There might be tinsel and fairy lights clinging from rafters to floorboards, spray-on snow frosting windowpanes, and Kylie Minogue's version of Santa Baby playing over P.A.s in 20 shops, but Christmas shopping is never pretty.
Most writers are terrific eavesdroppers. Here are snatches of conversations I overheard while shoulder-to-shoulder with the shopping troops over the weekend:
* 20-something girl fumes, "I can't believe [name omitted to protect his identity] bought me a present. Now I have to buy him one."
* Woman in an eight-level department store wails, "There's so much crap in here! Ooh, but that dress would look great on me."
* "You should buy your presents early on in the year. I finished my shopping in August," says Mother Superior to Death-Stare Daughter.
* "There's plenty of time to shop," says optimistic teenager.
* "Why do I have to buy stuff for so many people?" laments girl to her three glowering friends.
* "Does anyone make perfume that doesn't stink?" harried-looking male asks his blank-faced companion. (Much more agreeable quotes by famous people about fragrances can be found here.)
They weren't the only ones having meltdowns in the shops yesterday. I was in a homewares shop, sniffing chocolate-scented candles. I tried to get a closer whiff, not realising that the box I picked up was a platform for a large ceramic candle-holder. So this delicate ceramic piece, along with 10 other boxes, somersaulted to the floor and smashed into a million little pieces. Fortunately, I only had to pay for half the damage. But I can't ever go back there again. Nor can I return to the boutique where I tried on a slinky silk dress and couldn't get it off. A sales assistant had to come into the dressing room and yank it over my head.
Shopping disasters, anyone?