I went to a mall the other day just to get a break from the marathon coverage of all things Madiba.
Under normal circumstances, I would sooner pluck my eyeballs out with a red-hot spoon than go into a mall at this time of year, but the circumstances of the last few days have been anything but normal.
When I was a kid, giant glittering baubles dangled from the roofs of shopping centres. Around every corner, fake Christmas trees soared into the vaulted heavens. There was glitter and tinsel and at least one Santa on every level. Laughing reindeer posed in gloriously frozen tableaux. It was like, well, like Christmas.
However, the bearded thugs pushing a green agenda seem to have given the management of malls an opportunity to skimp on the trimmings.
Now, decorations consist of plywood stars, bits of recycled lawn furniture and balls of sisal coated in edible silver paint. Also, no angels and no Jesuses. We wouldn’t want to offend the suicide bombers.
I did, however, manage to offend a number of shoppers by walking around with my zip down for the best part of an hour. My not bothering with underwear that day was unfortunate. It was also a mistake ducking into a toyshop to rectify my wardrobe malfunction and I apologise to the little ones who were traumatised. If you grow up to become journalists, you can blame me.
It used to be that you could tell which section was for boys and which was for girls, but with so many parents raising their children in a gender-neutral environment, it’s not so easy these days. The military section was in a state of advanced readiness in the event of Barbie Battalion launching a pre-dawn raid. “Locked, loaded and ready to go,” threatened a well-armed recoil vehicle. There was a lot of helicopter backup, too. And infantry, in case it became necessary to drive General Barbie’s troops back to their base in aisle four.
My attention was caught by an Air Bus “made according to the scale of the real thing so that it is lifelike and breathing”. I put my ear to the box but heard nothing. It was probably holding its breath. The box was full of wild promises. “This multifunctional plane makes your dream come true.” Apparently in China you are allowed one dream only.
I was tempted to buy Ant World – “See inside the amazing world of ants!” – but then remembered that there is absolutely nothing amazing about being an ant. You carry bits of sugar and leaves and shit backwards and forwards all night long and then still have to suck on the queen’s breasts so that there is fresh honey for the day shift.
What the hell? What madman would make a Fingerprint Analysis Kit and sell it to children? “Identify your suspect!” Do you really want your kids dusting the house for prints, collecting forensic evidence, bugging the phones and god knows what else? The next thing they do is call the cops, get you banged up on fabricated evidence and have the run of the house for a couple of years. Let’s not encourage the little bastards.
I stumbled across a collection of weird, dystopian doll-like creatures. They looked like crack whores with an eating disorder. I liked them right away. The range is called Monster High, which I always thought was a term for being way more stoned than is good for you.
For R199 you can get “My First Baby”. The Chinese version, I expect, would be “My Only Baby”. We are warned of a choking hazard. Perhaps. But only if you cut it up and put large chunks of it in your mouth. If that’s the kind of child you have, you may want to keep it in some kind of isolation tank.
There is also a Supermarket Play Set with a smiling white girl behind the plastic till. You will never see a white girl behind a till. Not in this country. And I don’t think it’s right that we raise their hopes.
For R699 you can get Baby Born. No promises are made on the box apart from saying that it is “interactive”. For that price, I can get a real baby off the internet.
The shop assistants were making it very clear that I had overstayed my welcome – “are you sure we can’t help you with anything?” – so I left with one of the Monster High mutants stuffed down my broeks.
I popped in to the AA to find out more about their 12-step programme but they said I had to be a motorist, which I thought dovetailed nicely with my penchant for drinking and driving. However, after heated negotiations, they made it clear that my sort wasn’t welcome as a member.
By now the mall had filled up. It took me forever to get back to the car. Partly because I had forgotten where I had parked, partly because I kept getting trapped behind families the size of hippos. Heavily sedated hippos. Men with calves thicker than rugby posts. Men thicker than rugby posts. Women with hips that could breech-birth a zebra. Children that looked as if they had eaten a sibling.
I saw a woman with five kids. She was pregnant. I saw teenagers walking and texting. They moved with the gait of zombie cows, heads lowered, shuffling, chewing. I saw men with slow-burning panic in their eyes.
I saw my car – and ran.