Tag Archives: Shopping

What the heck is Boxing Day, anyway?

Christmas has thus far been a 100% success, and now I’m settling down for the traditional Boxing Day power-down. Many will be out in the sales, fighting for bargains. Personally, I’m a bit old-fashioned, and treat the whole thing as basically “like Christmas Day, only more mellow.” If my choice is between fighting my way up Oxford Street and sitting around eating turkey and drinking port, you know which one I’m going for.

Boxing Day is a holiday that only really exists in Britain and Commonwealth countries, and seems to mystify those from other countries. It’s really quite simple. It’s a bank holday to help you recover from Christmas. It falls on the Feast of Stephen, when Good King Wenceslas looked out (there was nothing on TV except the Bond movie, and he’d already seen Live and Let Die like ten times).

I’ve heard alternative theories as to the origin of the name. One is that it was the day when boxing matches were held. While there are many sporting events traditionally held on 26th December, including boxing in Italy and several African countries, this explanation has been dismissed by experts as “like totally retarded.” Another is that it’s when the churches broke open their poor boxes for distribution to the needy, or put boxes out for collections. However, the explanation that seems most widely accepted is that it was when households would distribute Christmas gifts of trinkets, food or money – to servants. The name seems to have first appeared in the seventeenth century, when earthenware boxes were the favoured containers. Such servants would largely be household staff, but later on this expanded to include postmen, chimney sweeps and anyone else who had helped the household during the year. Through the twentieth century, households grew smaller, employing fewer servants. Technological innovation also made running a house less labour-intensive, so the tradition of Christmas boxes died out. Except… not entirely. It’s still common to give a little something to your dustman, paper boy, secretary etc., only we don’t call it “boxing” any more.

Although Boxing Day is a largely British and Commonwealth phenomenon, it’s also a Christian festival. St Stephen’s Day also falls on the 26th, and various countries have their own ways of marking the occasion. In Ireland, there’s the Feast of the Wren, when groups of revellers would go from door to door, singing and dancing and carrying a dead wren on a stick. Feathers from this wren were supposed to be a charm against shipwreck. Latterly, a live or fake wren has been used instead, because seriously, guys. In Catalonia, there is a feast where local cuisine as well as the remains of the Christmas feast are served, which sounds more like my kind of party. Returning to Britain, the tradition in Wales was to flog your female servants with branches of holly for no reason. Ironically, there are no celebrations in Serbia, the country for which St Stephen is the patron saint.

I’m not sure exactly when it became this horrendous shopping day, but quite frankly I cannot be arsed with that sort of thing. I did my struggling through the shops in the week before Christmas and have no desire to repeat the experience.

Therefore, my plan is to continue with the gluttony and materialism until I pass out, before going for the traditional Quiet Pint with Friends. Merry Christmas, chums.

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Filed under 20th Century, Current events, History, Only loosely about London, Shopping

I still don’t get the appeal of Oxford Street

An insult I’m trying to bring back into fashion is “jackass”. It’s a brilliant word. It’s as close as you can get to swearing without actually swearing. That /k/ in the middle gives it a bit of forcefulness. The short “jack” is the punchy bit, then the long “ass” means it lingers. A fair few people seem to think it’s already a swearword. I’m tired of hearing Brits who think the correct name for the stupid MTV programme is “Jackarse”.

In the West End, I often find I have occasion to use this wonderful word. I’ve complained about Soho in these e-pages before now, and surprise surprise, I’m not a fan of Oxford Street either.

First of all, I’m not a big shopper. I tend to buy the essentials down my local high street and everything else in the more eclectic shopping districts. Oxford Street is just a really big high street, when you get down to it. Big, dirty and very crowded – and that last fact is what bugs me the most. I tend to walk at a fairly brisk pace, and in Oxford Street I’m always either dodging people coming the other way or stuck behind some lumbering group of tourists.

However, there are advantages to a really big high street, and today I was forced to admit this. I had to buy a birthday present, and the gift in question was too rare for the local high street and not rare enough for the eclectic shops. So to HMV I went.

This HMV.

This HMV.

The walk from Bloomsbury to Oxford Street is actually quite pleasant – I went via Great Russell Street, passing the British Museum and GOSH! Comics, to my mind probably the best comic shop in Central London. One time I met Alan Moore there. It was way cool. One street back from here is the Cartoon Museum, whose shop is a brilliant source of humorous birthday cards. Not the usual poor excuse for humour in cards where someone’s just found an old photo and given it the caption “Little did Mike know that his jumper made him look like a twat!!!” or “Priscilla couldn’t get enough oral sex!!!” or some similarly witless tosh.

The street comes out on Tottenham Court Road(by the oldest YMCA in Britain), and just past the Tube station, opposite Centre Point, is the junction with Oxford Street. I received the usual hassle from chuggers – one asked me if I’d like to make a difference, and I explained that no, I would not. Another tried to hussle me with the old “oh hey i’m genuinely interested in you” routine, and said that he could tell from my hair that I’m into metal. I explained that I wasn’t. His next guess was that I was a hippie (to be fair, I did need a shower by that point). I explained that he was wrong again, and maybe he should stop stereotyping people. I know it sounds like a jackass sort of thing to say to someone who’s trying to make a living, but frankly I can’t stand fake chumminess.

In the shop, having narrowly avoided the cult recruiter outside, I nimbly found the items I was looking for and took them over to the tills. In front of me were a couple of the sort of teenagers that cause me to mutter, “Bloody kids!” like a pensioner. You know the sort. Filled with attitude stolen from TV programmes, mistakenly believing that the amount of media attention paid to them makes them important when in fact they’re being exploited by commercialism until their pockets cry for mercy. Really deserve a smack, but you’re not allowed to do that any more, eheu.

These particular ones were a couple of girls standing close enough to the checkout to make it difficult to get past. One of them picked up some electronic gizmo and pushed past me to the till. While I’d like to say that I surreptitiously tripped her up and then jumped on to her head, knees first, causing her skull to explode like a watermelon in a microwave, I held back the urge. A missed opportunity that even now brings tears to my eyes.

The girl demanded to know what the electronic gizmo was, in that way that suggests, “I don’t give a shit, I just know that I can make this person’s life a misery and they can’t answer back.” When the shop assistant took the box to examine it further, the girl took exception to this, accusing her of snatching the box and just generally making a nuisance of herself with the cocksure swagger of someone who contributes nothing whatsoever to society. Then, of course, she decided that she didn’t want the thing after all, and decided to actually let the queue move. There was another missed opportunity when she passed me once again and I didn’t beat her to death with a Clint Eastwood box set (possibly finishing with, “You made my day, punk”). I’m so weak.

Having worked in various jobs with shitty customers, I do tend to side with the poor schmo on the other side of the desk in such encounters. In this case, I remarked to the shop assistant, who looked slightly shaken by the encounter, “Christ, what was her problem?” The shop assistant replied that she couldn’t believe how rude the teenager was and complained that she’d been scratched when the little angel had grabbed the gizmo off her. I replied that she shouldn’t worry about it, because “some people’s just jackasses.”

See? It’s the insult of a thousand uses!

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Filed under Bloomsbury, London, Museums, Rambling on and on, Randomness, Shopping, Weird shops, West End