Archives for the month of: December, 2012

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I didn’t catch his name.

Maybe it was because the blanket-thick heat deafened me. Or maybe it was because he said it so quickly, tumbling words obscured by the eager manner of his speech. Or maybe, probably, it was because I was in an unknown country, and everything was unrecognisable to me.

I turned my face against the clinging humidity towards the direction in which his hand enthusiastically pointed, eyes arriving at a tattered vehicle parked askew down a sun-trodden street. The motorbike, he explained – more by way of gesture than words – was the engine. The woeful cart attached loosely by rust-eaten chains was to be my carriage.
Had I been cooler, or familiar with the roads, I would have abruptly denied the smiling man his fare. But exhaustion held me in its worn reins, and my aching desire to get There dampened my streetwise inhibitions.

I accepted a ride from the stranger.

“Oh frabjous day!! Callooh! Callay!” he suddenly sang, steadying the rickshaw as I clambered aboard. Bewildered by this shoeless Cambodian man’s grasp of The Jabberwocky, I reflexively returned his apeish grin. One commanding kick and the motor awoke sharply, a throbbing pulse signalling life. With trained obedience it responded to my guide’s enthusiastic battle cry, the ensuing burst of speed pushing me back in my seat as a wave of sodden heat pinned me against molten leather.

My guide’s relentless chatter eased any lone-traveller anxieties, and I eased my head back onto tasselled cushions. Chin tilted towards the first glimpse of morning sun, I watched the towering 5 star hotels give way to canopies of green as we slid out of the city.
Tourist-laden elephants were the first sign that we were nearing It. Ambling alongside the throng of cars and rickshaws I watched as monkeys danced around their feet, revelling in the attention of the parade. My guide saw me react, eyes-wide, mouth agog, and a deep belly laugh erupted from his mouth.

Then we stopped.

I had been so captured by the menagerie that I’d failed to notice our arrival. I took my guide’s eagerly outstretched hand, and as sandals touched dusty floor, turned to face Angkor Wat. Standing still with eyes transfixed, my breathing slowed as beads of sweat traversed unnoticed across my brow. The crowds slipped away, ceased to exist. I was alone, silently rejoicing at the beauty of It.

Hours passed in that minute. Only when a cold hand touched my sun-torched arm was my trance shattered. My t-shirt clung to me, my mouth dry, lips cracked. I panicked, frantically searching for a sliver of shade in the open temple grounds. Then I found some, directly overhead. Looking up, I saw my smiling guide hold a parasol high, its protective wings blocking the blazing rays. He pressed a chilled bottle of water into my hand and belly laughed at my thirsty gulps.

I never caught his name.

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I barely recognise myself anymore.

I’m no longer the girl who once ran through the Trafford Centre on December 23rd muttering ‘shit shit shit shit shit’ (etc), clawing at the left-over tat and trying to pretend that my mother would surely love a nautical-themed toilet roll holder (I bought it. She didn’t). This year, I turned over a new tacky faux-gold holly leaf. On Friday 30th November I attempted to complete my entire Christmas shopping requirements before I tumbled head first into a vat of mulled December.
I’d written a list, I’d checked it a couple of times, and I’d given myself a motivating pep talk before leaving the house. If this year’s emotion-drenched John Lewis advert taught me anything, it’s that you must go that little bit further for your loved ones this Christmas. So I strapped on a pair (of comfy boots), sharpened my elbows, and set forth into the otherworldy abyss of Oxford Street. And it’s upon surfacing from an inexplicably sweaty tube into a face-full of arctic wind that I morphed into Lady Scrooge. It’s quite wonderful really, how a street rammed to bursting point with gaudy festive cheer has the ability to turn your arteries into icicles.
The main reason for my disgruntlement was the bizarre, erratic, and hugely antisocial behaviour exhibited by fellow shoppers. I’ve taken the pleasure of grouping these horror shoppers into three distinct species:

1) The ‘Wall-formers’:

Tis’ the season in which inhabitants of lands far far away make the treacherous journey to the capital solely to embark on their ‘yearly Christmas shopping trip’.
With their entire families. And no less than three buggies per person.
And because they aren’t used to this strange land, and haven’t yet mastered the nimble agility of a rush-hour commuter, they decide that adopting a line formation is the most secure way to traverse the pavements. Except, of course, much the same as it would be in shark- infested waters, it’s the poor sods flailing around at either end of the line that get picked off by predators like me, scraping them with my unnecessarily large Eco-friendly paper bags as I squeeze by in a desperate attempt to beat ‘The Wall’.

2) The ‘Doorway Dicks’:

The lesser known but acutely more irritating species. These are the individuals, couples, groups (all can be inflicted) who have entered a store, seen an item they would like to purchase, purchased said item, had the intelligence to know they must then leave the store, but then stop. Dead. In the doorway. Looking left, right, sometimes even up, as they engage their brains and work out where it was they were meant to be going next. Additionally, they are more often than not larger than a pregnant Jessica Simpson on the rotund scale, and therefore possess the ability to block the entire doorway. Bravo.

3) ‘The Non-movers’:

Most shoppers shop for enjoyment purposes, hence why their average 5mph walking pace drops – often instantly and right in front of you – to a 1mph stroll. If you want to entertain the thought of a completed shopping trip in under 3 hours then you must move faster. Which is tough, when the pavements are crammed to buggery and people in general are completely oblivious to everything. Just when you think you’ve mastered the art of the dodge, the game of life throws in an enemy boss in the form of a ‘Non-mover’. Don’t be fooled by this species; they are intelligent beings, and are surprisingly aware of their surroundings. They are also rude to the core.
They see you coming from 10 metres back, see the determination in your eyes, and narrow their eyes in response. Their bodies stiffen and tilt forwards. You side-step left to dodge a Wall and find yourself in their path. They have time to adopt the twisted, half-limbo pose often used to circumvent Doorway Dicks and avoid a collision, but make a conscious decision not to. Meanwhile, the laws of physics have dictated that because you just threw yourself left, the momentum will now swing you back right. Right into the Non-mover’s solid path.
Bodies thud against each other, bags tangle, a ripple effect momentarily halts the flow of people-traffic. And you say “Sorry”. And the Non-mover says words. And after a few drawn seconds you realise they aren’t words of apology but words of anger, forcing you to recoil, mouth open, eyes agog, into a little ball of Christmas shopping fury.

I met many of each on my trip that Friday. Retiring early from my challenge with a distinct lack of ticks next to my list, I trudged home and swiftly vowed that next year I’d do it online, in the comfort of my own home, strong gin in hand, happy as Larry in my slippers.