All undergraduates will inevitably have recourse to Primark. For those of us who find our loans so decimated that the £1.50 vest top is all we can afford, it’s a necessary evil – we pay for prior self-indulgence in subjection to bad lighting, dusty changing rooms and hangers bearing no relation to the product they display. Understandable, then, that after Christmas, armed with gift vouchers, we joyously await reintegration into more civilised retail society. Except that the universe clearly has other ideas because, every January, the British high street essentially becomes just one big Primark.
Sale shopping is less retail therapy, more consumer warfare. The foolhardy conscript enters a detritus strewn battlefield, where she finds herself surrounded by violent explosions of colour, sorrowful corpses of fallen products, and a ruthless band of hostile adversaries, gripped by monomaniacal self-interest. If someone asks you where you found that nice dress at any other time of the year, you cheerfully point them in the right direction. Come ‘the sales’, you protect your sources with grim fortitude – resources are limited, everything must go, and that includes altruistic tendencies, and any grip on one’s critical faculties. All that remains is an apocalyptic zeal and a grim determination that you will secure the last size 10.
A sociologist might attribute it all to that deeply primeval hunter-gatherer drive hardwired into every human. Personally, though, I flatly refuse to put down to evolutionary instinct any urge which convinces someone they need to buy a dayglo jumpsuit because it’s a third of the price it was two weeks ago. Unless, of course, this is social Darwinism of the more insulting sort – the sales shopper’s willingness to part with their money is intended to leave them too poor to feed themselves, and so to cause them to perish in a garret before they have time to spawn another generation of gullible consumers. It’s survival of the fittest, and those leopard print leggings aren’t making anyone any fitter, evolutionarily or aesthetically.
The ultimate act of evolutionary self-condemnation, though? Queuing up before the shop even opens. Nothing stinks of the general bathos of modern capitalism quite like seeing people wait, in the cold, to be allowed to hand over their money to companies who value them so little that they give them a jumble sale in lieu of customer service. Nature, red in tooth and claw, has some comfort – social Darwinism means they’re all meant to get pneumonia. Happy New Year.