AND A HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Two fortyish blokes - paunches, weighty wristwatches, big jewellery - are checking out the Disney store in the vast Lakeside "regional shopping centre" in Thurrock, Essex. They are evidently brothers doing the Christmas shopping. Big Brother picks up a Tigger (there are dozens of them, whatever Tigger himself might claim).

"Forty-five nicker for a Tigger. You have to pay the extra in Lakeside, don't you?"

Not-so-big Brother inspects Tigger's pricey tag.

"So, why do we keep coming here, then?"

Big Brother tosses Tigger back on to a soft mountain of Pinocchios and Pocahontases.

As they walk out, the ever-so-nice Walt Disney "greeter" smiles a smile that would melt Cruella de Ville's heart.

"Thank you for coming. Merry Christmas. Have a nice day."

The brothers waddle off, Tiggerless and uncomprehending, into the infinite aisles of this air-conditioned Xmas Essex pantechnicon, easing their way past the Cafe Giardino where a fight has broken out between two young women.

"You just leave him alone, you bitch," screams one as she hurls a bowl of nice 'n' hot lasagne at the other.

The brothers vanish into the throng that has gathered around the Nativity scene. The baby Jesus is sprawled on a cot surrounded by Mary, Joseph, and the Three Kings; there is a lot of automated head-wagging. Baby Jesus is swaddled in sacking and a horde of copper coins. The Yuletide custom at Lakeside, it appears, is to throw money at Jesus for a bit of seasonal luck. A child is complaining that he hasn't got any money left; his grandmother says, "Well, throw a crisp at him instead." The rosy-faced cherub sends a prawn cocktail-flavoured snack flying towards God the Son. A second cherub scrutinising the crib looks up at his father and asks, "Dad, who's the baby?"

Dad looks hopefully at his wife, but she is wrestling with a second child.

"It's on the tip of my tongue..." he says. (Perhaps he's the same man I saw selling crosses and crucifixes at Whitechapel market. "You can have the plain one," he suggested helpfully, "or the one with the bloke on it.")

In Beatties, a railway modeller's paradise, two parents are arguing. "He wants the black Power Rangers helmet, not the red one."

"He doesn't; he's already got the black one."

"No, he hasn't."

"Yes, he has. When did you last look in the kids' bedroom, then?"

Another couple are demanding a discount at the cash desk. They want a scale-model Porsche 911 and Dodge Viper (pounds 14.99 each).

"I'll give you pounds 25 for the pair, and that's tops," says the man.

"We don't do discount."

"Well, stuff it, then," says Dad. "And a Happy Christmas to you, too."

In Jigsaw World, Malcolm and Joan are considering Granny's present. "Gran's senile," says Joan. "She won't appreciate a present, so there's no point getting one. Saves a few quid."

Nobly, Malcolm refuses to play Scrooge. "No, the old girl'll like this," he says, picking up a "35 Years of Coronation Street" 1,000-piece puzzle, a snip at pounds 7.99. "And if Gran can't do it," adds Malcolm thoughtfully, "we can always give it to your aunty for her birthday."

In Globe: The Discovery Store, Glenn reckons Pat should get a "How to put on a condom" T-shirt ("1. Make sure you have a willy") for her dad's Christmas stocking.

"No," she says dismissively, "I'm getting him a pair of windscreen wiper motors from Jeff at work."

And so the spirit of Christmas only-too-present lives on in the shopping malls of Britain. Today, the birth of baby Jesus brings faith, hope and shopping. And the greatest of these is shopping.

By the Lakeside's Trafalgar Square-high Christmas tree, soaring up from Jack Frost's Magic Kingdom, two elderly ladies are sharing a packet of cheese and tomato sandwiches wrapped in tin foil.

"I'm fagged out," says the first. "I've had it up to here with Christmas shopping. It's the last time..."

The second swallows a chunk of Cheddar and says: "Just like last year then..."

They burst out laughing. They appear not to notice of two large men walking by cradling 90 quids' worth of plastic Tiggers.

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