How in the name of the sweet Baby Jesus did I end up at the January sales? Partly, I suppose, the old navy blue anorak was no longer keeping the wet out like it did, and I needed a new coat. I also needed to get out of the house. So I put on all my bling and my flat cap and sauntered to the bus stop picturing a leisurely coffee and lunch somewhere quaint while taking in the outdoor clothing store.
The snow having retreated, my mostly elderly fellow passengers were looking either at nothing or out at a scene the colour of washing up water. The prerequisite noisy family in baggy pink velour were shouting cheerfully and colourfully at each other, pausing only for random corporal punishments. This should have been the first clue, but I got off the bus in the slightly euphoric state that unashamed idleness sometimes induces
I don't get out a lot - not in daylight anyhow - and when I got to the shopping centre I enjoyed listening to the man with a bible who said that shopping would not bring salvation. I now realise that his words should have been another clue, but I headed for the new precinct all the same. I soon found myself in another universe. I was surrounded by glass and steel, but somehow I wasn't indoors. Also the escalators did a weird thing that put me in mind of the work of Max Escher, in that the next level was always somehow the one before. No-one else seemed the least bothered. Eyes alight with purpose, they dived expertly in and out of shops, while I stood there wondering why places were all called Zizzi, or Zippy, or something else suggestive of the Mediterranean in an electrical storm. I recognised 'House of Frazer'.
When I emerged from there, probably on another level, I had picked out two shirts and put them back, and had also decided against an almost perfect leather jacket. My problem is that I am extremely medium. If I say I've got a 40" chest or a size 16 collar, I'm told that that's between medium and large, but there isn't a size called merge. Really I need platform eleven and three-quarters. The other problem is I like clothes with no bits or words. The jacket was simple, lovely leather, and ideal but for a blemish resembling a man on a horse playing polo. It was Ralph Lauren and reduced to £300.
Fleeing to the cheaper end of the centre where the bible man had been, the way was strewn with chuggers. These are young people who try to extract promises from passersby to suppport a charity. They are on commission, it's the best they could get after graduating, it's a horrible job - but they are a menace. They girate and wobble, do wacky stuff to impress each other, and pretend to have found you at last if you should dare look in their direction. For some reason they don't usually stop me. Perhaps it's the hood on the navy anorak. One young man, also in a hood, did manage to stop me though. He gave me an oddly restrained bit of copy in black and white on a single slip of paper. It offered 'cream supplies' and a mobile number. "In an hour," he said. I explained that I had my coffee almost black, with skimmed milk at that, and I needed one in less than five minutes. His look suggested that it was I who was from another universe. On reflection I believe he was talking about a chemical stimulant, but then so was I.
I found myself on more escalators, and in stores I didn't know I'd entered. At one point I was in M&S ladies' wear - the only man and panicking. In one place signs said "Go on pinch yourself - it's true!" They meant their price reductions of course, but what is it about marketing copywriters that makes them blind to irony? Interestingly but unsurprisingly there was no reference whatever anywhere to yesterday's increase in VAT to 20% .
Nonetheless, when I got back on the bus I did have a purchase: a 30%-off waterproof hooded jacket the colour (in a good way) of a cow pat. A man was explaining to the young lady beside him that Aslan, the ruler of Narnia, was in fact God. Another man was dropping small change and making gestures of elaborate courtesy to any nearby women. A small child was kicking a panel just to see when we'd all start screaming. I looked out of the window instead as a man went past on a bicycle clearly talking to himself. I guess it was mostly the weird folk out at the January sales this wet Wednesday afternoon.
By the way, the loos are right up on the top level opposite TK Maxx. The music follows you in.