Wednesday, 4 November 2009

ho ho chuffin' ho

I went into a famous catalogue-shopping establishment (let's call it 'argoose') last week. End of October, and they were playing christmas tunes over the tannoy. It's started, then, the countdown to christmas.

I used to love the festive season. As a kid, it's great. It's your one chance to own a decent telly/stereo/computer. When I was 7, we all had to write letters to Santa at school. I asked for a torch, and a 'Race & Chase' slot-racing-budget-Scalextric thing. Remarkably, that's what I got, so credit to the school for organising that one! Thing is, it was exciting. Even when I got older, Christmas was still a laugh.

Then I started work. My first job was for Gateway supermarkets, in November 1988. Christmas was hard work, but a laugh. The tannoy music was cheesy, but Christmas started properly in December, and in the years after, the money I earnt in this job paid for some fantastic nights out over Christmas. Christmas Eve to me was a better night than New Year, because it wasn't as busy and everyone was up for a laugh. Even the year I was spectacularly ill on sweet cider whilst in fancy dress was a laugh.

Then something changed. I continued to work in supermarkets, for Kwik-Save and then Iceland. Back in 1988, Christmas Eve had a pattern, the morning was mad-busy with people buying fresh produce, and the afternoon went quiet as people went home to prepare for the next day. We'd all go home by 4pm.

The rot started at Kwik Save. Firstly, they opened Sundays. Then, they opened late nights until 10pm - an utter waste of time, and on the council estate I worked on, it was a serious security risk as well. That was followed by a mandate that at close of business Christmas Eve, we all had to stay late to get the shop ready for re-opening, and that took away the one perk of retail. We'd worked like idiots for a week so we could relax on Christmas Eve, but now we were being told that we had to stay late, whilst I suspect the head office and board of directors were all down the pub.

Something else changed. Christmas started in August, not December or even late-November. By December 24th, we'd had 4 months of it. In addition, customers changed. Christmas Eve became busy all day. Customers started buying more and more junk they didn't need. In reality, the shops are shut for one day, but it became really obvious that as a retailer, my job was to take as much money from the customer as possible, whether they had it or not.

And that killed it for me. Not just the 4 months of festive season, but the realisation that there really isn't any purpose to Christmas anymore, other than to spend money on crap. Crap that in reality, on boxing day will probably be half price. Crap that is readily available throughout the year, but we've been programmed to buy it in December.

People hear this, and then tell me 'Ah, but it's for families'. Hmm. It's the perfect time of the year for people to be made to feel inadequate that their family isn't perfect, particularly those who've lost relatives. You get cards from people who you've not seen for ten years, and cards from people at work you see every day, for God sake. TV is full of trash, even more so than usual, and the Queen gets to patronise her long-suffering subjects.

So, if I appear grumpy over Christmas, I apologise, but truthfully it has no meaning to me anymore, other than to sit in front of the telly enjoying some time off work with a fridge full of beer, Which I think is a bit sad. I doubt Santa will be bringing me a torch this year!

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