Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christmas Catalogues - the gifts that go on giving

It's that magical time of the year. As the skies darken and the temperature plummets, as the leaves fall leaving twisted bare branches dancing in the gales, as the lights go on in the shopping centres and the retailers rub their hands in expectation, so we can expect to receive those wondrous tidings of good joy  that are the Christmas Catalogues. No matter that we may only rarely have purchased - or in many cases, never at all - from the emporia soliciting our custom. The bright packets thud upon the doormat and are marvelled over nonetheless. There are 'festives' and 'yuletides' galore. There are Santas and robins, ribbons and tinsel, and those wonderful prices with a much higher price shown crossed out. Always there is a higher price and a 'saving' for us to gawp at, eyes wide and fingers itching for a credit card. Not to use, mind you. To put safely away.

I keep the catalogues in the bathroom. For there is nothing so pleasant, when one is seated comfortably, than to flick through them, admiring the shiny photographs and curling one's lip at the vast savings one is supposed to be making by buying something. And then not buying anything.

There is also the wonderful juxtaposition of certain items. Two well known distributors of office supplies, Viking and Staples regularly vie for our attention. But at this time of year, amongst the multi-coloured pens, the stapling machines, the storage boxes and the reams of paper, the shredding machines and the filing cabinets (and let's face it, one can spend many happy hours browsing such stuff, comparing one type of ring-binder to another and pondering the merits of a mesh in-tray and a pack of spiral-bound notebooks) there are also hampers. I don't mean the simple wicker baskets. These are your actual Xmas hampers, stuffed full of the sort of things people buy at this time of the year to give to others when they can't think of anything else but desperately want to give something other than a gift token. And the mark of a Xmas hamper is that the products are things that are themselves familiar but are marketed under names one has never heard of before. I cite as my first witness, your honour, these ingredients taken from hampers marketed by Viking.
  • Mrs. Bridges Orange and Cranberry Marmalade
  • Hamlet Belgian Chocolates
  • Crosta and Mollica Grissini
  • Sally Williams Nougat
  • Grandma Wild's Luxury Mince pies
  • Monty Bojangles Scrumple Nutty Truffles
  • Old Hamlet Mulled Wine Manilla packet
  • Eternal Grocer Chilli coated peanuts 
Are these not wonderful names? Do they not fill your head with ideas, visions of dedicated, white-haired, apple-cheeked, a-bonnetted women stirring bubbling concotions with wooden spoons, twinkly-eyed, gnarled old craftsmen patiently showing the apprentices how a master truffler gets that final difficult bit of nut to stick in, Edwardian butlers striding into the kitchen to taste the breakfast before bearing it away on a silver salver 'upstairs' where young Lord Bojangles is dallying with a actress? And the dramatic potential is boundless. You only have to let those names roll off the tongue and the play is unrolled before your eyes.

Scene: A castle battlement in Denmark.Night.
Enter Crosta and Mollica, guards
Crosta: What, has this thing been seen again?
Mollica: Ee'n so. It stalks abroad
Crosta: Tis passing strange
Mollica: Bleeding incredible, in actual fact
Enter the ghost of Old Hamlet
Old Hamlet:  Oh woe, woe, a thousand woes
Crosta:  That's him, alright
Mollica:   Let us report this and then forget all about it
Crosta:   It shall be so

Scene. Inside the castle
Enter Mrs Bridges and Grandma Wild, witches
Bridges:   When shall we three meet again?
Wild:    Two dear, Aunt Bessie couldn't make it, it's bingo night
Bridges:   Then shall we suffice 
Wild:   Hark - I hear a drum.
Bridges:   You've got your hearing aid back to front again
Wild:   It is Hamlet. And friend.
enter Hamlet and Monty
Monty:  Snap out of it Hammie, you've got to move on, son
Hamlet:   But I love that Sally Williams, though her family is mortal enemy to mine.
Monty:   Oh I thought you were still fretting about your dad.
Hamlet:   No, he was well past it, falling off that tower into the sea and being stabbed by those conspirators, best thing that could have happened.
Bridges:   Hamlet, thou shalt be king hereafter!
Wild:   And treasurer of the debating society!
Monty:   This is passing strange
Hamlet:   We've had that line
Monty:   Yeah but I kinda like it
Wild:   But beware. Beware of a man who sells tinned foods and soft drinks
Bridges:  Beware of a man who stocks sauces and condiments
Wild:   Beware of a man who always has special offers
Bridges:   Beware of a man who an apron brown sports
Hamlet:   You mean?
Bridges & Wild:   The eternal Grocer!

And so on. Coffee break is over. Thank you for coming and good night.

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