I'm in the toy department of Boots on High Street Kensington and I'm holding a picture of a robotic hamster. "Do you have this?" I shout at a sales assistant. "I must have this. There are only 46 days left until Christmas," I explain desperately.
I'm after a Go Go Pet, this Christmas's must-have toy, a cuddly hamster comes in a range of colours (including snow white and, erm, brown) and boasts names like Num Nums and Mr Squiggles. The Go Go Hamster responds to a touch with squeaks or by randomly running around. According to Jon Diver, managing director of Character Group, the hamsters' UK distributor, sales here have been "incredible" and in the US they each spend as little as 30 seconds on shelves. It's easy to see why: at £9.99 and unbearably cute – not to mention significantly less messy than a real hamster – the loveable fuzz balls appeal to adults and children alike. So how hard is it to get hold of one?
The Boots sales assistant looks fearful; maybe it's because I'm sweating. "I must have this," I repeat, now in a threatening whisper. She says they don't stock them and suggests I look through the Boots product catalogue, which I do. The hamsters aren't there (apparently I've been dealt a red herring by gogohamsters.org.uk, which says Boots stock them, though no one there seems to know about them).
So I dash down to Argos, and locate the Go Go Hamsters in their catalogue. Chuckling to myself as I fill in my order form ("I'll have 12 please") and smugly carrying it to the check-out, I soon discover their stock room is bare. "Aaargh," I scream. It turns out that most central London Argos stores have also sold out, although I am told there are 26 hamsters in Wembley and six in Swiss Cottage. Loudly proclaiming to anyone who'll listen that I'm "heading off to pick up that iron I need," to throw them off the scent, I go and reserve one by telephone. The only others I can find are on amazon.co.uk, for £40, and eBay, for £22.
So why are they so popular? The hamster craze could be attributed to the global economic crisis. Accord ing to an article in the December issue of Vanity Fair, people's love of cute things is correlated to social misery. The article's author, Jim Windolf, cites a post-Second World War Japanese craze for Disney films like Bambi and Fantasia as the genesis for all manner of adorable consumer goods, including, it can be assumed, the robotic rodent I crave. Not only that but at just a tenner – provided you don't get sucked in to eBay bidding – the toy's keen pricing reflects the harsh economic conditions most parents are experiencing. The only problem now is that I have to Go Go across the capital to pick up my hard-to-find hamster. Mr Squiggles, here I come. Rob Sharp
Typecast and tone deaf: when soap stars go pop
Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester is releasing her single, "Somebody to Love", this month. It's a nice pop tradition – everyone remembers Kylie leaving Erinsborough and stepping into Top of the Pops singing about how lucky she wasn't. But soap stars-cum-popstars are stuck in the terrible celebrity vortex of having to – for their first single at least – remain in character, until the clueless public work out that they were just acting.
It happened to Kylie, all lovely and Charlene-y in her bubble bath, and it has happened to Meester. She's still dolled up like the top dollar tramp she plays on-screen and the video is all blurred tail lights and exposed brick; regardless of whether the single is woeful or not (it is), her pop career resembles nothing so much as a meta-textual pantomime. "I'mma turn this gossip girl into a woman," sings her disco-honcho collaborateur Robin Thicke. But for as long as she remains trapped in her on-screen persona, Leighton Meester is just a glitzier version of Anita Dobson singing "Anyone Can Fall In Love" to the Eastenders theme tune. Harriet Walker
Skydiving, marriage, then a baby carriage
We seem to have acquired a national fixation with quantitative analysis. There are surveys produced on subjects ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, with last month's investigation into people's attitudes towards potatoes ranking somewhere in the middle. But at last it seems we have some sensible information in the form of the recent study "29 things to do before you have a baby".
Announcing the results of their "definitive" poll, researchers have created a list which offers advice on "pre-pregnancy must-dos" for all women. So, what have we got? At number 10 we have "taking part in an extreme sport such as skydiving" – a far more critical preparation for starting a family of than, say, falling in love, which makes an appearance at number 13, somewhere between achieving your goal weight and learning to ride a horse. The most important thing, we are reminded, gazumping financial security (number eight) and finding a partner (number three) is travelling the world. I don't know about you, ladies, but I feel much more prepared.
And who must we thank for these insights? The emergency contraceptive brand Levonelle One Step. Which seems keen to remind us that we can buy the morning after pill to avoid falling pregnant, and spending months in our confinement and the rest of our days in unfulfilled, skydive-free misery. The one thing you really need to do before you have a baby? Ignore stupid surveys. Charlotte Philby