The Haze of Holidays Past: Or how a Dreadful Shopping Experience Brought back a Lovely Memory

I am a technophobe. I don’t have a smartphone. My laptop is at least ten years old. Its spelling checker doesn’t ever recognize the word smartphone. I resent ordering anything online. But sometimes I’m left with no other choice. Looking for an air bed I have concluded that no high street shop, at least none within walking distance, stocks any. I am offered a camping bed that is to be had for a measly £200. The shop assistant looks at me. He seems keen to offer me this irresistible bargain. I decline – though really, I don’t. I tell him I need to think about it. He accepts my cop out. I go home and prepare myself for the inevitable.

I find a reputable-looking website offering what I’m looking for at a far more reasonable price. I order. So far, so good. The next day I receive a message that warns me: my order might be delayed. Not to worry. I’m in no hurry. The day after another message arrives: my order is on the way to its collection point.

I picked said collection point because I always walk past it on my way home. My housemates have the unfortunate tendency not to be in or not to open the door when anyone rings the doorbell, unless they’re expecting a Dominos delivery. In the past I have found boxes on my doorstep, left to face the elements and curious passersby, or stuffed into the recycling bin. The latter a marginally better option: it was collection day. Ever since I prefer to collect my orders in person.

Checking the status of my order throughout the work day I notice that it is taking my parcel a suspiciously long time to get from local depot to collection point. I finally receive a message to say that my order is ready for collection. This occurs after I have already passed the collection point on my way home and turning back is no longer an option. I now have two days off and can’t face the trek. No problem, I’ll pick up my order on my way home next week.

On the day I’m planning to go to the collection point I receive several panicky messages: my order is waiting for me! I’m reminded of pushy love interests who only become interested after being rejected. Bone-tired after a long work day I walk into the massive supermarket where the collection point is supposedly located. I only have the vaguest idea where the “kiosk”, as the messages call it, is to be found.

The kiosk turns out to be a modest touch screen near the entrance. Tapping it, then tapping it with increased force because it is of the insensitive type, I manage to enter my parcel number. Wrong. It demands my order number instead. This I enter, the machine thanks me and spews out a collection receipt.

A few metres away a uniformed man is standing behind a desk. He has been observing me all along without offering help. I make my way towards him, encouraged by the enormous “service” sign above his desk, but he shakes his head vigorously. “Just stay where you are!” he shouts. “Someone will be right with you.”

I can’t help thinking of my late granddad, who always had a suitable reply ready to use in awkward situations. “What then, sir, is your purpose?” he would have asked. But I am not my granddad. I patiently stand next to the screen and a green plastic chair. Shoppers walk past me. One or two eye me suspiciously. A little girl runs past clutching a unicorn-shaped balloon in her hand. The balloon hits my head.

I wonder where my order will come from. The man behind the desk is still not moving. I can’t see any doors, signs or machines that suggest my request is being processed. Perhaps, I reflect, there is some kind of Harry Potter-style magic trick going on which will cause the box to suddenly appear out of nowhere. Accompanied by a cloud of green smoke.

Reality, as usual, is rather dull. An employee appears from behind a check out with a large box, asks for my name, and declines to see my ID. Presumably he assumes that no one else can possibly have such an unusual name and go through the trouble of collecting the order placed by her doppelganger. I thank him and begin the long walk home.

The box is not heavy, but it is bulky, and I soon discover that I have overestimated my ability to carry it easily. I run into an off-duty colleague who is smoking a fag in front of his local pub. We chat for a while, and him being English, he doesn’t mention the massive box. The sun comes out as I carry on.

At home I prepare and wolf down dinner. Then I set out to unbox my order. The box contains what it is supposed to contain: an air bed and a pump. I unfold the bed. It is bigger than I expected. Even when uninflated it takes up most of the floor space in my tiny bedroom.

“Great for unexpected guests” the box waxes lyrically. Although my guest is very much expected – we have been planning her visit for months – I feel reinvigorated and set out to inflate the bed. The smell of plastic wafts into my nostrils. And all of sudden a moment of genuine magic occurs.

I am standing in another tiny bedroom. It is a very hot day. Through the open window I can see a grassy slope we refer to as “the mountain”. Cows are grazing peacefully. Some kind of machine hums in the distance. I can hear my brothers play with their model airplanes in the garden. My dad is washing dishes downstairs.

“You hold the bed,” my mum says. I hold the bed while she moves her foot up and down to inflate it. I can smell the plastic. I feel the velvety flock under my fingers as the bed grows. This will be where I sleep tonight. We are on holiday, you see, and the cottage only has four beds. There’s five of us. No problem. We’ve got the air bed.

I’m back in my bedroom, alone, and sit down on my new bed to test it out. It feels comfy enough. As I stretch out I congratulate myself on successfully completing my mission. And I’ve discovered something else in the process. The air bed is my madeleine. Who would’ve thought? Proust, eat your heart out.

Image my own – The haze of holidays past: an image of Limburg

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