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Last Saturday afternoon.

Glasgow city centre. Dense crowds, long queues at the tills. Piped festive muzak that is calculated to deter you from shopping yet, unaccountably, doesn't. Wan, un-Christmassy faces all around.

I've finally managed to track down a rather dashing present for my teenage nephew. It has taken a fair bit of ingenuity and inspiration. It's not cheap but he's worth it.

Standing in a shop doorway, sheltering from the inclement weather, I text my sister.

"Got that present for ----," I write. "Took me ages but I think he'll like it."

She texts back.

"I got it on Amazon last month," she writes.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I text her.

"Check your messages," comes the curt reply.

I check. There it is, from three weekends earlier, right after the text saying I'd qualified for a cash loan.

Sunday. Craving a meaningful change in surroundings, I go to Edinburgh city centre. Entirely to my surprise, I find dense crowds, long queues, piped muzak and wan, unChristmassy faces.

Despite knowing that they will only be used once then stored in a kitchen drawer, there to languish, forgotten, for all eternity and thus necessitating the purchase of replacements exactly one year from now, I buy some rather nice festive table-settings, cutlery and candle-holders.

The assistant rings up the price on the till. I glance at it, and blink. Surely that's someone else's purchase she has rung up? Someone with a taste for - I don't know - expensive jewellery? She waits for me to hand over my card. My hand trembles as I do so. Outside, I glance at the price-tags. I wince.

I wander into crowded Harvey Nicks for something to eat but realise I've blown my dinner money on the table-settings.

After an hour of aimless meandering I head for the Christmas market in Princes Street. By now it's after 4pm. Darkness has fallen, and with it a steady, driving rain. I accidentally splash through a puddle while crossing the road and decide on impulse to head for the station instead.

On the train it is standing-room only. The bloke next to me, laden down with two toddlers and a mass of shopping, looks as if he has had a very, very long day.

My sister texts me again. "Sorry about earlier," she says. "Hope you've had a nice day's shopping."

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retail

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