I thought I’d brave the city centre shops today. My ‘Sundays Close To Christmas Strategy’ (SCTCS) has for many years been to park somewhere central by 10:30am and be browsing in one of my target shops before they are open for business at 11. A quick shop, then make my escape within half an hour, to arrive back in Sale before noon. High noon.

One year recently I got caught out. I selected shit loads of things to buy in Debenhams and was first to the checkout and ready for my homeward dash, and there was a problem with the tills. What to do? Walk off in a huff having failed miserably to buy anything? Do more browsing and lose my place in the queue? Or stand in line like a lemon until they fix the tills at nightfall? The lemon option thus selected, it was 1pm before I got home, desperate for a drink, something to eat, and a room without subnormal and debased human activity.

The SCTCS was repeated this morning and Operation Debenhams was first on my radar. I am getting really tired of having to go to shops for underpants and socks. The heel resilience of socks has plummeted over the last thirty years to the point that now, after just one wear, one’s heel starts to show. And I don’t like thick socks. The underpant saga is too long to repeat here, the subject of much trauma and anger management counselling. Suffice to say I am currently in the tenth year of a mission to find a comfortable pair of whose elasticity survives the first few milliseconds of wear.

Unfortunately, the implementation of my strategy fell at the first hurdle. It seems most Manchester city centre shops now only open at 11:00 and sod the browsing half hour, which means you can get maimed or killed in the rush when the shutters are raised and the doors finally open. The speed at which these morons crash the doors is akin to a high performance car menacingly cruising the streets at 20mph then suddenly going from 20 to 100 in 3.4 seconds, except there is nothing remotely impressive about the gaggle of the grotesque and deranged all fighting to squeeze their ample frames through a single revolving doorway. And that’s just the section of the mob who haven’t succumbed to the overpriced coffee in the claustrophobically packed adjacent ‘eateries’. NO!!! They are not fucking ‘eateries’!!! This is Manchester. They are either cafes, coffee shops, or restaurants! THEY ARE NOT FUCKING EATERIES YOU BASTARDS!!! I couldn’t believe how rammed the overpriced corporate coffee shops were. Every table taken, queues out of the doors, and populated by beings with their steely glazed eyes trained on the shutters of the essential shop of their choice.

I was in no mood to join the throng of the stupid outside Debenhams and instead took a brisk walk around town, partly to stop my limbs from seizing up and partly for reconnaissance on other potential targets to assess whether or not a later visit might result in injury to me or to another shopper as tempers frayed and squabbles began and skirmishes and fights turned to World War Three. I must confess that Armageddon or the wholesale slaughter of innocents was never too far from my thoughts as my brisk pace was all too frequently interrupted by grossly overweight couples waddling hand in hand in directionless stupor, resplendent in the ‘his and hers’ light grey towelling track suit bottoms (the ones that show the sweat patches in every crease) and quilted anoraks that enhance the ungainly slowness of their quivering bulk. Market Street should be renamed Type Two Diabetes Way.

My bro Joe and me, with me deploying my ‘avoiding the stink of stale piss’ face

I have a well drilled Debenhams sub-strategy. There’s a door that generally stinks of stale piss at the corner opposite Starbucks. Not many people use that door but it helps me avoid the seemingly endless perfume counters on the ground floor, AKA the ‘Death From Asthma’ department. I prefer the stink of stale piss. On entering the store through said doors, there is a staircase immediately on the right down to Menswear.

So I descended straight down into the dungeon of death to find that there seems to be an ongoing problem with the drains, so the whole basement smelled of one of Ozzy’s more unpleasant post-evening meal outputs. To add insult to injury, while there were occasional racks of woolly socks, there were no underpants to be seen. Purchasing a woolly jumper to make me feel less like a shoplifter, I then scoured the nooks and crannies of the basement floor, eventually to happen upon a wall of Calvin Klein undergarments with a baffling array of names according to how one prefers one’s manhood to hang. The sewer smell had become overpowering. Normally shops increase the tempo of their in-store muzak to prompt customers into buying decisions. Debenhams use an overpowering smell of shit. It was a blessed relief to surface from the dungeon of death through the doorway of stale piss and back into Manchester’s polluted air.

Anyway, this pre-Christmas city centre shopping trauma experience has led to a firm and irreversible decision. I am NEVER NEVER NEVER shopping in Manchester city centre at a weekend between 31st October and 31st January. EVER EVER EVER AGAIN. 

Happy Christmas.


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