23 January 2007

Les Soldes

Gentle readers, you will recall (from my yuletide diatribe) that one does not approve of mindless consumerism, or as it is commonly known in these politically correct times, shopping. One prefers to receive all necessary and unnecessary items as gifts from suitors and admirers.

Believing that the great unwashed engage in shopping as a means to a pointless end, rather than as an end in itself, I was quite shocked to discover that a notoriously popular gay dating website (searching for a compatible sexual partner with an online search engine? What bizarre practice will the gay league introduce next… hand-free masturbation?) lists shopping as a leisure activity, featuring along with what are commonly referred to as hobbies or interests. Investing and wine-tasting (is it civilised to spit out a mouthful of perfectly good wine? I hardly think so!) are also listed on this website as leisure activities; no mention of train-spotting (the anorak type, not the film starring Ewan MacGregor)

Reluctantly one accepts that there are member of the gay league who fill their leisure time with such passtimes, but can there be people who are so sad that they consider shopping to be a leisure activity? Perhaps one of you can enlighten me as to what exactly leisure-time shopping involves? Presumably it is like the more traditional hobbies listed; gardening, painting, playing board games... so what does one do? Collect coupons? Keep till receipts? Does it involve participation in customer satisfaction surveys at leading retailers? Finding the same item in several stores and checking if it really is cheaper at John Lewis?

In my humble opinion, anyone foolish enough to prefer a search engine to their own six senses deserves whatever is coming their way: even a fool is capable of anticipating what to expect on a first date between two gay gentlemen who share nothing but an interest in shopping:

“So, you like shopping too?”

“Yes, I love it!”



“I really do.”

“Well, I really, really do.”

“Me too. What do you usually buy?”



“Yeah. What about you?”

“Exactly the same!”

“Really? That’s amazing. We’re so alike, aren’t we?”

“I know… uncanny, isn’t it!”

“Yeah… really.”

“So tell me, how do you usually pay?”

“Credit card.”

(Deafening silence)

“Oh… I pay cash, actually.”

With the January sales in full swing, occasionally one takes a stroll through the more select shopping centres (or shopping malls, if you prefer) in the city centre where I am resident, in the same way that some people venture into the Amazon (not Amazon.com... The Amazon) to observe what the natives do.

Concealed behind a large erect pillar in my darkest dark sunglasses, in unfeigned astonishment I watch members of the general public rummage through mounds upon mounds of unfolded clothing, items that no one has liked enough to purchase for the previous months… often for good reason. Fashionable people wouldn’t be seen dead in such tawdry things, let me assure you. Excuse me? What is fashionable, you ask? Why, I thought that was obvious, gentle reader: fashionable is what one wears oneself, and what is unfashionable is what other people wear.

Yet it seems this activity is animating and pleasing to most consumers, who move in a flutter of excitement from one shop to another to pursue an elusive 'bargain', prepared to stand in line for nothing more than a changing cubicle that is badly lit and quite empty, before running back to rummage some more for a different size of something or other, only to stand in line again at the check out, becoming increasingly impatient and stroppy as they deal with impatient and stroppy sales assistants… To me, it almost seems that there is a general consensus among the unwashed participants of this inter-seasonal ritual that whichever lucky buyer who has gathered together most toys when they die will obtain a prize of some sort.

All of this I observe, as a botanist observes botany, asking myself… why?

Because I have nothing much to do with my time at present, as you might have noticed, and to enrich my ability to empathise with the great unwashed… not to mention living in a warmer clime, which means that my own winter wardrobe stands in need of a little expansion before my next move northward… it occurred to me that now is an appropriate time to dip a toe of my own into the treacherous waters of the sales, after years of long and careful study. So bravely I braced myself for a day at the soldes.

If you consider doing this yourself, gentle reader, one does urge that you take the same precautions.

  • Firstly, wear sensible footwear.
  • Secondly, dress in comfortable clothes that can be removed quickly and easily (of course, some of us do dress in that manner all of the time… for altogether different reasons)
  • Thirdly, if possible, choose colours that will not clash horribly with every item of clothing you are about to try on.
  • Fourthly, and most importantly, prepare yourself psychologically for the experience (eg. beating your head against a brick wall disguised to look like a sales assistant, locking yourself in a confined space- elevator, wardrobe- with a Madonna album playing in the background) remembering that it is going to be absolutely hell, resolving that you will not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to get ruffled by the madness around you.

Suffice to say that never has one witnessed an exhibition of mindless consumerism to equal les soldes in Paris: a horde of rude, badly-dressed, unwashed individuals, in a badly-lit space, clutching desperately at anything sized small or medium, elbowing and pushing and shoving and all the while gesticulating, often just for the sake of it. Honestly, it’s almost as unpleasant as being on the metro in rush hour. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of these lunatics that the items of clothing in their desperate sweaty hands are all rejects, relegated to the bargain bin for good reason. Honestly, gentle reader, some of these leftover items were truly hideous; in particular, clothing with pictures and writing everywhere, an absolute mess to look at. While this trend is not entirely an invention of the modern age, I consider it to be an unpleasant indication of the general state of things. For goodness sake, general public, wake up to yourself: if other people wanted to look at you or listen to you, then you would be a celebrity. So if they don’t want to look at you or hear from you, what makes you think that they want to hear from your sweater?

But I digress!

You will not be surprised to read that my own adventures in les soldes were resoundingly successful, and I emerged with my dignity unscathed. Whenever elbowed in the ribs, I smiled benignly at the offender before elbowing back: whenever standing in a line, I instilled a sense of calm by making polite conversation with those around me: and whenever attended by a harassed-looking sales assistant, I was especially courteous… even when they deserved to be snapped at. There is no reason to applaud, gentle reader: it was not so difficult, provided I kept reminding myself how fortunate that I was not to be in the hideous shoes of anyone standing in the vicinity.

Needless to say, in the course of a morning an item or three were purchased on credit: one was quite delighted to find a delightful woollen knit with a skull and crossbones motif which is so me… and that was not all.

After a great deal of deliberation, hardly able to believe it myself, one purchased… a cardigan. Yes, gentle reader; cardigan as in Val Doonican.

Yes, I quite appreciate that you are blinking in disbelief. Despite that, please keep reading.

It really did make me feel my age, as they say, because when I tried this item of clothing on it felt… right!

Perhaps I am moving into a more mature phase… then again, perhaps not.

One is sharing this for a reason, of course: I do not intend to be the only one in the gay bars wearing a cardigan next year…

So dust off those credit cards, gentle readers, and rush to your nearest boutique. In a year, when it has become wildly fashionable to find excessively handsome gay gentlemen attired in a woollen cardigan with giant reindeer gambolling on the front, you’ll all be writing to thank me…

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