Shop 'Til You Drop?

Christopher Fowler
The command has come down from on high, against the advice of scientists. We must all rush back to Oxford Street, hurdling the partitions, one-way systems, guards and staff armed with antiseptic sprays to...er, browse for knick-knacks. My mother-in-law in Australia tells me they had near-riots when the shops reopened there, people fighting to get in. The McDonalds branches opened at midnight and the tailbacks for small flat pink discs of mechanically rendered meat went for miles. That won't happen here. The government is already talking about VAT reductions to lure wary British punters into stores, but I've had four months to contemplate product lines and frankly, there's nothing I need, especially 'fashion', which now seems a quaint concept built around thin people in unwearable, unsustainable tat. When it comes to a choice between Hugo Boss and John Lewis, I'll settle for the latter now. Boss doesn't even make house pants! Perhaps you recall the absurd 'fashion' brand Abercrombie & Fitch, with its threatening guards daring you to grope about in the dark for its obscenely overpriced t-shirts. They didn't even wait for the lockdown to go bust. To me they represented everything that was wrong with the concept of shopping. When we were children the idea of shopping as an activity as opposed to a necessity would have seemed absurd. To spend the entire day shopping, or better yet, going to a vast mall, or better yet, going on a trip to another country to visit a shopping village would have seemed to height of lunacy, pointless, offensive, profligate. Even so, I'd love to take a walk into the West End though, just to see what's going on. Unfortunately I can't travel very far yet - I've become tethered by my body. It's a pity because
I'd like to go to the big Waterstones bookstore near me. I've been trying to get their website to accept payment for months without success, as opposed to the delightful Strange Attractor Press website, whose owner personally posted me a copy of the book I needed. Since we now shop at our peril (I guess my story 'Dale and Wayne Go Shopping' proved a little more prescient than I'd intended) it puts a fun element of danger into an outing to buy socks. The bigger challenge will be encouraging anyone to visit a socially distanced venue, a half-empty hall bringing the smell of death into most theatres and concerts that survive on the energy of communal appreciation. Who wants to file offstage to faint sporadic clapping? And we don't go to pubs to drink beer. We go to cram ourselves into a sweaty corner and talk rubbish with like-minded individuals for hours, occasionally supping something wet. After an alcohol-free Lockdown (I could have had a glass of wine, I just didn't fancy it, plus everything still tastes metallic) I don't feel the need to charge out at the weekend and 'catch up' with mates in the way that I did before. Now we do that online. When restaurants reopen I'll pop along to help support them but if I wanted to sit in a hushed half-empty room I'd eat in my mother's old care home.
Going out - it all seems a bit of an effort, no? I'm weighing up the experience of fine dining with having to put my trousers on. And given the choice between sitting in front of 'Snowpiercer' in my jim-jams with a cheese toastie and waxing lyrical about a piece of charcoal-roasted Lebanese cauliflower, I know which I'd now choose, germ-free environment or not.


Liz Thompson (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 10:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm staying put. Never liked trailing round the shops anyway, and online ordering suits me fine. Waterstones have been ok with us, no problems ordering, paying etc, but the small independent bookstores have been great. I find people recommend new online sellers now, I've encountered at least three new to me through social media posts, not just books, but fresh veg and bizarre clothing (ageing hippie here).
There is nothing wrong with a cheese toastie. Can't say I've ever encountered Lebanese cauliflower, however roasted, but I do miss occasional trips to the Turkish restaurant with my friends.

Alan Morgan (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 11:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Best thing about all of this is not going shopping. I hate it. When I have to it's a quick in, get what I came for, out. My wife thinks otherwise and she is far from the worst. Browsing just-cuz, never. I apparently have a 'face' when forced to endure endless rows of whatever. If I go in to get ham, I don't start with socks.

John Griffin (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 11:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Restarting work tomorrow, albeit only one day teaching sixth form, I'll be driving 15 miles. I realised that since lockdown (and immediately having the virus), we had not been further than 4 miles from home and had only visited 3 supermarkets, a builders merchant, the local butchers, the pet shop and the Post Office. When we discussed it, we saw no need to visit the newly opened shops and the only planned trips will be dog walks further afield. Worried that this has turned us into polite sociophobes.

Paul Connolly (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 12:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Strange Attractor Press published a wonderful biography some years ago : Austin Osman Spare - The Life & Legend of London's Lost Artist. What an amazing life story. Try his Wikipedia page.

Also recommended for unusual books online are Valancourt Books, Wakefield Press, Tartarus Press and Dedalus Books.

Any others please ?

brooke (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 13:59

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

shop til... I don't think so. Like many people caught in this pandemic lockdown, between zoom calls, I've cleaned my house. Once our city goes to "green phase" at end of week, I will be heading to charity shops with eight canvas bags of shoes and clothing --much of it never worn. Then off to library annex to donate expensive "coffee table" art and cookery books that were a waste of money and time.
Dining out...maybe. I didn't before and probably will not. Long ago discovered that frriends who grew up in a certain era cook much better than most chefs. looking forward to meal invitations again.

Gary Hart (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 14:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I must admit, I'm really starting to enjoy Snowpiercer. The film was good but I wasn't expecting much from the series. Glad I've been surprised again. What do you think of it then Admin?

Kristina (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 14:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Glad to see you're supporting independent bookshops :-). I plan on visiting my favourite local shop this week as they also accept donations. Time to clear out my entire Kathy Reichs collection. I imagine employees at Waterstones would also be extremely grateful for any business at this time though. And I've found it astonishing and revealing just how many large corporations are utterly inept when it comes to their online ordering systems!

Been enjoying Snowpiercer myself here in Panem (aka USA.) Nicely intriguing plotting.

John Williams (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 14:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Good points. Makes one realise how futile some areas pre-Lockdown business was. I've pre-ordered something online today. I'm patient enough to wait now. The car has not been used since Lockdown. It has a flat battery, but I'm in no hurry to start it. I might be tempted if there was some charcoal-roasted Lebanese cauliflower nearby though. I'm planning a rendezvous with an old friend next Saturday (longest day) as a kind of celebration. Times are a changin'.

Simon Barnett (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 15:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oh blimey, don't get me started on shopping differences between me and MrsB... I know it is such a cliche but spending 20 minutes in one aisle of a supermarket and then not actually buying anything from those shelves is not unheard of. I'll be keeping away from the shops as long as it is humanly possible.

Dave Young (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 15:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Rather more worrying is that this 'Shop for Britain exhortation appears to be 50% of his government's economic 'strategy'. (The half apparently involves flying in metal tubes full of recycled air belching out carbon emissions)

It isn't our individual responsibility to bailout large corporations making unneeded and unsustainable tat.
No mention of the Green New Deal - a concept able to improve national infrastructure and provide training and jobs at a local level without relying on consumerism. Go on "Google' it...

Christopher Fowler Mon, 15/06/2020 - 15:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Random answers;
I thought the government's purpose for us (in place since the late eighties) was 'Work, consume, die.' (Thank you, Frankie Boyle).
Eight sacks of clothes, Brooke? Who are you, Imelda Markos?
I love all the esoteric press recommendations. Daedelus (risky name for a company, I'd have thought) published Frank Baker's 'Mrs Hargreaves' of columns passim. Wakefield Press is a new one on me.
I love the good restaurants/ good company combo. A memorable night would be spent with my film juror friends Evrim and Nicole at The Coal Office, King's Cross. Local, too.

Jan (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 16:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Look Mr F SOME OF US are actually working in care / NURSING homes the NHS not needing our skills and services...... not even as enthusiastic cleaning staff!! You stay in + stay on Track and keep taking on them additional calories. With all best wishes Sir Christopher of Fowler!! I purchased some low cal frozen yoghurt from a village shop in me way home that's my shopping CONTRIBUTION. Best wishes

Debra Matheney (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 17:03

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I suspect the British economy is almost as reliant on consumer spending as the America one. At the rate chain stores are droppig over here, I foresee lots of empty malls as there will be so many fewer stores. I am in and out, if I bother. Mainly shop online.
The NY Review od Books publishes some interesting works. If in London I would visit the London Review of Books bookshop and enjoy cake with the books but alas the only bookstore here is a Barnes and Noble. Although I should shun Amazon on moral grounds, the convenience is too tempting. My husband is sick of cutting up cardboard boxes. I suspect all this online ordering is really bad for the envionment. But then being horrible to the environment brought us Covin-19.

Peter T (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 18:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

If only we had an economy more oriented to making and creating, a government and financial system that supported Britain's small and large producers, then we wouldn't have to dash out and buy imported tat to make the economy go round.

I will now do my bit for England and order a secondhand book, published in Germany, from a bookshop in Texas.

Roger (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 18:47

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

http://theatlantisbookshop.com/ has a weird selection of titles, Paul Connolly, and https://www.dalkeyarchive.com/ reprints strange lost books.
I've almost given up buying books - now I'm reading the ones I was once going to get round to one day and wondering why I thought that - but I still miss browsing, especially in second-hand bookshops. The basements of Charing Cross Road and Cecil Court were my favourite haunts in this weather!
I need more walking boots, which are awkward to get hold of - you've got to buy them and take them home and try them on there and take them back if they don't meet your requirements - and - the great missing necessity - walking stick ferrules. It isn't a joke. A friend and I had visions of being immobilised when we used up our emergency supplies.

snowy (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 19:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Amazon shunners may consider Hive, an interesting model buy a book online, Hive pass X% of profit to an indie bookshop of your choice. Deliver to your home or collect from the bookshop. Coverage is a little spare outside of major cities at the mo. needs more customers and more bookshops to sign up.

[US readers have something similar called Bookshop]

Ian Luck (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 19:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Nothing I really need. We have a German supermarket within walking distance that stocks really good cheese, and I can get 'Electronic Sound' and 'Fortean Times' magazines on subscription. If 'Record Store Day' is still on for June 20th, and I can't go, then I'll just give my brother a 'wants' list and some cash.
I was wondering just how many people were in the shops today to see if they could return the bog rolls, rice, and Bulgar wheat that they had been hoarding - in some cases, just so that other people couldn't have it. I did hear two 'ladies' nattering in a shop saying that they had done just that, and their tone signified that they weren't that bothered about it. They were obviously oblivious of the idea of 'Karma'.

Kim Froggatt (not verified) Mon, 15/06/2020 - 20:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Abercrombie & Fitch opened in Hong Kong when I was living there (think it was 2012). The queues we're down the street. I'm not sure where they got the boys from who stood around the door and inside the shop, all looking like All American boys with no shirts on!
And the SMELL!!
Coming into Central from the ferry terminal you could smell A&F all the way, until you walked by the front door and then it was a distant memory (until you had to go home again. Then it followed you back).
I did go in there with my boys, once or twice, but none of us could get passed the surf boards and useless tee shirt quotes.
It is not a surprise to me A&F has fallen!

Wayne Mook (not verified) Tue, 16/06/2020 - 00:19

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Some of the quotes about the shopping have gone against type, some saying it was pleasant and nice. there has been one about pushing and shoving as 400 queued up for a Nike store. Primark stated they were not have a sale, like the prices are high anyway.

My daughters Beano is delivered, she's been naughty so I've had to confiscate them. I wasn't reading Billy Whizz, honest.

I've broken 2 toes so that's me out of going shopping, oh the despondency. I kicked a door frame while chasing the little perisher.


Helen Martin (not verified) Tue, 16/06/2020 - 05:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Here in British Columbia our Chief Medical Officer, the ineffable Dr. Bonnie Henry, is keeping us locked down and businesses can open only after they have created safe situations for clients and staff. A sort of night club opened with floor tape and all sorts of restrictions. Dancing was to be with table partners only and within the taped area around your table. We are given the numbers for the US states immediately to the south of us (including California) and the province of Alberta to our east which is having a bit of a spike.Our kids could go back to school last week for the last three weeks of school, but we were still told to keep our bubble small so that if anyone did come down with IT there was a small number to trace. Our border with the US is still closed except for people traveling to Alaska. Word has it that there are liars who say Alaska but are just tourists here. Lying to Customs and Immigration! How sensible and safe is that?
We're still willing to do what our fearless leader tells us and "be calm, be kind, and be safe." There were 36 cases developed over the last 3 days and we've had no deaths for a week. She reminds us that the way to keep it that way is to continue as we started. Everyone over 2 years must have a mask to travel on any ferry route longer than 30 minutes and that's most of them.I wouldn't have believed that people would be as obedient as the numbers indicate we are, but I wonder how long we'll keep the faith. There was a family party nearby where half of the 30 people attending tested positive and a choir practice in Mt. Vernon, Wash. where a number of people tested positive and at least one singer died. A few stories like that and we should be able to stay strong. It's the 18 to 30 age group that are the weakest.

Jan (not verified) Tue, 16/06/2020 - 08:05

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Helen it's only to be expected I suppose that 18-30s are less amenable to going along with lockdown.

They are at lower risk - a significantly lower risk.

The only real thing to focus the minds of the young on lockdown is that they could very possibly endanger elderly relatives, friends and neighbours.

Difficult period for all nations this lifting of restrictions

Ian Luck (not verified) Tue, 16/06/2020 - 08:08

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have rather enjoyed the lockdown - my life is exactly the same, but not having the air filled with shite, or the noise, traffic, or light pollution, or crowds of mindless drones wandering about witn no agenda, made that sameness far more pleasant.

Derek J Lewis (not verified) Tue, 16/06/2020 - 09:19

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Waterstones website. It's always doing this to me too. Sign out. Re-open and fill you basket and pay as a guest (your usual details of course) Unless you're desperate for their loyalty points it works every time

Brian Evans (not verified) Tue, 16/06/2020 - 10:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

What I find quite staggering at the moment is that I have not heard one person, including journalists, mention that slavery is still going on. The UK with it's slavers using European labour, locked up and frightened to tell anybody, for eg. And where do the sodding morons, queuing for hours for bargain basement clothes shops to open, think where the tat is coming from? Quite honestly, looking at the news for the last few weeks, it frightens me that these imbeciles actually have the vote.

End of rant. Till the next one.

Brian Evans (not verified) Tue, 16/06/2020 - 10:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I must admit, the use of the word "Imbeciles" is the direct result of watching the box-set of "Doc Martin"

Jan (not verified) Tue, 16/06/2020 - 11:05

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes you are absolutely right in what you say here Brian modern slavery undoubtedly exists.

Brian Evans (not verified) Tue, 16/06/2020 - 11:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I must apologise to Penelope. She mentions the very thing on the previous blog. Sorry!

snowy (not verified) Tue, 16/06/2020 - 11:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Brian, it is a point that bears repeating and repeating until people finally get it.

You might want to add: Eastern European women trafficked into the sex trade, Vietnamese men imprisoned in Cannabis growing factories, and Philippine and African women held as Domestic slaves.

Brian Evans (not verified) Tue, 16/06/2020 - 12:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes, Snowy. I just can't understand why this hasn't been mentioned, esp as at what better time than now will there be to draw attention to, and deal with, the atrocity. It just seems like a wasted opportunity. Life is not just about the past, important as that is, but also about the "now"

Peter Tromans (not verified) Tue, 16/06/2020 - 14:23

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Buy for price, lifestyle, image and never consider the the consequences.

Kim Froggatt (not verified) Tue, 16/06/2020 - 19:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

If I could hurdle over anything at my great age, I wouldn't do it in Oxford Street!
Just sayin'

Helen Martin (not verified) Tue, 16/06/2020 - 20:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

And don't forget the Phillipino sailors who are signed on to deep sea crews for six months and not allowed internet access it would seem. It's one of the things they go to the seamen's mission for when they get shore leave.
Indian rugs.
Prostitution all over the world but young Asian girls in particular. We passed a law here that any Canadian using young girls in Asia would face charges here.We have made the charges stick in at least one case.

David Ronaldson (not verified) Wed, 17/06/2020 - 07:15

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I remember a T-Shirt for sale in Cambridge: "Apple Crumble and Fish". I don't mind being locked down, done so much reading. As a Real Ale drinker, that's what I'm missing, no bottled beers come close to a foaming pint of Fuller's ESB

Brian Evans (not verified) Wed, 17/06/2020 - 08:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Peter, what about a pint of Titanic though? I'm not making it up! It is a real ale. I bet the bar people get fed up with people asking for "a pint of Titanic, please. I could just sink one of those" on an hourly basis.


Brian Evans (not verified) Wed, 17/06/2020 - 08:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Whoops-old age being a bugger again, I meant David.

Brian Evans (not verified) Wed, 17/06/2020 - 08:58

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

David-let's do our finishing song now, while the goings good.

Paul Connolly (not verified) Wed, 17/06/2020 - 10:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

What do you get when you cross the Atlantic with the Titanic? Halfway

Boom tish !