The Mysterious Case of the Missing Christmas Shopping

I have explained in a previous post my reasons for letting my fingers do the walking this year and undertaking all my Christmas gift purchases via the internet. Once I’d got over mourning for festive strolls along decorated streets lined with extravagant window displays and popping into coffee shops for chocolatey, spicy treats before perusing the German style market accompanied yet again by Slade’s ‘Here it is-Merry Christmas’, Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ or Wizard’s ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day’ I began to throw myself into digital shopping with gusto.

I was cautious at first, prudently comparing prices and products in the way that internet shopping encourages you to; shave a few pounds off here, get free delivery there, 10% off next purchase, BOGOF et al.

After a while the availability and range began to work their seductive magic and comparisons began to fall by the wayside. The shipping address and personal details were filling themselves in, curtesy of ‘Chrome Autofill’. My bank card number was committed to memory in a kind of ‘brain autofill’. Wonderful! At Amazon a mere ‘click’ would do the trick; forget the card details, even.

I sat back in a satisfied haze of anticipation. I would only need, now to wait for the various parcels to arrive. This haze also had the capacity to obliterate all memory of the items ordered and organised saving of order numbers, invoices etc had of course become sketchier as the shopping frenzy had progressed.

What had I ordered?

I had a vague idea that one or two objects’ origins were not of this country-or even of this continent. No matter. I was in plenty of time.

Wasn’t I?

My fickle fingers made their cautious way back to Amazon, where a reassuring ‘where’s my stuff’ part of the menu led me to at least a reminder of the Amazon purchases I’d made. I looked down the list-a mysterious, eclectic mix of items-and wondered who it was all for. To be fair, some things had arrived, resulting in some unseemly collisions on the stairs [I am not the sole internet shopper in this house] or some resolutely grumpy peering from windows, depending on the time of day.

Some purchases had, allegedly been dispatched. Others had tentative delivery ‘windows’. These tended towards the flexible, eg ‘delivery between 28th November and 20th January’.

Which year? I wondered.

There were helpful notes alongside some. ‘This item cannot be tracked’ announced one. Great. ‘Contact seller’ said another, which I did, via the accompanying proforma. WHERE’S MY STUFF? I shouted in capitals. The thing was supposed to have originated in Hong Kong.

Reader, there are now four days to go and this story is turning into a suspense drama. Will the mystery items arrive in time? Will they arrive at all? Forget Frantic Fridays, Manic Mondays, Shopaholic Saturdays and Tension-filled Tuesdays; It’s all about Waity Wednesdays. I’m off to print out a picture of the missing purchase, which will have to do for now.

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Christmas Climates-what’s your preference?

In 2011, towards the middle of November, in the midst of an extended trip to New Zealand followed by Australia we found ourselves in Adelaide in temperatures of around 30 degrees. And Christmas was cranking up.

Adelaide was delightful-quaint architecture [what goes for ‘olde worlde’ in the New World], a busy, buzzing city with a vibrant night life, cheeky, fun bars and plenty of attractive, green spaces.

During most of our road trip we’d been disappointed with evening, cultural life. The vast majority of bars, devoted almost entirely to gambling-‘pokies’ and horse racing-tended to shut around 9.00pm. We’d show up just before, at a time we are accustomed to setting out in the UK to be told we could get one drink before they closed up, or that they were in fact just closing. We were mystified. Where was the fabled ‘wild west’ lifestyle, the Bohemian, carefree, party, outdoor social whirl?

Turned out I’d been watching too many ‘Wanted Down Under’ programmes. Other than for an early evening meal no one bothered with going out except hardened gamblers, who sloped off in inevitable disappointment once the books were closed.

Adelaide, though was different. The nightspots were thriving. There were throngs in abundance. The locals enjoyed life. One bar proclaimed it was ‘the worst vegetarian restaurant in the world’, in praise of its steaks. Result.

Our hotel, reserved by Trailfinders [hence not a penny-pinching hostel such as we’d have selected if left to our own devices] was magnificent; a monument to luxury and decked tastefully in the burgeoning Christmas items that were adorning the city. Christmas trees sparkled at the foot of the sweeping staircase.

Outside in the street the stores sported their own Christmas displays-Santa and his reindeer cavorting above the porch of a department store, tinsel glinting in the searing heat of the sun.

To those of us accustomed to Christmas in the Northern hemisphere the appearance of Yuletide decorations in a heatwave is a surreal experience. I responded with a driven desire to obtain Australian style tree decorations-a mission in which I failed, until my kind, Antipodean aunt, seeing my predicament mailed me a beautiful, red and white felt kangaroo to dangle from the branches of our own tree.

Still more outlandish, Hong Kong-where we stopped over on our return in late November-boasted enormous Disney-style Christmas trees constructed entirely of plastic cartoon frogs and vast ornate merry-go-rounds in glittering gold and shiny purple. All this in an atmosphere that could wilt a cactus.

I am in awe of those who celebrate the festive season in a hot climate. But despite being one of the first to complain about cold, dark, frosty mornings and bleak winter nights there is something very special about Christmas at home, here in the UK where we still retain some semblance of changing seasons. And after all, with only one week until the shortest day [in daylight hours] spring is just around the corner.

The Rock and the Hard Place

                Gibraltar is an absorbing place. If you are driving there, as we did, you must first negotiate one of the most unattractive parts of the Mediterranean coast of Spain, consisting mainly of a gigantic oil refinery at Algeciras, then deal with crossing the ‘border’-a matter of sitting in a vehicle queue for an extremely long time [even more so at present] and often in very high temperatures, followed by having to drive across an airport runway, which is at best an unnerving experience.

                Most people know Gibraltar to consist of one enormous great rock sitting on a peninsula which protrudes into the Mediterranean just before the rounded corner of Spanish coastline where the East meets the South. For some complicated, historic reason dating back to 1704 when it was captured by the Dutch and the British it actually belongs to the UK. Its area is only about two and a half square miles, but the population, which inhabits a crowded area at the foot of the rock, is 30,000.

                This population is remarkably mixed, for a UK territory, but consists of a vast number of Spanish, among others. Despite this Gibraltar retains a strong colonial flavour, sticking strongly to what used to be British traditions, cuisine and customs-more ‘British’ than the British. As you stroll along the shopping streets you could be forgiven for thinking you’d been teleported to Exeter High Street or Swindon town centre-with a few flourishes of Whitehall from the odd palace or mansion house flanked by plumed guards and a forest of flags, plus red telephone and post boxes.  All this is peppered with Ye Olde British pubs plugging pints, Sunday roast with all the trimmings and fish and chips whatever the weather.

                There is a cable car to get you up to the top of the rock, where you will have to dodge the marauding Barbary apes in order to catch what is a breathtaking view- the distant African shores and the sparkling Med dotted with myriad oil tankers. While you are taking it all in the bandit monkey gang will be mugging you for everything you have whilst spitting, baring their teeth and even biting in a most delinquent manner should you dare to remonstrate.

                All this renders Gibraltar a small gold mine in terms of tourism, but still more, it is the online gambling hub of the world and offers cheap fags, booze and petrol as well as being the gateway to Africa. So little wonder the Spanish would like it to belong to them.

                I fail to understand why countries should continue to own small bits of other countries far away, when the reasons for their ownership are so entrenched in the distant past. Spain itself owns Ceuta, a small bit of land sticking on the end of Morocco. The UK insists on hanging on to The Falklands. Yes, we all know it’s all about resources, and the inhabitants don’t want the change, but the handover can be over a period of time, as with Hong Kong, to give everyone a chance to adjust.

                Colonialism should be firmly set in the past. These days we ought to know better, oughtn’t we?