Friday, 7 December 2012

Deck the halls with boughs of lunacy

I wonder if I am obsessing about my online deliveries because I think I can generate an illusion of control over them in a way I can't over various other elements of my life? I mean, if that's the reason, it's stupid because I demonstrably have no control whatsoever over the whereabouts of my rogue Hex Bugs, and "B-Post" - a.k.a. the only European post office that can tell you with a straight face that they have "run out of stamps" - are not amenable to any form of reasonable discussion.

God knows. Maybe I'm procrastinating (yes, I am). Maybe I just really like Christmas. I am certainly experiencing my yearly momentary craving for a cheap, oversweetened mince pie and a carol concert right now. There are no good Belgian carols as far as I can elicit: just creepy St Nicolas placating songs about being as good as a sheep. I want to taste once more the wild anticipation of the foggy York Christmases of my youth, when Prog Rock and I would go down to his Favourite Shop Full of Shite on Gillygate and buy deformed cat mugs and highly polished slices of stone and tiny decorative pen knives for all the family. A highly pragmatic shopper who likes to concentrate efforts in one trip/place, Prog Rock mourns deeply whenever one of his favourite retail destinations shuts, viz. the museum of automata, hideous favourite tat shop, etc and is thrown into uncertainty and well, Waterstones. This is obviously a characteristic shared by males of my acquaintance, since my father always used to go to his office Christmas lunch, then buy all his Christmas presents in a half hour of expansive, highly flammable bonhomie in the Science Museum shop. As a result, my childhood was filled with spaceman food, several of those space pens, the odd Newton's cradle and on one memorably tragic teenage year, the Times Encyclopaedia of World History. I admire the solo destination shopping whilst knowing myself to be constitutionally incapable of ever doing such a thing.

In any event, to further my online shopping travails, today I had a long, slow, ludicrous conversation with a nice man with a West Country accent at the Hawkin's Bazaar call centre. Hawkin's Bazaar, for the uninitiated, is a shop and website where they sell all manner of cheap, tasteless plastic novelties of the kind greatly loved by small boys. If it is filled with goo, or if it farts, or if makes an unbearably annoying noise, you will find it on the dayglo shelves of Hawkin's and there will probably be a three for two on something unspeakable like "toilet putty" or "hilarious prank vomit". Despite this, I have a great affection for Hawkin's, at least since the Tridias catalogue, where me and my sister's stockings were always sourced without fail, died. It rarely lets me down with the garish tat my family craves.

It sounded quite busy when someone finally answered the phone at Hawkin's. I imagine the Hawkin's Bazaar Christmas call centre to be a rather cosy, tinsel strewn place with flock reindeer and tins of Quality Street and people who are quite slow to get started in the mornings and require a good half hour debrief on last night's telly and two tea rounds.

(Incidentally, Roses are much better than Quality Street, due to the Caramel Barrel, so why have they become the Betamax of cheap seasonal chocolate? Why can I not get Roses in this benighted country? My mother's first gay husband - long story - used to live in Glasgow upstairs from a rather elegant, formidable retired academic called Margaret, who was always getting into trouble of one kind or another, falling over or setting fire to things. She lived in a large high ceilinged flat permanently wreathed in in a dense cloud of Sobranie smoke and cat hair and when we went down to visit it was always time for gin, or sherry, and for me there was always a bowl of Roses slightly softening by the sweltering heat of the gas fire. I thought it was the absolute pinnacle of sophistication and always assumed when I was grown up I would have my own bowl of Roses on a doily on the polished walnut sideboard. Actually, I think if you had asked me at any time up to about 25 what I thought adulthood looked like, it would have featured living alone with cats and Roses and Sobranies and a frequently replenished bottle of amontillado. Currently I have a half eaten Kinder Egg and some clementines of very dubious freshness as well as a full portfolio of mammalian responsibilties. I suppose there is still time for the Sobranies and cats and genteel decay and Roses at some point. I certainly hope so. )

Anyway, in my mind's eye, Hawkin's customer service is peopled by jolly Somerset ladies talking about what they're having for lunch and mercilessly teasing the student Christmas temps. I think I am slighly craving a job there, actually. How could anything ever go wrong in the Hawkin's Bazaar customer service department? Apart, obviously, from delivering the wrong stuff.

I told my amiable interlocutor that I had been sent a box containing a pointless selection of crap for consumerist hippies plus a bonus puzzling box of twelve rather upmarket "birthday boy" badges, that look like something you might get as a runner up in a golf tournament. They are in plain navy blue presentation boxes and have an enamel finish. I am utterly unable to think of a single thing to do with them. Ebay? Fly tipping?

"Oh dear" he said with engaging honesty. "This is going to be a pain. God, I've only just got here".

Then he put me on hold while he went to get a cup of tea and I listened to the Light Classics for five minutes and watched the wet snow fall on the skylight and picked at my dessicated lips, idly.

Eventually he came back on line and told me I could keep my box of poi bothering equipment and they would send me a new order, but he had to place it again.

"So. You wanted two splat frogs?"


"Two bog eyed bugglies"

At this point I start to get slightly giggly.


"One Pull 'n' shake goldfish"

"Yes indeed. That is right".

"Two Fools Gold"


"One stretchy caterpillar"


"One crazy shaking keyring".

"Erm, yes"

"Classic Range Fake Dog Poo - two of those?"

And so it went on for a very, very long time and it was almost certainly the high point of my day.

If it ever comes, which seems vanishingly unlikely given my current delivery luck, I'm keeping it all for myself, I reckon. No one ever buys me astronaut food any more and I feel certain a pull 'n' shake goldfish would fill that psychic hole.

Oh. Here's an actual question. You know those Japanese paper flowers we (well, I and several others) used to get in a little paper envelope that you floated on a saucer of water and then they opened out MAGICALLY (for a really quite limited value of 'magic')? Has anyone seen them in the last twenty years? Can one still obtain them or were they made from monkey skin and asbestos?


Anne V said...

You can still get those flowers!

In my substantial experience of purchasing things of that ilk, they can often be located in stores that also sell fortune telling fish, chinese paper pandas, bacon bandaids and those trees that grow out of salt crystals.

Waffle said...

Yes, the salt crystal trees seem much easier to locate. I will persist, in the patchouli scented, waving cat lined back streets of Europe. Let me know if you spot any.

Curry Queen said...

I bemoan the passing of the acetate fortune-telling goldfish that curled up on your slightly damp palm!

frau antje said...

Up here they've taken your 'no govt.' and applied it to post offices, of which there are now none. Packages are mailed from places where you pick up magazines and cigarettes, so we can all breathe a collective (as Calvin would have it) sigh of relief.

After much standing in a pool of sweat, both recent (if you consider a delivery time of several months to be recent) packages--jewelry, and socks with little pints of Guinness on them--have arrived it can happen.

Nellig said...

Please will you tell us about your mother's first gay husband? Please?

Bryony said...

more of Margaret. Please.

Anonymous said...

There used to be such a thing as a clamshell held shut by a paper hinge, a real clamshell I believe, and you dropped it into a glass of water and later came back and the clamshell was open and a flower had grown out of it.

It wasn't as exciting as it sounds, even, but I still loved those clamshells. Do THEY exist?

Anonymous said...


Laurel said...

YES I remember those flowers, and didn't until you mentioned them, so thank you for that memory back!

But they looked different than the ones linked to above.

I saw someone mention in a post from a few years ago that they could still be found... in the stocking stuffer section of Hawkin's. Which I'd never heard of but looks fabulous. Sort of a British Archie McPhee.

I think they were called water lilies, no?

Anonymous said...

Curry Queen I saw the fish yesterday in the V&A shop, but sadly no paper flowers.

Linda said...

You can make your own magic paper flowers. Here they tell you how:

They also tell you why.

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