Shoppers get into festive mood

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High streets and shopping centres were packed yesterday as a last-minute spending spree and overnight Teletubby-queues helped lift the Christmas gloom for retailers.

As shoppers jammed city centre car-parks, the road network was further under pressure from the Christmas exodus as thousands of families made their way to visit families or to airports to escape the festive season here altogether.

Last week consumers were being offered cut-price bargains to make up for a downturn in pre-Christmas sales. Yesterday, however, seasonal desperation took over as anxious shoppers queued from 2am to get their hands on sought- after presents.

Maya Jethwa, manager at Toys 'R' Us, in Aberdeen, said: "At 8am yesterday there were about 200 people queuing for Teletubbies [dolls from the popular children's television programme]. Some had been there since 2am."

A spokesman for Harrods said the Knightsbridge store was Teletubbied- out, apart from the odd Tinky Winky, and sales were limited to one a customer. He also reported that one shopper, from Japan, spent pounds 10,000 on Christmas decorations - which cost pounds 7,000 to ship home.

Toys aren't the only presents selling well. In Sidmouth, older people have precipitated a surge in gifts for pets. Car-parks at Brent Cross Shopping Centre, north-west London, were close to full capacity, while the Lakeside Shopping Centre, in Thurrock, Essex, saw 650,000 shoppers pass through its doors. In Glasgow, thousands of shoppers flooded into the city centre. William Neish, general manager of Marks & Spencer on Argyle Street, said: "It will be a bumper Christmas. We are expecting a huge weekend, and expect record sales figures."

Shoppers were also grabbing last-minute bargains at Britain's airports yesterday, as thousands of families joined the Christmas exodus to winter sun-spots. More than 170,000 passengers passed through Heathrow.

Great Escape, page 10