05 September, 2006

like an evil Christmas Eve

I admit it: I've always felt a bit smug about Christmas Eve. About not waiting to shop until then, I mean. My packages are always under the tree and I'm happily making oyster stew, while other, presumably less organised, people are frantically making their way to the shops for last-minute gift items. There is something of desperation in their quest, and they know they have only themselves to blame.

Yesterday was my comeuppance.

Avery discovered late Sunday evening that her school shoes, the lovely navy blue Mary Jane Start-Rites that were her pride and joy in January, are too small. For some reason this announcement did not fill me with horror as it should have. I merely said, "Oh, we'll pick some up tomorrow." As in First Day of School Eve. What was I thinking? I collected her from her playdate with Anna, and Becky intimated that there might conceivably be a problem with finding shoes at the last minute. "You know, I heard John Lewis is completely out of anything between a size 13 and a 2. Amy did call me though to say she had seen some at Trotters, or maybe in the Kings Road." It had come to this. REPORTED SIGHTINGS of shoes. Pure gossip. So I thought, let's just head to John Lewis anyway, school uniform nirvana, and at least order a pair. At least we can find out exactly what size she is and then even go online. Sure.

We made our way through the hot and even (for English people) rude crowds up to the 4th Floor, past the toys, infantwear, Schoolwear, whatever, into the Children's Shoe Department, where all hell had apparently officially broken loose. There were untold numbers of children, disgruntled at the end of their school holidays, their intractable younger siblings all melting into whatever happens to younger siblings at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, their harrassed and sweaty mothers losing tempers and taking away precious playthings as punishment. There were hundreds of mateless shoes, mostly of the black and blue description, all plainly destined to accompany school uniforms the NEXT DAY. And there wasn't even that bit of excitement in the air that might be there on Christmas Eve. All these mothers were spending all this money on stuff their kids didn't want, for school that no one wanted to have begin!

So we queued up for the awful Judgment-Day sort of machine into which you enter your needs and then wait for a piece of paper to spit out on which is specified how long it will take to have your needs fulfilled. There was a Draconian fascination to the process, though: how many children, male or female, how many pairs of shoes, special widths? We were told that it would take 58 minutes for our number, "93J," to be reached, and for someone to help us. It sounded like the knell of doom. And then the lady behind me said, "You know, the shop shuts at 6." NO! That was a bald-faced lie, it turned out, but worth a good two minutes' agony. So we sat. And watched the chaos. I began to count the number of minutes it would take Avery to have a bath when we got home, and to calculate the likelihood that I could also get dinner ready in that period of time. Many children tried to climb over those little hilly pieces of carpeted furniture where the feet being measured are meant to go, and fell off, resulting in tears, blame, more sibling rage. And the numbering system! When I heard "95J" bellowed out I got all incensed, thinking we had been passed over, but it turned out that before "95J" was "44N," and after that was "23Y." What? You couldn't even get yourself excited to watch the numbers count down like at the DMV. It was all completely random, and as such completely infuriating.

I amused myself with the various speech patterns and accents of the salespeople who called out the numbers. One lady whispered her numbers in a tone that only dogs can hear, and was visibly heartened every time she said, "Last Call, 61P," or whatever, and no one answered. Then she could go on to the next number. I never saw her help anyone. Then there was the guy from Dickens who kept repeating, "Furty-free haitch, furty-free haitch," and I thought I would explode. Finally it was our turn. I surrendered my hot sweaty little scrap of proof that I was in fact "93J." Avery had nearly fallen asleep on my lap. The salesman measured her little feet laboriously, announcing with sinister delight that her left foot was slightly larger than her right. "We will go with the larger size," he intoned. What a strategy. He crept off and we held hands like children in a forest. What would he bring out? He came out of a faraway closet staggering under a huge pile of boxes. What riches! We would even have a choice! But box after box was opened to reveal shoes with purple flowers, with pink heels, black shoes, shoes in the wrong size. Nothing was right. There was not a size 1 1/2, width F, Navy Blue Rumba Mary Jane to be had. Other mothers were snatching away the rejected shoes, ready to compromise on anything just to get out of the store. We consoled ourselves that we had at least achieved that one thing: her size. We can still hope.

Maybe they'll be in her stocking tomorrow morning?

But the first day of Form Five went swimmingly! Despite the awfulness of short shoes and the wrong color hair thingys, she was accepted at the door of King's College Preparatory School and went in with her friends. Lots of parental kissing outside the door and exchanges of high-pitched reports on summer holidays. Now, normally I try to achieve a completely anti-social, silent, creepaway sort of dropoff, but not today. I am actually so glad to have friends, real friends, that I didn't mind that they expected to be talked to at 8:15 a.m. I wonder what I said?

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