Monday morning life

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Christmas, if you have a sib in the Orient, starts early. The whole of Tuesday has been filled with hunting for two presents (shopping, like work, expands to fill the time available) and asking God why it takes three weeks to send a parcel to Hong Kong when I could deliver it by hand in 18 hours.

The humbug effect is kicking in. Tube stations are filled with people who stop dead at the foots of escalators, pavements with people walking very, very slowly ("No, honestly, Deirdre, there wasn't a hint of gold on the pavement in Oxford Street'').

The reason that Oxford Street is no longer paved with gold is because all the Essex sharks long since nicked it as coating for fake Rolex Oysters to sell to people who want to get them ripped off their wrists at traffic lights.

Six hours later, I have accrued a bottle of wood-stripper, wax polish, a silver cloth, multiple cleaning products and a beeping keyring.

In theory, the keyring sings back when you whistle. In practice it responds to taxi engines, voices, clattering dishes, the thumping of tables in Kyoto, and remains obdurately silent when you put your lips together and blow.

The only tune that elicits a response from this miracle of Taiwanese engineering is Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord from Jesus Christ Superstar.

Jesus Christ is about right. By Saturday, it has spent three days in the zip pocket of my handbag. The looming postal deadline and the urgent need to buy presents drags me to Oxford Street.

I pay pounds 70 for a dress in the distant hope that someone, somewhere, might have a party.

All is hell. I plod behind a string of yokels going "Ooh, Deidre, have you seen this Cartier watch? Only a fiver, and they're real diamonds".

At the bus stop a woman with those large-frame specs that opticians keep persuading people are flattering stares at me. Each time I look up, she's still gazing.

My neck hairs prickle. Maybe she's got a knife in her bag. Maybe she knows my parents.

I light a cigarette, and on cue the bus comes. Leap to the platform, aware that she is still watching. Turn and glare back, notice she has been buying clothes from the same shop as I have.

Go up to the front, swear to spend next December in Saudi Arabia, sink into a trance.

We reach Sloane Street. Please God, those presents will turn up in Harvey Nicks.

Stand up, grope for my shopping bag, realise that the the last time I saw it it was dangling from big-frame-specs-woman's wrist.

I slap my forehead, groan in disbelief. From the depths of my handbag, the keyring beeps in sympathy.