Christmas sales: It's the embattled sales assistants that I feel sorry for

Tis the season to spend time with the family - and fight others for that half price scarf in Next

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Rising at 6am to make a Boxing Day expedition to Wiltshire, I felt slightly sick.

Not from an excess of food and drink; my queasy feeling was because I was aware that at the very same moment that I was getting in the car, there were people about to be let in through the doors of the Next Boxing Day sale.

What could anyone possibly need that necessitates such action? Yes, the clothing and home company has become known for its knockdown prices (I'd hazard that it makes as much revenue this week as it does over the last six months). But 6am? On Boxing Day?

It seems terribly sad that a perceived bargain (sale purchases so often aren't bargains at all, of course) is thought more important than time with family and/or friends. I'd really rather be on sprout-crossing and table-clearing duty than be caught up in the shopping scrum. My son asked to be taken to the computer-games emporium on Christmas Day to spend some gift money - and struggled to understand the concept of Shops Not Being Open.

It's the sales assistants I feel sorry for. For those in London, stores opening yesterday at 6am mean, I guess, a 5am start and yesterday there was a Tube strike across the capital. How could they be expected to get to work? Yes we need shoppers to boost the economy and yes, it provides employment, which is something to be thankful for, but I get all misty-eyed for the times when shops closed for a whole two days.

A duty manager at a north London branch of Sainsbury's on Christmas Eve restored my faith, briefly. As I queued to buy gift tokens for a couple of unexpected guests, he chatted goodhumouredly, occasionally breaking off to respond to the barked requests for "cocktail sticks" and the like from harried shoppers. As I waited - and waited - to pay there was clearly a problem with the electronic till. The woman behind gave up and we shifted her groceries onto another checkout. After a while, the manager took me and my tokens off to finish the transaction elsewhere. And then, as I left, he gave me a bouquet of flowers to say sorry for the inconvenience. I felt like apologising to him for having to work till 9pm on Christmas Eve and then be back at 9am on Boxing Day.

Greed isn't good. Not our appetite for turkey, cake and sweeties, but retailers' greed for profit... and our greed for bargains.

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