I needed some new trainers. The soles of my old ones were so worn through it felt like running in slippers. As I arrived at the shopping centre on Saturday afternoon, I witnessed a human farmyard through the doors. Animals scurrying from one shop to the next laden with bags hanging on their swollen arms. The more they bought the faster they moved. The annual workout for the braindead. Terrifying.
I imagined the scene at nine o’clock that morning, the moment the poor doormen let these crazies in. Mown down in seconds by 10,000 bargain hunters crashing through the doors. Torn to pieces by the mob thinking they were mannequins from some half-price sale. Their ragged clothes sold off as summer wear. Their bodies never found.
And so let it be known. At two-thirty on Saturday afternoon I too joined this band of lunatics and jumped into the cauldron of insecurity, disillusionment, and fear. The gates of hell. What was I thinking?
By the time I reached Decathlon my body was already 100 degrees. The rabid mass of doughnut and burger bloated bodies charging around the precinct was producing heat equivalent to that of a small power station. If they hurried any faster, I feared a lethal chain reaction could cause the whole place to sink into the ground. Luckily, I escaped the meltdown by taking refuge in the golf section of the sports superstore. If I’d gone to the ski section at this time of year I’d have been skewered to death by kids brandishing ski poles like modern day lances.
I desperately wanted to leave but I’d come too far now. And perhaps I could get away without paying. At the entrance the security alarm bells were ringing like it was a war. It seemed to be a free for all. The sale of the century. All I had to do was to get to the trainer department, find the pair I had last time and quietly slip out. Even if I was seen, once outside I would be caught up in the swirling human current. Any security guard brave enough to dive in with me would never make it back. Man-over-board. Lost at sea.
I eventually found the correct aisle, picked the ones I wanted and casually headed towards the exit. And then I had a flashback. October 1986. Woolworths. Oswestry. Shropshire. Big block of Daily Milk stuffed under my blazer. Halfway out of the exit…
‘Err, I think there’s something you haven’t paid for.’
I felt my bowels weaken. I looked around to see a painfully thin security guard grabbing my shoulder. If I’d been a few years older he would have looked about as scary as Kermit the Frog. But I was twelve, and his facial covering of puss filled, volcanic spots must have frightened me. I dropped the bar and pelted it up the high street cursing my friend for daring me to steal it in the first place. Luckily, the guard didn’t get far before his asthmatic, cheap cigarette tarred lungs gave up and he collapsed onto the pavement. I didn’t wait to see if he got up. I was still in my school uniform. I had I’M FROM OSWESTRY SCHOOL written on my forehead in bright red letters.
Twenty-seven years later, the security guard profession seems to have given itself a facelift, quite literally, as the guard standing between me and a free pair of trainers is a chiselled goliath, seven feet tall who looks like a wall. He’s already got a few gaudily dressed teenagers hanging from his belt and after careful consideration I head for the checkout and pay. This guy could fold a guy like me in half many times over.
It was only when I got back to my flat that I realised my terrible mistake. In my haste I’d picked up the wrong size. A size 39. It would be like trying to fit a ballerina’s sock onto the foot of an elephant. I had two options. Go back and exchange them. Or not.
It wasn’t the end of the world naturally, but I was God-awful angry with myself. The whole nasty trip had been a total waste of time. I may as well have set fire to myself for all the enjoyment I’d had. Why did I do it? Why didn’t I just stop at the door and turn away from the madness while I had the chance. Head to the small park down the road and talk to the pigeons. Talk to the drunks. Talk to the dogs. Talk to myself. It would have been a hell of a lot more fun that’s for sure.