IAM in an alien land. One full of designer sunglasses and nostril-dilating man perfumes. I listlessly pick at price tags, then drop them in horror. I wonder how underpants can cost more than my summer frock allowance just because they have someone’s name written in elastic across the waistband. I realise I sound like an old git, even inside my own head.
I resist the urge to run screaming to the nearest exit.
It’s my kid’s birthday. Instead of mooching around my preferred retail emporiums — book shops, food shops, charity shops — I have been catapulted into the shiny, bright-lit shopping mall full of identical outlets which lines every high street in every town, where the air is sterile, the music piped, and the coffee rank. To commemorate his coming of teen-age, my son would like trainers more expensive than my car, and items that are secondary to the names on their labels.
So, it’s not sunglasses, it’s Raybans. Not underpants, but Gucci pants. Not body spray, but Armani cologne. He’s thirteen. He knows his stuff.
The key words here are ‘would’ and ‘like’. (I would like a three-novel book deal, a beach house in South India, and the body of a 22-year-old athlete).
In search of more immediate goals, I set off to town with my kid’s birthday would-likes in my head, wondering how it all happened. Where did he learn all these label names? Why can’t he just want a book token?
“Because I’m not from the olden days,” he said, when I asked him, with all the withering contempt exclusive to digital natives. “Nobody reads. Only dead people.”
‘But I’m not dead’, I hear myself whimpering. Except I am, to a thirteen-year-old. Dead woman walking. Walking around the bloody shopping centre, surrounded by zombies with credit cards.
Turns out Armani cologne costs more than a return flight from London to Amsterdam, a pair of Raybans would get you one-way to New York, and pants with someone else’s name on the waistband are equivalent to an Easyjet to Barcelona. I walk around in circles, caffeine levels dropping, wondering how he ended up being such a label fiend. Is there a support group for the parents of pre-pubescent boys who have a Gucci-pants fixation?
“You don’t want him to be the kid in About A Boy,” says my sister. “The one with the homemade woolly hat.” Ah, yes. Granola Suicide’s son. ‘No fear’, I think, savagely, as another over-groomed shop assistant bears down.
Brandboy McSpendy more like. Inevitably, it must be my own fault for bringing him up a Steiner-educated vegetarian — what else could he become, other than a KFC-chomping, Lynx-spraying, trainers-collecting, label-loving teen about town, who enjoys nothing more than SnapChatting his product-filled hair?
“Sorry, it’s not Raybans or Armani,” I tell him, as he opens his presents.
But he doesn’t seem to mind at all. He’s too busy Instragramming everything to even blow out his candles. Phew. Job done.
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