Claudia Winkleman: Take It From Me

'We licked the windows and touched each others' faces until we were allowed to go inside'
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The Independent Online

"How bad can it be?" I said jauntily to my husband while lingering under the mistletoe, singing along to the Pogues. It was Saturday morning, Christmas was over and we had survived it. Sure, I'm a stone heavier and my obsession with semolina-dusted goose fat roast potatoes has taken quite a hold (Nigella is a goddess) and yes, my son now thinks that he should wake up to a stocking every single day, but otherwise we're all OK. There isn't too much tat to throw in the bin and the twinkly lights on the Christmas tree made me think that the festive season wasn't so loathsome after all.

"Seriously, monkey, people love the sales - and I've never done it which is ridiculous. I'll just pop in. Wrap up the baby for me and we'll be back before you know it," were my last words to my husband as he stood at the front door, shaking his head and muttering something about Hades.

Still skipping up the road (well, not skipping due to the new layers of goose fat fat, but you know what I'm saying), I looked forward to popping to the shops.

Maybe I'll pick up some bargain sheets, or a discounted mango, I hummed to myself.

A warning bell, or indeed klaxon, should have made me do a U-turn when I spied people in Oxford Street clutching flasks and foldaway chairs.

The news item on London Today that warned of mass hysteria in Knightsbridge should have given me a clue that hunting for a bargain wouldn't be stress-free.

But no, I was sprightly, and delighted to be out with my brand new baby and brand new credit card (merry Christmas to me).

The traffic was terrible and the cab driver spoke of wailing outside shops while frantic shoppers demanded to be let in. But still, I wouldn't listen. "Take me to Knightsbridge, kind sir," I squealed as I dismantled the pushchair and made raspberry sounds (to the tune of "Jingle Bells") to the baby.

And then I entered Harrods. For those of you (and I imagine this to be all of you, because you've got to be cleverer than me) who haven't been to the Harrods Christmas sale - let me explain. Human beings who have taken total leave of their senses clamour around the big gold doors. They all seem to move in one large mass, swelling with excitement, as the man in the green baize outfit says it's time for another 10 of them to go inside.

I joined in immediately and like zombies we all starting humming and salivating over the sparkly, cheap (well, cheaper) things on offer. We licked the windows and touched each others' faces until we were allowed inside.

Ropes laid out in zigzags, like at Disneyland, made sure that people were kept in some kind of order as they waited to buy a handbag or wallet. Items I've never wanted before and items I've always thought were moronic suddenly seemed so appealing now that they were half price. Oooh, a shocking pink lizardskin penholder dropped from £125 to 50 quid. Now that's a must-have accessory if I've ever seen one, I thought to myself. A mini-torch that can be attached to a book? Genius. I'll take three.

Then I obviously went totally mad because I decided to go to the linen department. Grown women with large clip-on earrings were fighting over duvet covers. "Get off, you cow," said a posh girl to an even posher girl over a pillow case set, and one small husband was sitting on the floor openly weeping because he knew that his wife was going to kill him when he got home and admitted that he hadn't been able to wrestle the last Egyptian cotton 400-weave flat sheet off a 70-year-old woman in a peacock hat.

"Maybe the shoe department won't be as bad", is almost the most stupid idea I've ever had. The high-pitched screams of "I said a six, I NEED it in a six", and the sweating shop assistants cantering around and leaping over upturned shoe boxes as if they were entering a gymkhana were like nothing I've ever seen before.

I should also point out that by this time the baby was screaming for food (who's got time to give a bottle of milk when Jimmy Choos are 50 per cent off?) and she'd starting eating a small and potentially dangerous frog that fell off her rattle. Whatever - the bright pink platforms just had to be tried on.

One hour and one pair of driving shoes later (I know - I'm a wanker) I'd stuffed my child full of Christmas pudding - yes, I know she could choke, and I quite agree that giving something drenched in rum to a person under the age of six months isn't ideal, but you weren't there. You can't understand the mania, the high. You didn't see the marshmallow mountain - and you didn't join in with the bagpipe-accompanied impromptu carol service outside swimwear, by the escalators on Floor 3.

I was caught up in the moment and it was only when, soiled with cash register bills and a rather ill-looking kid did I realise it had all gone too far. I only have one new year's resolution and that's never to go to the Harrods sale again. Oh, and if any of you need a pair of American tan loafers or a pink lizard pen holder - you'll find them on eBay in about five minutes.

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