Stephen Pollard: Let's hear it for shops that open at Christmas

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The Independent Online

Unfortunately, I don't have a Woollies or a Somerfield store within walking distance. If I did, I'd have made a special pilgrimage yesterday and bought something I didn't really need, just to say thanks for giving me the opportunity, by keeping a few of your shops open on Christmas Day.

Unfortunately, I don't have a Woollies or a Somerfield store within walking distance. If I did, I'd have made a special pilgrimage yesterday and bought something I didn't really need, just to say thanks for giving me the opportunity, by keeping a few of your shops open on Christmas Day.

I woke up yesterday to the sound of a chap from Usdaw, the shopworkers' union, moaning on the radio that his workers at those shops were being exploited. Oh, change the record.

If people want to have Christmas Day off, good luck to them. It's a public holiday and they've every right not work. But if they want to earn some money by offering a service, and getting paid triple time for doing so, even more luck to them. Anyone who'd like to exploit me, at the same triple pay rate, please get in touch at the e-mail address below.

For many of us, Christmas Day is no more significant than August Bank Holiday or any other public holiday. Except that on Christmas Day there's nothing to do except stay at home, whether we want to or not. Even if I'd really needed to get to Woolies or Somerfield yesterday, you see, I couldn't have, because I don't have a car and, it being Christmas and all that, there's no public transport and very little private.

Until recently, I lived in Bayswater in central London – an area described by estate agents as "cosmopolitan", with every ethnic minority under the sun dwelling nearby. It was wonderful. Whatever you wanted, whatever you needed, you could buy it on Christmas Day. The day had no religious significance to anyone, and the small shops opened because they wanted to. They saw the potential in providing a service for those of us for whom Christmas Day is the most pointless 24 hours in the year.

I suppose there's a sort of karma cause and effect going on here, but I've always loved the irony of the country shutting down for Christmas – the one time of the year when you can guarantee that something will go wrong. For four successive years I returned to my flat after visiting my parents to discover a leaking pipe.

Yes, if you're prepared to pay for it, you can usually find someone who'll come out for something like that. But it's the relatively trivial things that are the most maddening and frustrating – televisions conking out, ovens going on the blink, computers crashing. It's bad enough getting such things repaired normally, but in the shut-down world of Christmas, forget it.

The other day a Sky engineer called to correct a minor fault: I couldn't get ITV. Since almost the only programme I watch on ITV is Coronation Street, this ranks in my list of recurring inconveniences as marginally less important than a slight itch on my back.

The solution, he told me, is simple: a new viewing card, which we then ordered. An hour later my entire Sky system was turned off centrally. When I called to find out what was going on, they said – after I'd been on hold for over half an hour – that it was because I had ordered a new card, which turns off the existing one. And once it's turned off, and a new one ordered, the existing one can't be turned on again.

Oh, and by the way, the engineer was talking nonsense and it's nothing to do with the card. And it takes four working days for a new card to arrive. In other words, it will be 2 January at the earliest before my new card will appear, and that's if the company and the post run to schedule. So I have no TV during the entire holiday period, entirely due to Sky's incompetence.

Hardly the end of the world, I know, but typical.

So, to those staff of Woolworths and Somerfield who chose to work yesterday, on behalf of those of us for whom Christmas Day is nothing more than the day before the King George VI Steeplechase at Kempton Park, or Tottenham playing Southampton, or the beginning of the sales, I salute you.

stephenipollard@hotmail.com

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