Shopping and other Tortures

Why is it when I walk into the Gap I feel as if I am entering the halls of the enemy? The packed shelves of muted uniformity, the creepy photographs of models with faces frozen in cultish serenity, the racked displays of greys, of greens, of browns and beige... Everyone in khaki! You can almost catch a whiff of jackboot leather behind the facile chirpiness of those words. Everyone in khaki! Oh, I notice you aren't in khaki. Mind if I take your name?

Recently I have been given a few hundred pounds worth of gift vouchers for a local shopping centre and I have been browsing the stores, including the Gap (Even the name! The Gap. Sounds like some floating extra-historic non-entity. Other shop names refer to things. The Gap just IS.), in search of something to waste money on.

The concept of gift vouchers for a shopping centre is something I have some trouble with. When I was younger a regular disappointment at birthdays were the relatives that instead of filling birthday cards with lovely, lovely money would insist on giving you book vouchers. While this was annoying (as my relatives will find out when the time comes to put them in nursing homes) there was at least a rationale behind it. Listen to my gran on one of my birthdays past, telling me why I have book vouchers instead of cash-

"You'll only waste it."

This was, of course, true. Had I been given money I would have rushed to the comic shop and with my ten pound note bought a thousand penny sweets. A thousand penny sweets! Cola bottles and fried eggs and shrimps and flying saucers! I would have stuffed myself until frothy sugar poured from my mouth and the air turned bright with wonderful colours. Thanks to the foresight of my gran I was encouraged towards the book shop where I was instead traumatised by Stephen King and Shaun Hutson. Book vouchers plainly serve a purpose.

Shopping centre vouchers do not. If I so desired I could wander in and buy a hundred hamburgers. I could ask for a car to be packed tight with strawberry ice cream. I could buy a metric ton of sugar and snort it like cocaine. In fact the only thing I couldn't buy with them is cocaine. So when someone gives you these vouchers what they are really saying is-

"If I gave you money you'd only spend it on heroin. Or buy a gun. You filth."

Having said that, despite the abundant choice available to me I am still finding it difficult to find something to buy. I need a pair of shoes. My shoes have no soles. So I want to buy a pair of shoes. Only the shops in which I can use the vouchers only have fashionable shoes. Apparently I am allowed to remain blissfully ignorant of fashion until I need a pair of shoes when I discover that all shoes now have laces up their sides. Or they have square toes like Roald Dahl's witches. Or they are so ornate it is impossible to tell which is the right and which is the left.

Maybe it is easier to buy a book? But no, a trip to WH Smiths, reveals that the only three books left on sale are "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", "The Atkin's Diet" and the version of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" with the adult cover. I could buy a digital camera? But then the only camera you can get for two hundred pounds has to be fitted with a new bulb every time you want to take a picture in the dark.

DVDs! How stupid of me! I've been meaning to buy the special edition of "The Fellowship of the Ring" for ages and now is my chance! For months the shelves of Virgin, of HMV, of video game shops and supermarkets have been full of copies of this film. This cannot fail. Unless all the copies have mysteriously disappeared. In Game there is an empty box with a label that reads "Temporarily out of Stock: Please ask shop assistant for more info".

"Excuse me?"
"Yes?"
"Do you know when you'll have more copies of 'Fellowship of the Ring'?"
"Hold on a minute...No we don't have any copies."
(Pause)
"Do you know when you'll have more in?"
"Um, we don't get regular deliveries. We get shipments every day. We never find out what we're going to get until the morning of the day a shipment arrives. But you could phone us to find out if we have it?"
"Every day?"
(Pause)
"Yes."

So I am thwarted. I considered buying every copy of the "Busted" album in Virgin and building a fiery pile of unavailability but I know that next time I walk in the shelf will be restocked. And much as I would love to buy mega credit for my mobile phone and insult someone in Japan I can't think of anyone to ring. So for the next few moments after I finish this article I am going to be calculating how many penny sweets I can buy with two hundred pounds.

What do you think, did we get it right? Comment here...