Hard times on the High Street and A Tale of Two Sarahs

Snow. Tremble, mortals, before its mighty power!
Snow. Tremble, mortals, before its mighty power!

The minute you no longer feel unabashed, childlike joy as you crunch across a blanket of fresh snow, I say go ahead and drink a cup of crushed hemlock; because this world has nothing more to offer you. An old friend of mine once told me that the act tapped into my destructive nature and if I would only accept my inherent regressive character traits then shame alone would quicken a better Parlett. Even to this day I regret not striking him with the back of my glove and calling him a scoundrel.

Today I went to pay my last respects to HMV (a high-street giant selling CDs, DVDs, video games and various tat that I was convinced was too big to fail.) It, together with Blockbusters (video rental) and Jessops (cameras and film processing), has gone into administration not (only) due to poor Christmas sales but because they failed to recognise and act on changing market trends. It’s like the internet just crept up behind them and, jabbing fingers into ribs, screamed: “BOO!”

HMV’s Blue Cross sale had a few bargains but many items could still be found cheaper online. [citation needed] I nabbed a Taschen book of Obama’s campaign posters for a pound and a few paperbacks. Bigger savings were to be found in Boots where their warehouse stock of Christmas gift sets must look like the final scene in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’.

The only trouble with 75% off is that it won’t matter if you paid full price in December – people unwrapping smellies next Christmas will still think you’ve had it sitting in a cupboard for eleven months. I only bought wrapping paper because this time next year, Rodney, we’ll be millionaires.

It is in a manner not unlike how I imagine Thatcher and H. W. Bush watched the Iron Curtain fall that I witness this sad epitaph. Not in the end with direct, mutually destructive action but through the other side’s inability to continue with a crippling game of one-upmanship.

You see, those tags you get in CDs that make the alarms go off at the door – that was because of us lot when we were kids. One-way mirrors; blanket CCTV; seductive undercover police – again, I’m sorry, but I was young.

We plundered our fair share of Blockbuster Videos too, back in the day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not boasting or proud of it; it’s just good to get certain things off my chest. We always behaved ourselves in Jessops though; they were good guys and it’s a shame to see them go. The only real crimes I ever committed there were the films I turned in to get developed during art college.

Meanwhile, in Sainsbury’s, they’re flogging off their Mulled Wine at half price, which goes a little way to making up for the way they’ve whacked up the price of single malt since Christmas like some evil smirking drug dealer getting schoolchildren hooked on PCP.

It’s been snowing after all and I can’t help but feel festive; turns out though that there’s a funny reason for that and it’s not only all the sunlight getting reflected back onto my fat frowning face. (Ah, self-deprecating alliteration  Did you like it? I hope so. Christ, I’m so alone.)

Contrived segue? Perhaps. I’ve been going on dates because, well I’m not sure why, I guess because I was in a relationship before Christmas and now I’m not and I feel that being in one again will make me complete. Is that so wrong? The internet’s full of people like me; when we’re not bringing down high street chains getting everything delivered to our door we’re attempting similar with our love lives.

Why trawl the boozy meat markets for The One when you can sit in your dressing gown eating Christmas selection box chocolate and comparing potential mates like a lonely orphan playing Lord of the Rings Top Trumps on their lonesome.

Sooner or later though you have to leave the glowing rectangle and your chiselled persona who has time to be witty and spell-check. Hilariously, both my dates this week have been called Sarah although they couldn’t have been more different.

After a fortifying couple of glasses of wine I met Sarah #1 in Leith and we went straight to a pub, got drinks and sat by the fire. I was in a fabulous mood but my date had just come from a bad day at the office. I shouldn’t have told her she seemed more fun in her emails nor should I have stared off into the middle distance when she purged her day. For want of chemistry I feigned drunkenness after a couple of pints and made my way home.

I knew very little about Sarah #2 as we’d ‘winked’ at each other online then somehow come to an agreement that it was better to meet in person and see if there was a spark before wasting time on seeing if we actually had anything in common other than a curious interest in exchanging bodily fluids. It started as a very sober, torturous Starbucks first hour with my nerves shot by too many ‘Venti Americanos’ to be able to do anything but pick apart my cover story in front of my date’s cringes as if I was the bad cop in a pensive drama and even my penis was a fabrication.

We decided on a bar for the next drink and once perched awkwardly next to her on the sofa I preceded to trawl her brain for information like a desperate crab fisherman with a leaky boat and a mortgage he can’t afford. Just because your date is learning French, doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to tell her the filthy French you know.

Back to the drawing board. It does feel somehow unnatural still – even though the concept is proven to me as I once had an 18 month relationship with a woman I met online. Argh – perhaps I shouldn’t put so much stock in attracting a female; else perhaps I should, like Richard Dreyfuss calling down Aliens with mashed potato (it’s been a while since I saw ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ so forgive me if I’m misremembering the plot somewhat), build it and they will come. And by build I mean write – because if someone can get through this gumpf with a grin then we may well have something to talk about; something deep, meaningful and very, very sexy.

Enough of this. I’ve digressed terribly. I was talking about snow making me feel festive. Well, although the most celebrated of Portsmouth’s literary giants, I stand not without the company of one some of you may be familiar with. The first eight Christmases of Charles Dickens’ life were white, so little wonder such a wonder would feature in his beloved tales and become a symbol of Christmas even to those who live in warmer climes.

Incidentally, I spent Christmas in Sydney once. We had a barbecue, someone bought some weed and later we found ourselves in a strip joint. Even though I didn’t wear my glasses and sat too far back to be able to make out gender, let alone attractiveness, if I’m honest I’ve had worse Christmases.

The bookies have already taken bets on next Christmas being white. Apparently for them to pay out there has to be actual snow fall on the 25th – stop me if you’ve heard this before – it doesn’t count if snow is already laying.

Still, can’t be too upset with the bookies. Together with Tesco Expresses, pound shops and cute Eastern European delicatessens there’s not going to be much left on the high street save the major chains that have embraced the internet and places that sell people who put on nice clothes things to cram in their maw while talking to other people doing the same. There are only so many pop-up galleries a high street can take.

The future is experiences, not consumables. I say make a colossal neon Laser Quest or something like Copenhagen’s Tivoli (an amusement park and pleasure garden opposite the central station) in every city; turn that undeveloped space in the centre – that ended up as a car park after you knocked down the Brutalist ruins and ran out of ideas – into a race track, a petting zoo or an urban wood.

It’s not hard, people. I’ve only had a few mugs of mulled wine – imagine what I could do with a budget and a secretary. No, you’re right; it’s better for everyone if it were a male secretary.

Thank you for lending me your ear. Now be gone with you. x

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2 thoughts on “Hard times on the High Street and A Tale of Two Sarahs”

  1. I like the segue from snow to sarah,though the the two both being beautiful at a distance,but cold unwelcomiong and soon turning to slush when you water makes the analogy appropriate. Soon,you can tell them you not only wrote about yourself,but so did someone else:)

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