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December 2002 - Postman Pat

We're coming up to that time of year again folks. That lovely time when the shops are trying to accommodate far more customers than normal; and therefore they need far more stock than they normally do.

Why, oh why, do supermarkets always allow their stocks to overflow in the weeks leading up to Christmas and then use the space reserved for customers to store it?

At the only time of year when the damn places are twice as full of people than normal, half the aisle space is taken up with huge stacks of tinned biscuits, enough Coca-Cola to sink the Titanic in; and millions of cardboard boxes, all full of nuts in those silly fishnet bag things.

But you only get to grapple with all these obstacles once you've managed to get inside the place.

It was never my intention to moan on about the INSIDES of supermarkets in this month's special Christmas edition of Comment. It was just one of my famous digressions, born of a total frustration at not being able to get to the corned beef fitment when I shopped last Thursday.

As regular devotees will be only too well aware, Nick Harvey has probably done the insides of supermarkets to death in numerous previous editions.

That's not to say it's a totally closed subject. I'm sure we'll get back to it in due course, just like all my other favourites come round again every so often.

No, for my seasonal special it's the OUTSIDES of supermarkets and various other shops which are coming under Nick Harvey's meticulous scrutiny. Something's been happening recently which worries me.

Many years ago you saw very few of them. In recent years they seem to have multiplied to the point where now, you can hardly walk along any pavement, and certainly no arcade or pedestrian precinct, without either tripping over one, or just stubbing you toe on one.

They seem to have spread like wild fire in the last few years and now you find them everywhere.

I can remember the good old days when they only seemed to be at the seaside, but rather like the gulls, scavenging for food, they've slowly spread inland to feed on the spare twenty and fifty pence pieces of our poor, unsuspecting toddlers.

Not that the toddlers have got any spare pence themselves; it always seems to be mum or dad who have to provide the necessary collateral.

"The collateral for exactly what?" I hear you all asking out there in shear desperation. Perhaps I should enlighten you before we go too much further.

The subject for in-depth analysis in this month's stupendous edition of Comment is those funny little rides which rock, whirr and play tunes when little Johnny sits on, or in them and inserts his coin.

In the good old days, all you could find away from the seaside was the occasional rocking Rudolph outside the toy shop at Christmas. Now there are all kinds of things for junior to ride, now including even Postman Pat's red van, complete with moggy noir!

This particular obstacle to serious shopping is parked on the way out of my local Safeway.

They've carefully positioned it between the inner and outer automatic out doors, so when all the family are stood round watching little Johnny enjoy himself, or not as the case may be; the damn doors stay wide open and the whole store is subjected to the full wintry blast of the wind.

The positioning is also particular with reference to breakages!

By positioning the thing between the OUT doors, Safeway make sure that you've already paid for all the goods which spill out of your trolley and break when you stop suddenly behind the Smith family, who really did look as if they were exiting the store, but changed their minds to let Johnny have a ride.

Sorry Sir, no breakage rebate after you've passed the checkouts!

I mentioned little Johnny enjoying himself, or not, as the case may be.

This brings me to another important point about these infernal machines. Have you noticed that they're always surrounded by bawling children? It appears to be either mum or dad who decide about whether anybody gets a ride, and if so, who. From all my observations, they always seem to make the wrong decision.

The reason for the never ending bawling from all the little Johnnys and Janeys is obvious.

Either they DO want a ride and get told they can't due to parental insolvency, a need to get the frozen food home before it defrosts, or some other very important reason; or they DON'T want a ride, in which case they get shoved into, or onto, the thing by Daddy, who THOUGHT they'd like it.

Either way, the result is tears, a loud screaming which permeates the whole store and much running about and stamping, right in the middle of an exit, busy with people who only want to get THEIR frozen food home reasonably speedily without tripping over recalcitrant youngsters.

Now then, I haven't got round to mentioning the lovely little tune yet, have I?

Probably the one thing which has turned me, and 'er indoors, firmly against Postman Pat's little van in Safeway, is the fact that when it's had its coin inserted and it's running, the damn thing plays the Postman Pat tune to further entertain its rider.

It's one of those totally silly tunes which you end up humming for the rest of the evening!

For the rest of each Thursday, every time I stop humming it, she starts, and vice versa. You even find yourself still at it when you've gone to bed and are trying to get to sleep.

Postman Pat, Postman Pat, Postman Pat and his black and white cat; early in the morning... Well, you know the rest, so I'll now leave YOU humming for the rest of the day!

Actually, a very good way to get the children crying even louder is to sing the alternative, and in my opinion far better, version at the top of your voice as you pass by the machine.

My singing "Postman Pat, Postman Pat, Postman Pat ran over his cat; blood and guts went flying, Postman Pat was crying; you've never seen a cat as flat as that." normally gets little Johnny far more upset than he was when Daddy shoved him in the infernal machine in the first place.

I work on the assumption that the more children I upset as I sing the alternative version, the less will want to ride in the thing, and the more likely it is that Safeway will move the damn thing out of the way of my trolley.

But the diminutive deliverer of the Post, or the Consignia, or the Royal Mail, (please delete as applicable THIS week) is but only one example of these rides. Why, I want to know, are they appearing everywhere?

Is it something to do with us all taking our holidays abroad which has made them less profitable on the coast and made them migrate to upset us as we try to quietly go about our inland lives?

And why has the traditional and seasonal Rudolph become a rather strange looking pink cow which now stays in the middle of the precinct all year round?

In the good old days, shopkeepers did just that, and KEPT to their shops. Now it seems to be open season for their wares to be spread over the pavements outside.

Those that did do it in the old days seemed to be only in particular trades. Greengrocers often had an external display, but now they're all at it, even shoe shops have bins of shoes outside.

And, another quick digression here, a special Christmas present for all you digression fans, have you ever worked out how much work must be involved in an external display for a shoe shop?

If you delve deep into the bins and baskets of shoes which clutter your local pavement, you'll find an interesting phenomena. They're ALL left ones! Not a right shoe to be found anywhere! I suppose they have to do it to avoid people pinching them or something.

I mean, we could all probably plead guilty to thieving an odd apple or two from the display outside the greengrocer's at some point in our lives; and we'd probably say that we thoroughly enjoyed eating it; but what use is an odd left shoe?

It really does spoil the sport doesn't it? Perhaps the only answer to all this is to steal Postman Pat's van from outside Safeway.

I might end up in court for such an act, but I have to say that quite a stiff fine would be well worth not having to listen to that infernal tune every week.

The only other possibility seems to be to encourage you all back to the British seaside for your holidays, in the hope that all the machines will migrate back there to seek out even higher profit margins.

Well, that's the in-depth analysis done for this special, seasonal edition of Comment, and for jolly old 2002. Have yourselves a dashed good Christmas, and I'll be back, no doubt still humming that tune, at the beginning of January 2003.

Until then, try not to trip over Rudolph as he gets wheeled out for another season. Right, I'm off, where's me black and white cat?

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