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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Eating Lessons

We are approaching the end of another extended trip, meandering around the South of France but this time, with somewhat more sophisticated facilities we have taken advantage of what the French call ‘aires’. The French have taken to motor-homes more than any other nation. The vehicles are becoming larger, more equipped and more elaborate. One result is that an industry has sprung up to address the needs of ‘camping car’ owners with numerous, vast areas set aside for, and only for campervans. Tent campers and caravanners can eat their hearts out. They are not invited.
An ‘aire’ will typically have a services point consisting of clean water, electricity, waste water disposal and a ‘vidange’ [for emptying toilet cassettes]. These facilities are more than enough to satisfy the needs of your average motor-homer. Increasingly aires are unmanned, with entry via a machine like a parking meter. Some are little more than vast car parks with electric points and waste disposal. Others are beautiful, landscaped spaces with attractive planting.
Getting sandwiched in our modest van between two gargantuan motor-homes allows plenty of opportunity to study the dining habits of others. In fact, anyone who is thinking of swapping their regime of TV dinners for something a little more formal, sociologically developed and a more gratifying gastronomic experience should look no further than the French model of dining, which can, it seems take up almost all of each day.
Take the three elderly folk sharing an equally elderly motor-home in an aire at Hourtan Port [for 10€ per night-a lovely, spacious, shady, tree-lined area]. They ambled out together mid morning-two mature monsieurs and a madame-returning at midday laden with bulging plastic bags plus several, substantial ‘artisan’ loaves. The bags turned out to contain dozens of fat, glistening oysters. Lunch was sorted! Later in the afternoon they wandered off again and reappeared with more bags, this time containing kilos of mussels. The next day’s catch was a batch of enormous fish, one of which filled an entire plate. Each meal, of course was accompanied by a bottomless bottle of wine.
At an unashamedly seaside aire in Gruissan a couple nearby would take their breakfast [plucked from the nearest ‘artisan’ boulangerie] of croissants, orange juice and coffee, then cycle off together purposefully. By lunch time their bike baskets would be laden with all the goodies they’d acquired. Lunch was prepared together-a serious and painstaking task of cleaning, chopping, table laying and cooking [no quick sandwich job for them!] There would be three courses and of course, wine. Later they would disappear again to seek out the components of the evening meal, when the procedures would be repeated.
In the small town of Gruissan, market day clogs the streets as everyone turns out to fill their basket with cheeses, charcuterie, fruit and vegetables, olives and preserves. Everything can be sampled before purchase, making the shopping excursion a gastronomic pleasure in itself. We joined the crowds, queuing for tasty lunch items and bearing home the spoils in anticipatory glee.
In contrast, the weekly supermarket drudge seems an impoverished experience, as does the regular ‘what can we have tonight?’ conundrum. Ho hum!