Margaret Henderson Smith Margaret Henderson Smith
Margaret Henderson Smith
‘No question about it!’

We close the door on our viewers. This is the third time they’ve been. They want it. They actually want to buy it but they have a house to sell in London. That’s OK. That’s fine. We are in no hurry. Christmas is looming and there is shopping to be done. But who’s to say they won’t get a buyer today, tomorrow?

‘Don’t build your hopes up too much,’ says my better-half. ‘It’s not in the bag yet.’

‘But who’s to say?’ I reply. ‘They loved it. There’s no question about it!’

I am excited. I read in the Sunday paper there’s a shortage of properties for sale. I’m wondering if this serious shortage starts in London. We need to look around again. Just in case. We make appointments to view three more. We come home. We rate them out of ten. Eight, seven and five. We have two serious contenders, assuming of course they’re still available at the critical time. I don’t want to see any more ‘Sale Agreed’ signs ahead of us.

I am thinking about Harriet. I am thinking about relationships and the twists and turns they can take. I am thinking about how very sad it is when houses have to be sold because the twists and turns spiral to leave one reluctant partner not wanting to go. One reluctant partner left with half the proceeds. Left with half a life and half the money to try to make it work. It is a beautiful house we’ve viewed, but as with my lost diamond, there’s an ethical issue looming with number seven.

I mustn’t steep in empathy. I must get on with planning my shopping. I’m Christmas shopping early this year to leave time to organise a party. A party to celebrate the launch of my new book.

I am thinking of this as we are walking hand in hand along the seafront. The sky is as bright and as clear as if it were a summer’s day. The tide’s just gone out leaving a mass of small pools in the dips of wet sand. The seagulls gather for morning assembly then lift off, swooping low to land, sinking webbed feet into the shallow cold water left behind by the sea. It reminds me of Christmas. It reminds me of Christmas Day, nearly always sunny. I am thinking of Harriet. I am thinking of Harriet and Mark’s Christmas. Of course it’s not an ordinary Christmas Day for them. When does Harriet ever do ordinary? So, for my readers, I want it to be an extra surprise to delight them. I want ‘Ne Obliviscaris’ to be at the top of their Christmas list.

Back to shopping. I am thinking of one particular time not too long ago. I think of the hassle. I think of leaving the house almost before the first bird awake has had time to trill from somewhere in the tree-lined road. I think of the car parks in town, already full to overflowing. I think of my better-half frowning as he squeezes the car into a less than desirable parking slot.

‘Right,’ he declares as he’s sticking the ticket on the inside of the windscreen. ‘We’ve got three hours. If you haven’t done it by them you’re not going to.’

The pavements are crowded. The shops are crowded. The check-outs are crowded. I haven’t a clue what anyone wants.

‘We need some trays,’ I declare. On this particular Christmas we are having guests to stay.

‘I want it to be like a hotel,’ I say. ‘I want to be able to offer tea-making facilities. It will make their stay far more enjoyable. There’s no question about it!’

‘Tea-making facilities!’ declares my better-half. ‘I don’t believe it! How easy is it for everyone to get to the kitchen?’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ I insist. ‘We’ve already got the kettles. Just a little milk, teabags, sugar. That’s all it takes. Now I need some new trays. In here. We’ll get them in here.’

We go into the unsuspecting shop. My better-half knows there is no stopping me. We wend our way through the crowds and finally I spot them. Absolutely perfect. Tons of them all differing designs resting upright on a very long, almost out-of-reach shelf. Just one or two people down this end.

‘Oh look,’ I say. Amongst the wide variety of designs I spot perfection. There’s no question about it! Masses of little holly-leaves totally covering these rectangular masterpieces.

‘We really don’t need any more trays, especially tin ones.’

I can hear my better-half being overcome with Christmas shopping grump. I pretend not to hear. I will not let him spoil this moment of delight.

‘Right,’ I say, pointing at the ones covered in holly leaves and bright red berries. ‘Two of those. I’m having two of those.’

‘If you must,’ he retorts. He’s moving away. I see him bending a little. He’s got his head down pretending to scan the lower shelves below the counter housing a multitude of kitchen electricals. I know he’s trying not to be part of this ‘must have’ thing.

‘Yes, I must,’ I reply. I am talking to myself whilst stretching on tip-toes to reach them. I feel the raised rim in my hand. I try to pull them towards me. Then nightmare city! Like one of those world-beating domino events they set one another off. They clang and bang in loud, ear piercing metal clusters to the floor. Discordant, deafening, setting nerves on edge noise fills the whole shop. Worse than those never-ending banging fireworks. A continuous clanking and clattering until the last one goes. Mercifully they miss all the electricals displayed on the counter. I see the whole of the shop gather round. People rushing to the scene. People pointing, staring, going ‘Ooooh! Arrrh! Just look at those!’

I daren’t look round to my better-half. I’m on my hands and knees picking them up. I meet him half way round. He’s passing them to an assistant. The crowd gradually disperses. I am apologising profusely. I am saying how difficult they were to reach. My better-half is nudging me, pointing to the rows of shelves below. I wonder what’s the matter with him.

‘Which ones were you wanting?’ I get asked. There was no sense of the joy of Christmas in her tone.

‘Oh those please,’ I say. ‘Two of the same please.’

She passes me two from the gathered-up pile without a smile.

‘I’ll take these to the check-out then,’ I say. She nods. I’m more than anxious to get away from this disastrous scene.

‘I couldn’t help it,’ I say, trying to pre-empt my better-half’s reaction. ‘Anyway it might have been better if you’d tried to get them for me. Disappearing just when I needed help!’

‘Disappearing!’ He objects.

‘Yes! Disappearing! There’s no question about it!’

‘Disappearing indeed! I was trying to find what you wanted. Didn’t you see them stacked on the shelves under the counter?’

‘No!’

I go quiet. I feel bad. We pay for them.

‘Let’s go to the book shop now,’ I suggest. He looks at me.

‘As long as you don’t touch anything,’ he declares.

I pretend I haven’t heard.

Back to today. I’m not taking any chances. Online shopping for me now. There’s no question about it! You can’t go wrong with that. Well I say you can’t go wrong, but you can. Oh yes you can! I remember spotting a ‘Brand New With Tags’ sheepskin jacket. It was to be the perfect Christmas present for my better-half. I bid. I want it. I bid up. In my desire to win it I increase my bid. I am told to enter my maximum amount. I do. I’m in a hurry. Time is running out. It’s bidding up. I put the decimal point in the wrong place. Suddenly I am offering five hundred pounds and thirty pence for this ideal gift. I nearly die. I panic. I must bear this misfortune alone. The auction has three minutes to run. I am hoping no one out there is as desperate for this jacket as me. I am hoping no one out there will be one bid away from the life-changing sum I’ve just staked. I can hardly bear to watch as the seconds tick by. I win it. I win it at a price that renders my decimal point insignificant. The relief! I can’t believe it. Had it been my lost diamond my bid could easily have been swallowed up. I could easily have been the winner! I could well have been one of those suffering the misfortune of a downward spiralling relationship. I could well have been digging one of those kind of holes for myself that Harriet is so good at!

The phone rings. It’s the estate agent wanting to know what we thought of property number eight.

‘We like it very much,’ I say. ‘We’d certainly like a second viewing if it’s still available when we get an offer.’

My better-half appears.

‘We’ve just had the agent on the phone wanting to know what we thought about the house we viewed.’

‘Which one?’ he asks. ‘We saw three.’

‘Oh you know,’ I tell him. ‘The one with the two ensuites and the bathroom. A bathroom  for each bedroom. Come to think of it we’d only need tea-making facilities, then it would be just like a hotel for the next time we do Christmas.’

‘Oh no,’ groans my better-half. ‘Not those dented trays again!’

‘Dented?’ I query. ‘Who did that, then?’

You did, remember? Hadn’t you noticed?’

I pretend not to hear. I’m not up for handling the implications of his unfortunate observation. I can’t bring myself to go there.

Back to the task in hand. I’m browsing. I’m thinking about the family. Gifts to meet hobbies, gifts of fashion, books and music. Gifts for him, gifts for her. Gifts for the young. Gifts for the elderly and everyone else in between. I spot some stereotyping going on here. Oh no! Not that Big 40 again! It has no part to play in Christmas shopping. No! I simply refuse. I will not give my one-generation-removed relly-in-law a pair of comfy bobbled slippers. She shall have Harriet to enjoy over Christmas. She’ll soon discover that Harriet doesn’t do The Big 40 either. She”ll soon discover that these days nobody needs to. There’s no question about it!

 

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