A Chinese man named Tao Hsiao has jumped seven stories to his death during an all-day Christmas shopping trip in Jiangsu province, apparently as a result of his girlfriend insisting on visiting one last sale.
This story, however tragically bizarre and ultimately not indicative of anything, has led to my commissioning by the powers that be at this newspaper to try and bleed some contrived point out of the unfortunate incident.
For starters I will say this: although Christmas shopping has never driven me to quite such extreme lengths, as a kind of wider metaphor for how one feels in a city centre during the Christmas season, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I sympathize with the poor bloke to a degree.
It’s no small wonder to me that we’re apparently faced with the decline and inevitable slow death of our high streets. As far as I’m concerned, it can’t happen soon enough. Frankly, I find high streets difficult enough on an average Saturday, with all the incessant weaving between the massed surges of humanity like navigating an asteroid field, hopping from one foot to another as the four people walking abreast in front of you block the entire pavement and continue to walk at a funeral procession pace. Why, when faced with all of that rigmarole would you not simply choose to stay in, put your feet up and shop leisurely from the comfort of your own armchair? Yes we’d all end up living in places somewhat resembling what Staines is like now, an endless sea of residential housing with a small cluster of bars and nightclubs in the middle. Desolate in the day, like the first half of 28 Days Later, and at night, like the second half of 28 Days Later when the zombies show up. But would it really be that bad? Really? I mean how much would any of us honestly miss Greggs?
Regardless, no matter how awful shopping on a normal weekend might be, it pales in comparison to the festive season. Christmas shopping is what you get when you take the chaos caused by the condensation of human traffic that is the Great British high street to its natural conclusion. Like Bank Holiday weekends and freak weather occurrences, Christmas is one of those periods where humanity cannot stop itself from organically acting en masse. Unless you do your Christmas shopping in early October you must resign yourself to taking on the gauntlet and fighting middle aged women in House of Fraser over cardigans or the last packet of sage and onion stuffing mix. It’s all rather akin to an enormous exercise in looting, without the one principle positive of looting that is the implied five finger discount.
And what makes it worse, as we can learn from the sad case of this fellow, is the sheer, never-ending pressure of the holiday season. Reportedly poor old Tao was finally pushed over the edge by his girlfriend’s accusation that he was “ruining Christmas”, a common barb often levelled at any dissenter from traditionalist festive dogma. As a self-defining grump, grouch, young fogey and misery guts extraordinaire, I am all too aware of the tyranny imposed by the grinning masses on my kind. As in so many things, such as nightlife and romance, the rules of Christmas remain firmly under the cosh of the bubbliest and most bright-eyed amongst us. They surge forward like battlefield commanders leading a charge, deriding the whingers and whiners with demands that we liven up, put up with the shoulder barges and the department store pitched battles lest we, heaven forbid, ruin Christmas for everyone. It’s quite a lot of pressure to bear, and leads you to think that maybe Tao’s decision to fling himself to his death was perhaps not quite as much of an overreaction as it first appeared.
So what have we learnt from this rather unpleasant business? Well it’s simple really. Why don’t you just go ahead and treat yourself this year. Sit at home, put the kettle on, open your laptop and do all of your Christmas shopping on the internet, where it’s warm and quiet. Don’t feel as if it’s somehow your duty to participate in the Last Stand of the British High Street. You don’t owe it anything. What’s it ever done for you, other than providing a convenient place where pigeons can defecate on your head. More than anything it’s a practical health consideration. After all, it seems you never quite know what might push you over the edge, as Tao Hsiao discovered, sadly to his detriment.