Since about mid-August, my inbox has been overflowing with emails warning of the dire proximity of Christmas and the urgent need to spend money immediately to avoid festive Armageddon.
I have ignored them all, along with the endless flyers, brochures and catalogues on my doormat.
But in recent days the hysterical tone of these missives has given way to something else, something new: a slightly desperate pleading, accompanied by offers of huge reductions on everything from handbags to hairdryers.
‘Retail is currently experiencing its very own nightmare before Christmas’. Pictured, shoppers on a high street
Retail is experiencing its very own nightmare before Christmas.
It’s not just the beleaguered High Street, either. Online commerce is in trouble, too. On Monday, shares in the internet fashion retailer ASOS fell by 38 per cent after it said it had experienced a disastrous trading period.
The result: a seemingly mad scramble to slash prices and claw in a bit of our cash before the 25th.
Now, I know I probably shouldn’t say it, but all this affords me some degree of pleasure. I used to think it was just me who resented the annual orgy of festive spending, with my foolishly romantic notion of Christmas as something more than just a commercial grab-fest.
But it turns out I’m not alone. In fact, it seems the entire country is having what might be termed a ‘post-consumer’ moment. Some analysts blame ‘Brexit uncertainty’ (of course they do). Others claim the market is trapped in ever-decreasing circles of price discounting, driven by horribly easy-to-use online giants like Amazon slashing prices to unrealistic levels.
Now it’s certainly true that where once the January sales meant something, the excitement of bagging a genuine bargain has been almost totally devalued by events such as Black Friday.
But there is something else at play here, too, something far more permanent. Quite simply, many of us have reached what you might call ‘peak stuff’.
If you asked me what I wanted for Christmas, the answer would genuinely be: nothing. I don’t need anything. No more shoes, jumpers, handbags, sunglasses, jewellery, pens, notebooks, trinkets. As for my children, they have everything they need, if not everything they want — but honestly, there is a limit to the number of Champion sweatshirts and inflatable unicorns one teenager can wear.
Fact is, the consumer bubble of the past decade or so has finally burst. The so-called ‘democratisation of luxury’ — which has seen once-treasured brands sell out to mass production — has uncoupled the basic commercial principles of supply and demand that persuade people to part with their cash.
Consumerism — and particularly fashion — is driven by desire; and desire is fickle. And in the same way that a hint of stocking can often be more enticing than full nudity, giving too much away for too little makes consumers question the value of what they are buying.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that de-cluttering seems to be all the rage: Marie Kondo’s book on finding joy through tidying was one of the stand-out publishing successes of the past few years.
At the same time, the hunger for material goods has given way to something more real and more pressing. The problems and uncertainties we face today — political turmoil, climate change, a growing sense of unease about the future — will not find resolution in any of the baubles being dangled in front of us in the shops.
And while this may be a tragedy for the High Street’s bottom line, in many ways it represents a return to some of the core values that underpin Christmas and which, in recent years, have fallen by the wayside. In times of strife we forget about life’s frivolities and focus on what really matters: family, friends, those less fortunate than us.
What most of us want for Christmas this year is not yet another pair of shoes or some fancy piece of jewellery to drop in the box with all the others. It’s a resolution to tackle some of the very grave problems we face. And you can’t put a price on that.
No mum wants a sexy Poppins!
Emily Blunt has been explaining how she decided to sex up her role as Mary Poppins in the new film, which opens this week.
‘Who’s to say [Poppins] doesn’t like to get a bit raunchy now and then?’ says Blunt, 35. Indeed. Though in my experience, the last thing wives and mothers want is a ‘raunchy’ nanny hanging around the house.
It might make for good cinema, but in real life most women would agree that someone who’s more like snaggle-toothed Nanny McPhee would be practically perfect.
‘Emily Blunt has been explaining how she decided to sex up her role as Mary Poppins in the new film, which opens this week’
According to Brighton & Hove City Council, men can have periods, too. Good luck to them, I say. Most blokes can barely cope with a mild headache, let alone the monthly vicissitudes of female fertility. They’d be complaining about PMT soon enough, except in their case it would stand for Pathetic Male Tension.
Time to talk Hurley
Prepare for another tedious New Year PR blitz for Veganuary, as part of the seemingly relentless campaign to stop us all from eating meat. After a recent invasion of a steakhouse where the diners were berated for tucking in, the latest stunt saw a group of militant vegans forming a ‘human chain’ in the turkeys aisle in Waitrose. If I saw them in my local supermarket, I’d be tempted to wrap them head to toe i
A slum slur millionaire
Stevenage may not be the most glamorous place on the planet, but it’s a bit much for motor racing ace Lewis Hamilton — who grew up there — to call it a ‘slum’.
Then again, I suppose when you’re worth more than £200 million and live in the tax haven of Monte Carlo, anything less than Versailles must feel like, well, slumming it.
‘Stevenage may not be the most glamorous place on the planet, but it’s a bit much for motor racing ace Lewis Hamilton — who grew up there — to call it a ‘slum’
Baby, you overdid it
Here’s a domestic trend that would have my mother’s generation spluttering into their dripping. Parents who have overdone it at a Christmas party are being advised to hire a babysitter for their small children — the following morning.
True, there are few things worse than looking after a youngster when all you want to do is crawl under the duvet. But what goes around comes around. Now my teenage daughter has entered her ‘party phase’, I take mischievous delight in being excessively bright and cheery the morning after she’s been carousing, as she and her friends sit groaning around my kitchen table.
It may have taken 16 years, but revenge really is a dish best served cold — with a glass of Alka-Seltzer on the side.
Forget all the brouhaha over Brexit, here’s a real crisis: Yorkshire Tea’s new eco-friendly biodegradable bags have been disintegrating on contact with hot water. Now that’s what I call a proper brew-haha.
This could backfire, Meg
They say you should never marry a man with the intention of changing him — an adage the Duchess of Sussex seems determined to ignore.
Not content with trying to turn Prince Harry into a vegan, she is now reported to have discouraged the poor fellow from the Boxing Day shoot at Sandringham — possibly with the veiled threat that if he reaches for his shotgun, the only thing he’ll be pulling over Christmas is a cracker.
I’m sure her heart’s in the right place. But it’s a brave — some might say foolish — woman who comes between a toff (and however well Harry scrubs up, he’s still at heart a member of the Barbour-wearing classes) and his field sports.
‘Not content with trying to turn Prince Harry into a vegan, the Duchess of Sussex is now reported to have discouraged the poor fellow from the Boxing Day shoot at Sandringham’
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