting frostier with each frenzied breath we take.
Through the hurly burly, my thoughts turn to wondering where people come from on this cold December evening; where will they go when their wads of brown, purple and blue paper money lose their virginity as they are handed over tenderly to rough, ham-fisted market stall vendors. Will they return to their warm, cosy sitting rooms with further mugs of hot chocolate or mulled wine like us? Or home to cold, damp, dark flats devoid of Christmas love?
A visit to Santa’s Grotto in one of the big stores is a must-do for children of all ages; we can barely contain our excitement. We part with our £1.50s and join the winding trail snaking into the depths of the labyrinth. “Can I have some candy- sticks, mum?”, a little boy enquires from the front of the queue. “Only if you’re a good boy and be polite to Santa and not kick him in the crotch like you did last year!” “Oh, ma-am, it wasn’t my fault, I tripped!”
The air inside is gets oppressive as we mingle with so many bodies vying with each other for control over the queue. The grey faced man behind our cash-desk sits stony and tired-looking. It has been a long and tedious shift. No thrills and spills for him tonight as he dishes out the change or swipes the credit cards robotically. We venture back outside into the cold air in Oxford Street, with its stripey-roofed, fairy-lit market stalls. Each one contains a treasure trove of el-cheapo goods manufactured in sweat shops and ‘Made in Hong Kong’ labelled goodies. On impulse we buy nearly everything in sight because the lights cry out, “Buy me! Buy me! I’m yours for the taking!” We buy the musical tie, the flashing Santa Badge, the dangly, itchy Christmas bell earrings.
Ah! But there is magic at work here; we are not in control. We are being controlled by the smiling faces beaming at us; the taped muzak; we are walking in a winter wonderland; the aroma of hot-dogs, candy floss, mulled wine, the stale smell of the alcohol which I unwittingly inhale as a drunk bumps into me, “Sorry Mrs!” Very quickly I search my bags for my purse - just in case. Phew! That was a close one; money and presents still intact. Suddenly we realise the dangers which lurk on our 21st Century Streets. ”Come here Steffan, bach! Hold mammy and daddy’s hand in case you get lost!” fearful for his safety on these crowded streets. We fight our way to the Quadrant Shopping Centre – yes each staggering step we take is a fight against the demonic faces seemingly trying to push us back whence we came. Oh yes indeed, we are in the throes of battle here. Someone accidentally kicks my walking stick from me almost causing me to fall. I feel like hitting the perpetrator over the head with it once it’s been recovered from the floor, but do I? No. Instead a vision of a Tom and Jerry cartoon flashes inside my head and I think how wonderful it would be to physically bash everyone senseless in the quest to arrive at our destination.
On turning the next corner, “Oh I just have to get that cute little melon- baller!” “But why?” the voice of conscience asks. The voice is ignored whilst it is dropped discreetly into the glittering chrome basket. “Ma-am! I’m tired. Can we go home please?” My golden bubble has burst; I fall back down to earth with a sobering bump, no longer intoxicated by the now nauseating aromas of cinnamon, Dinky- Donuts and stale beer. We are hurled out of the rainbowy whirlpool of lights into the dark once more. The dream is over; it’s time to go home. We trudge through the now tired streets with heavy legs, heavy bags, heavy hearts but a light purse and wallet, back to our car. We look out into the dark from the black window of our vehicle. Have we been in some fantasy world? All seems dark and dismal - par for the course of a winter’s evening in downtown dismality-land. As the car halts at traffic lights, two sunken eyes in a grey-black face try to shout through our closed windows, “And so it’s Joy to the World? and a Happy Christmas Mr f***ing Rich Man?!”