How long can you put off the inevitable? It usually takes me most of December to make a list. Then I panic-buy everything from Amazon the day before Christmas Eve, paying six times over the odds for special next-day delivery. It’s a system of sorts, but I can see there are drawbacks.
So this year I tried Late Night Shopping. At first I thought it was marvellous. There was a fine atmosphere, the streets closed to traffic, lots of food stalls and whatnot. But gradually, I realised the reason I kept getting barged into was that other people had annoyingly decided to go shopping too.
This Lewes shopper is used to peace and quiet. I know that commercially speaking, empty-ish stores are a bad thing; but on the other hand, it is rather spiffing to be able to browse freely, then purchase what you want instantly without having to queue. It’s like internet shopping, except you can touch the goods.
Not so on Thursday night. Some places – you know who you are, Bright Ideas – were that mobbed, people just grabbed anything from anywhere, and waited hours to be served in a conga-length line. In this way I bought some extremely odd items very slowly, humming the queuing song all the while, the tune rusty on my lips from disuse. Then Grange Girl appeared, seized me firmly by the elbow and steered me into the street.
‘Late night shopping is not about buying things, you fool’, she chided.
Barcombe Bloke strolled by and said, ‘Harveys Shop has the best ones.’
‘Thanks for the heads up’, Grangey replied, and dragged me down the Cliffe to score mince pies. She explained that the entire point of the evening was to bag edible freebies. She was quite shameless, sticking her head into shops and barking, ‘Any food?’ If they said no, she slammed the door with a clang.
By the time we reached Harvey’s all the pies had been eaten, possibly by the terrifyingly perky Morris dancers outside. So we went back up School Hill, blagging crisps and sherry all the way. We popped into the Needlemakers for a bowl of soup – not free – just as a fashion show was starting. We pretended to be Kate Moss and Anna Wintour sitting in the front row, while some ladies paraded in Needlemaker styles. Though Kate and Anna probably don’t slurp mulligatawny and cram thick slices of buttered bread in their gobs. We lingered longer than we’d intended because there was a male model who looked just like Rupert Everett, and by the time we finally dragged ourselves away, all the shops were shut.
So I still haven’t made much headway with my list. The High Street’s an option again, of course, now everyone else has gone home, but it keeps raining, and the computer is giving me a come-hither look. Lewes or Amazon? I consult my list. I shrug on my coat. I take it off again. I reach for the mouse…
Beth Miller, 8th December 2009. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith