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It is Christmas, a taxing time for Dunedin’s menfolk, who find themselves embarking on a journey to a place they feel least comfortable: the retail precinct. David Loughrey considers the rigours of Christmas shopping, as experienced by the gentlemen of Dunedin, and how such activities put an unbearable load on their psyches.
Shopping for family and important people in one’s life is an important part of a secular Christmas, where the expectations of capitalism and the expectations of oneself and others to find joy in impractical bought objects combine in an unholy alliance.
As anyone who has found true joy in their life knows, the cost of those brief, euphoric moments can be high, not least because the addictive qualities of euphoria do have a way of nagging at your soul as you drift, confused, through life.
That is not one of the results of Christmas shopping.Christmas shopping introduces the average gentleman to a state of being not unlike the worst torments of a most unpleasant hell.
The gentlemen of Dunedin will already know of the rigours of shopping with ladies, the interminable waits in shops draped with unidentifiable garments and the strange pains that seem to rack the body in these situations, despite no clear physical trauma being enacted upon one’s frame.
Lower back pain seems to set in very quickly while one is attempting to wait unobtrusively and innocently in, for instance, a lingerie section of a department store, an area both strangely alluring to a gentleman yet also oddly shameful.
Other body parts, feet for instance, are inclined to quickly descend into an unbearable ache as one shuffles uncomfortably past endless shelves packed with manchester, make-up, and other products one only partially understands.
But Christmas shopping introduces horrors of a quite exceptional nature.
Firstly, all the people close to you are exceptionally unique, and as such require a gift that speaks of and to their special uniqueness.
Their Christmas gift should at the very least be the sort of thing that will fit with their hobbies and passions, something they will regularly cup lovingly in their soft, elegant hands, hold up to the light and exclaim: "Now there’s a present that’s really me!"
The present should become an essential part of not only their household, but their life.That’s not too much to ask.
But what are people’s hobbies and passions? Can your average gentleman identify such things? What do women like, for instance? Can your average gentleman say for sure he knows the answer to that question? Can he? So it may be with understandable trepidation, and some twinges from the latent ball of tension that occasionally grips his chest, the average gentleman might take to the shopping quarter to make his purchases.
He might pass the aisles of gleaming electric jugs (hardly suitable for Christmas) and baskets of bright plastic kitchenware (hardly suitable for Christmas), head up an escalator past displays of stockings (no idea) and sunglasses (too difficult) through to the area that sells ladies’ clothes (not even going to try) and make-up (as if).
There are scented candles nobody will ever light that say to the giftee you could think of nothing to buy them, or even that you couldn’t be bothered.
All the things a gentleman might see are of the sort that will be kept in a drawer, because they are presents and can’t be thrown away, where they will gather drawer dust and become lodged between a pair of socks and a small wooden box containing grandfather’s war medals and a tiny broken wooden toy that sparks in its owner a vague regretful longing for the simpler times of yesteryear.
And a gentleman’s heart might sink, because despite his best efforts at optimism as he set out on this odious journey, he finds himself back where he has been each Christmas now for years.
He is well past inspiration, trawling hopelessly through a sea of nameless things made of plastic or wood with price tags that have curled at the edges.
The plastic and wood things have names which seemed weird before, but as he descends into a place of pain and deep anxiety, and his brain unlatches itself from reality and begins roaming the empty halls of the more difficult parts of his subconscious, become grotesque.
The gentleman sees flexible sink caddies and wooden toast tongs alongside vacant-eyed ceramic horses’ heads, glittering big-eared dogs with cut-glass eyes, all of which begin to float in a sinister way past his mind’s eye.
But then the objects and their nomenclature mix and drift alarmingly apart, until he finds himself imagining arched coconut reticulaters and fat-free carpet warmers and titanium bench dressing holders.
And these things loom large and awful in his imagination and crowd in on his poor, troubled mind, screaming at him he has failed at something which should be so very simple: buy a loved one a gift.
The gentleman has finally lost his reason.
And with wet eyes and sweaty palms he reaches sadly for a pair of socks with a cheerful cat motif, buys them, and staggers sadly home.
For it is Christmas.
And gentlemen must suffer to appreciate the season of the baby Jesus.