Sales Fever! Looking Back on Christmases Past

I spent a large chunk of my day today at an out-of-town retail park, where I parted with a small fortune. It was hell on earth, but needs just: I’d been planning to sort myself a new laptop, printer and external hard-drive (I’ve learned – and re-learned – the hard way the importance of backing up all of my work) for months and had been stalling (and saving) for the sales because, being on a budget wanted to make my money go further. And so it was I returned home with an ASUS X53U, an HP Photosmart 6510 and a Samsung hard-drive that measures roughly the size of my wallet and has a whole Terabyte capacity, plus various other non-computing related items for the house.

Needless to say, it was a relief to get home again, and having reserved most of my items on-line in advance, the excursion kept the trudging and legwork and general pain to a minimum. But while out I was acutely aware of just how many people are out there raiding the sales just because goods are discounted, a point reinforced by endless footage n television. Haven’t people got anything better to do, and why do they feel the need to spend money just because? The justification that a £200 jacket had 50% off doesn’t wash – or dry-clean – when considering the flipside of the equation, namely that there’s still 50% on. The last I heard, we were in the middle of a financial crisis. Are people really still dim enough to max out their credit cards just because they can’t resist a ‘bargain’? It would appear they are.

So once again I was reminded that people are idiots, and of the adage that a fool and his money are soon parted. I was also reminded of a blog I posted back in the MySpace days, which I found on my old (and now full to capacity) 300G hard-drive. It may have been posted on this day in 2007, but most of the points still stand, and it’s somehow comforting to observe how little I’ve changed my position. I like to be consistent (although I have taken time off work this year)….

 

Sales Fever! (2007)

 

The fact I haven’t been present on-line for the last couple of days shouldn’t be misinterpreted that I was busy wholeheartedly embracing the traditional Christmas rituals. I don’t absolutely hate everything about Christmas, and for me, it’s a good opportunity to spend a couple of days not straining my eyes in front of the PC and to actually have something approximating a rest.
 
Still, because I don’t consider Christmas to be quite as big a deal as many, and don’t consider it a reason to go on a month-long bender with everyone I’ve ever met, and don’t feel the need to eat my own body weight in poultry and pork, I didn’t feel the need to book the days between Christmas and New Year off work. Being at the office – a place I abhor with a passion – is always more bearable when there’s no work, no phone calls and no other staff in to drive me to distraction with their inane waffle.
 

Business as usual it isn’t. and while I’ve been able to potter around without distraction and amuse myself by switching the contents of people’s drawers and so on, I’ve also given a thought to those thousands of people who work in the retail sector. As I’m writing this on January 27th, I’m quite relieved to be hiding out in an office: I learned from Breakfast on BBC1 that today was expected to be the busiest shopping day of the year. And the footage I saw of the queues and the rucks on Boxing day were disturbing enough. It raised a few issues, not least of all the question ‘why?’ I mean, after a month of intensive shopping, why would anyone want to go shopping through choice? It’s insane. We’re a nation in financial crisis, in case no-one had noticed. But then, it’s this inherent greed and an inability to say ‘no’ – or to be seen to be unable to keep up with the pack – that’s got us here in the first place.
 

But irrespective of whether or not we (collectively) can afford to splurge, one would think that the last thing anyone would want to do after a period of intensive shopping in the run-up to Christmas is go shopping. I mean, it’s hell. It’s not so much a jungle out there as it is total war. There was an item on Breakfast in which some ‘fashion guru’ was giving tips on how to succeed in the sales, revealing a handbag full of energy-giving drinks and snacks (‘bananas are great for energy…’) and advising that in order to grab that must-have bargain, if you need to kick or punch, then so be it. To condone or promote such behaviour is beyond me. It’s not a loaf of bread in the middle of a famine, it’s a fucking handbag. Let’s get things in perspective here.

Despite my general disregard for many of the traditional aspects of Christmas, this eagerness to hit the shops on Boxing day or the day after is concerning. One issue is the fact that people seem to expect shops to be open all the time, and we do appear to be very slowly heading the American way, toward a 24-day society. The demand is for convenience, and that demand is coming to be supplied. And why not? Well, it’s all very well to demand, and to receive supply, but what of those who are required to deliver that supply? I’m talking primarily about those in retail here, of course, because 24-hour shopping requires 24-hour staffing of shops, but there’s inevitably a knock-on effect. We already have 24-hour / overnight couriers and so on… and where’s it going to end? And 24-hour is one thing, but what about 365-day-a-year?

Time was when everything closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Now, banks are about the only things closed on Bank Holidays (well, the clue’s in the name). A friend of mine said “they’ll have us working on Christmas day soon, mark my words.” Now, he’s a cynical old goat, but I think he may have a point. And similarly, the synchronicity of Christmas and the exchange of gifts may actually become a thing of the past the way things are going.

Consider the facts: the January sales now start on Boxing day. December 27th is the biggest shopping day of the year. Many take unwanted gifts back and exchange them for things they ‘really’ want in the sale, and I’ve heard a number of people say they’re waiting till the sales for their presents. So it’s not that much of a stretch to see, 10 years hence, people going shopping on Christmas day when the sales start, perhaps having a slap-up meal in the evening, and exchanging gifts on New Year’s eve, with New Year’s day remaining the only day the shops are closed because half of the population’s too hungover to go shopping. Of course, the reaction to this may eventually be to put the sales back to January again, and dog knows what kind of mayhem or rioting may ensue as a consequence.

The trouble is, the people who are at the head of the queues, who will punch and kick and trample to get their bargains and are demanding most vocally to be supplied appear to the, somewhat ironically, the same people who most rigidly adhere to the notion of a ‘traditional’ Christmas – extended family round for dry turkey and Aunt Bessie’s roast potatoes, followed by falling asleep in a cloud of flatulence in front of Eastenders, before re-enacting Eastenders with a major drunken barney of their own over something petty but that will prevent the different factions within the family from speaking to one another until the same time next year.

I’m not defending Christmas as a religious holiday of course, but given that I’m of the opinion that people should hibernate during the winter months, do think that in terms of maintaining a work/life balance, the demand for everything on tap at all times there should be some time off.

So I’m keeping out of it (I’ve quite enough handbags already, thank you). But alas, I may not be able to avoid the sales entirely. Whereas I usually receive more calendars than I have rooms in the house, this year I didn’t receive a single calendar. Ok, so I’ll buy my own. I just hope I’m not too late and won’t have to end up with a Russell Brand picture calendar.

 

 

 

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at christophernosnibor.co.uk


Record Store Day Bonanza…But For Whom?

I’ve spent many a long hour lamenting the demise of the independent record shop. Even second-hand shops are hard to come by now, and record fairs just aren’t as common or popular as they used to be. That I’ve had jobs in both new and second-hand stores means I have particularly fond memories, but mostly, I miss the record-shopping experience. Browsing on-line just isn’t the same, even with the tailored ‘recommendations’ sites like Amazon make. There’s just no substitute for being there, rifling through the stock and picking something out just because it looks interesting, or because the dude behind the counter’s playing something that’s completely incredible and you can’t leave the shop till it’s in your possession.

While the number of record shops may be rapidly diminishing and articles are published daily decrying the death of physical formats, the collector’s market is unquestionably alive and well and positively thriving. it’s just a matter of sourcing the goods, and the fact that physical copies are produced in smaller runs.

Of course, it’s far better in economic terms to produce fewer units and have them sell out than it is to massively overestimate potential sales – just as it’s better for a band to play a small venue and sell it out than to play to a half-empty bigger venue. But when it comes to Record Store Day, people go a little crazy. Perhaps in part this is due to the incredibly limited runs of unusual pressings by acts with large and devoted fanbases, and that’s something that’s always going to get the collectors in a frenzy – myself included.

So I rocked up at Jumbo in Leeds at a little after 10am to discover a queue containing a good forty or fifty people. ‘Fuck that’, I thought. Life’s too short for queueing, and besides, I’m plain lousy at killing time. Electing to give it twenty minutes or so, I cut back out onto the Headrow and made my way towards Crash, only to discover the situation there was the same, only worse. Much as I love vinyl and record collecting and music in general, I’m not so desperate as to stand halfway round the block just to get into a record shop on the off-chance they might have something I’m after, so I headed up New Briggate to the second-hand record store Relics, who used to have a sister shop in York called Cassidy’s. I have fond memories of Cassidy’s and picked up some great items in there, including my copy of the Throbbing Gristle ‘Five Albums’ Box Set (which despite the being a little battered, was still a steal at forty-five quid), and Relics is similarly likely to have unusual nuggets tucked in the racks.

Rifling stock beats the crap out of standing in line, but in the end I decided to pass on the few bits I was contemplating and get back on my rather more specific mission. Tom my dismay, the queue outside Crash had grown, so I legged it back to Jumbo where there queue had gone and the simple in / out barrier was facilitating a free flow of customers, even if they were three deep at the counter. I had only half a dozen items on my list – I wasn’t out to buy for the sake of it, and I had only limited funds – and they’d all gone. It was as though a plague of locusts had descended on the place. I left empty-handed. It was 10:30.

So, back to Crash, where I joined the queue. As I waited, I wondered if I’d have fared better if I’d just joined the queue in the first place, or if I’d just arrived earlier (not that 10am was exactly late). The guy in front of me suggested perhaps not: one of his mates had turned up at 6am, and there had been others there before that: some had even queued from 10pm the night before. The guy on the door informed us that there had been no fewer than 90 people waiting outside when they opened the doors. I can’t think that there are any records I’d be that desperate to get my hands on, and in my experience, most titles crop up at a reasonable price at some point (there was a time in the 90s I’d have happily paid fifty nicker for a copy of The Last of the Baby Boomers by La Costa Rasa, if only I could have found a copy. 2002, a copy surfaced on eBay and I bagged it for £2.50 as the sole bidder). Many of those in front of me were clutching Jumbo bags that were bursting at the seams.

Half an hour later, I was granted entry to the tiny emporium, and struck silver, but not quite gold, in that I failed to secure a copy of the Interpol 12” (300 copies on red vinyl) or Nirvana’s Hormoaning reissue, and they were out of the 10”by The Black Angels. I didn’t even ask about the 10” of The Queen is Dead or the latest Earth LP (only 150 copies for the UK), but did manage to bag myself the Joy Division / New Order 12”, a copy of the single by Prurient, plus the British Sea Power double 7” set for my mate. None of these items was cheap, but I figured it made sense to up the prices in the hope that the goods would go to genuine collectors rather than carpetbaggers who’d swoop in and buy an armful just to flog ‘em on eBay, forcing the desperate completists to pay through the nose. It seems only fair that the labels and – hopefully – the artists should benefit from the buying bonanza.

Alas, on arrival home I discovered that all of the titles I’d failed to get were already on eBay, and numerous copies of each had already sold as Buy It Now sales for well above the retail price (while noting with a small degree of satisfaction that the Joy Division 12”, which I’d considered steep at £15 was selling for anything from £30 to £60, while some fool had shelled out a full ton on the thing.

I’ve resisted the temptation to plug the gaps in my collection and spend money I haven’t got bidding on these items. Six months hence, or maybe later, when the initial flurry of redistribution has died down, or the popularity of some of the bands has diminished, I expect I’ll find them for a price closer to the initial retail price. If not, I’ll live. After all, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll (and I’m all about the music, man, and not capitalist greed).

And if you’re loving my work (or want to give me some records) there’s more of the same (only different) at christophernosnibor.co.uk