Friday, December 19, 2008

Easier Christmas Shopping

Yesterday, I awakened to find that my racist, Italian housemate, Nando, had the day off from work. I rushed downstairs in my robe, to see if he was going out. Sure enough, he was sitting at the kitchen table, fully dressed in house leaving attire and smoking a cigarette. In front of him was a cup of one of his coffee concoctions.
In response to my inquiry, he informed me that he was going into town, to do some shopping. I asked him if I might tag along, if I got dressed quickly. After cautioning me that he would be out shopping for a couple of hours, he agreed that I might accompany him. The advantage for me is that Nando has a car, so I would get free, door to door transport, between home and the town centre. I'm not sure what the advantage would be for Nando, but that was his problem, not mine.
As Nando pulled into a pay, multi-storey car park, it occurred to me that we could enjoy free parking in Camberley. When I suggested going to Camberley instead, Nando said he couldn't be bothered. He's willing to pay a couple of quid for parking, rather than make the effort of driving a couple of extra miles. His first errand was to go to the bank and pay a bill. There are so many ways that Nando's life is less convenient, as he refuses to get a computer and and internet access. So much of what he goes out to do, I can do over the net, from the comfort of my bedroom.
After the bank, our next stop was a card shop, where he started looking for Christmas cards. It was so crowded, I decided to wait for him outside, where I managed to find a bench to sit on. As I sat, I addressed a Christmas card to my mother, back in America. Most likely, this would be the only Christmas card I would send, this year. Having finished addressing the envelope, I read a book, as I continued waiting for my Italian friend. When he finally appeared, he told me not to get up, as he wanted to sit and have a cigarette.
After his nicotine break, Nando walked over to a store, diagonally across the pedestrianized square. This emporium boasted massive discounts, on large, red signs in all its windows. At the entrance, I told Nando that I was going to the post office. I might as well get my mother's card in the post, as soon as possible. While Nando had been in the card shop, I had tried to find my voucher for a free eye exam, from one of the high street, optical chains. Having my eye exam was one of the tasks I was hoping to complete on this trip. Sadly, I had been unable to find it. I would have to print off another one, so that was one task that would need to await another trip.
Arriving in the post office, I was shocked to discover a very long queue. This was a Thursday afternoon. Where were all these people coming from? Don't they have jobs? Also, why is it there are about nine windows in the post office, but they never seem to have more than three of them staffed, at any one time? One staff member was standing near the front of the queue, asking people if they wanted to apply for a Post Office credit card. Everyone was turning him down. Surely, he would have been better employed manning another one of the windows, so the line could be serviced quicker. As chance would have it, I ended up with the only female working the windows. She charged me £1.22 to send my card to my mother. That seemed a bit higher than I used to pay. Usually, it's under a Pound. At least she stamped and posted it for me. That's much better customer service than in the past, when they hand me some stamps and my envelope back, which I have to put in the post box myself.
Having escaped the postal ordeal, I then visited my bank, which is just across from the post office. I checked the exchange rate for Dollars. Then a young man in a bank uniform asked me if he could help. I asked what the current fee was for international money orders. It had been years since I had sent one to my mother. While he didn't know, he asked a beautiful, female member of staff and she informed me that the price was £1 more than it was the last time I used the service, over five years ago. It was still £5 cheaper than a wire transfer. The young man proceeded to engage me in conversation. He admitted that the bank was quiet and there was definitely a business slowdown, for them. We discussed the pros and cons of my getting another loan, next year, to finance a motor vehicle purchase. Then we talked about the economy and the futile attempts of politicians to control it.
Eventually, the young banker was needed, to do some actual work. I left to find Nando. Checking my mobile phone, I discovered that Nando had sent me a text, about twenty minutes earlier. At that time, he was heading to HMV. He could have been anywhere after twenty minutes, so I called him. When he answered, he informed me he was at W. H. Smith, so I told him I'd meet him there. After I caught up to him, we went to Boots. There, he purchased several items, including four of the same thing. He said that item was buy three, get one free. I suggested that his friends might get annoyed if he gave four of them the exact same Christmas present. Undeterred, he rationalized that none of the four knew each other and like he felt about most things, when it came to Christmas shopping, he couldn't be bothered. Since Nando didn't have a Boots loyalty card, he agreed that I could have the points from his purchase. As we were near the car, he decided to put the purchases he'd made so far in the car. I waited in the warmth of Princess Square shopping mall, reading my book.
When Nando returned, he led us to Argos. He informed me that he was looking for a CD rack, for his girlfriend's daughter. I suggested that he try Woolworth's, as they were closing down, or Bentall's, although the latter would not be cheap. I also suggested that he try the discount shop, run by the geezers in the turbans. As Bentall's was closest to our position, we went there first. Nando found some crystal wine glasses he wanted, there, but thought they were a bit pricey. Leaving the glasses, we went to Costa Coffee. Nando wanted a cup of coffee and a cigarette. He bought me a hot chocolate. I wonder if he'd forgotten that I now earn more than him? We sat outside, European style, where he could smoke. Over our refreshments, he informed me that the planned regeneration of Bracknell town centre had been put on hold, again, due to the credit crunch. We agreed that the town centre looked dismal and needed a regeneration. There seemed to be fewer Christmas lights, this year, and fewer children's rides.
Having refreshed, we made our way to Woolie's. I looked for bargains in the CD section, while Nando went off in search of a CD rack. I resisted the temptation to buy any CDs and Nando found nothing there he wanted. This might end up being the last time I step into a Woolworth's. The chain closed in America, over a decade ago. On to the discount store, run by the turban wearing geezers. After browsing awhile, Nando inquired. One of the non-turban wearing staff agreed to show us their selection of CD racks. The Italian picked out a wall mounted unit, which happened to be the cheapest.
With CD rack in hand, we returned to Bentall's, so Nando could purchase the wine glasses. While we waited to pay, Nando looked over the CD rack. Puzzled, he asked me how it stood up. "It's a wall mounted unit," I replied. "You screw it into the wall, just as it shows on the picture." It was then that I discovered that Nando hadn't realized that his purchase wasn't a free standing CD rack. He's not very good at this shopping stuff, I suppose. I suggested that he return to the discount shop and ask to exchange it for one he preferred. He had doubts about the willingness of the shopkeepers to exchange it, but I reassured him that, given that he wasn't asking for a refund and that he'd be purchasing a more expensive one, they'd be fine with it.
Back we went to the discount shop, which was in the opposite direction to the car. Several times, Nando expressed doubts about being able to exchange the CD rack, but each time I reassured him. Once we were at the store, the exchange went off without a hitch, as I expected. We headed back towards the car and I helped Nando carry his packages. So, I turned out to be some use to him, after all. In the car, I helped pay for the parking, as Nando didn't have enough change. I ended up covering about 35% of the cost, which was less than my hot chocolate cost.
As Nando drove us home, I reflected on what lessons could be learned about Christmas shopping, from our day out. Use the internet, whenever possible, so you don't have to gown into town, if it can be avoided. Be careful that what you buy is what you want, what you really, really want, like the Spice Girls. It then occurred to me that I had only looked at things to buy myself, during the outing. Christmas shopping is much easier if you only shop for yourself. They say it's better to give than to receive, so surely it's best to give AND receive. Buying gifts for yourself would ensure that. Nando experienced frustration, while I had an enjoyable day out. I spent a minimal amount of money, looked at several purchases, but didn't make them, and I even got my mother's Christmas card into the post. Santa Claus could take lessons from me. So, if your tempted to buy anything in this run-up to Christmas, don't. Have a cup of hot chocolate instead, preferably at your friend's expense. Have a merry Christmas and if no one gets you the gift you want, buy it yourself, during the after Christmas sales.

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