Noelle McCarthy: There's more to life than malls

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I see that post-Christmas sales figures are up 33 per cent. God, I wish we would just stop buying things.

Not true exactly. I'm not advocating the end of consumerism per se, just that we stop throwing ourselves into cars and dashing, lemming-like, down motorways to shopping malls, where we then proceed to beat each other up over parking spaces and load up on tellies and whiteware that will be obsolete in a year or so anyway, and all for the sake of getting 30 per centoff.

Or at the very least that we would stop doing it at this time of year.

There is something incredibly perverse about spending the weeks leading up to Christmas shopping frantically for presents we really can't be bothered giving, and spending the morning after spending too much money on things we really don't need.

Growing up, there was always one furniture warehouse in Cork that advertised a three-piece suite for 10p on the morning of the Boxing Day sale.

Year after year the local paper would run a front-page picture of the freezing hopefuls grinning away as they spent their Christmas night on the pavement in the hope of grabbing the ultimate bargain.

The picture always depressed me: how tragic do you have to be to spend Christmas night on the ground waiting to snap up a sofa? And taking your children along for the ride? It's up there with having a breadmaker in terms of family fun.

In the same way, our annual post Christmas rush to the shops depresses me more every year.

I read the story of the Auckland family who were up at the crack of dawn on the 26th and barrelling off to Albany, barely stopping to put on shoes before they left. They look happy enough in the photo, all smiles in the back of the car, but it makes me sad. Didn't there used to be other fun besides going and buying stuff?

Perhaps the children of Boxing Day shoppers are always wreathed in smiles in those photos in the papers every year because they know their parents are completely mad and they might come home with a horse and carriage, or even a miniature pony.

Part of my problem with Boxing Day sales is the malls. I hate shopping malls, in fact I loathe them. I realise it's very fashionable to say this nowadays in style-obsessed Auckland where the place you shop is even more important than what you buy, but I can't help hating them.

There is a sense of pointlessness, of futility and dislocation that suffuses every one of these conglomerations, with their frozen yoghurt stands and gift shops and hole-in-the-wall nail bars.

I don't just hate malls, though. I fear them. Something terrible seems to happen to me every time I enter one.

It started in a giant mall in Bangkok. So traumatised was I by the experience of trying to fit my western bulk into clothes designed for Thai women half my size, I fled a changing room, leaving my bag containing passport, money etc behind, never to be seen again.

The jinx followed me to Australia when I was falsely accused of thievery in a bookshop in the Jam Factory, South Yarra - a long story involving a fit of absent-mindedness, a store sensor and the Collected Poetry of Gerald Manley Hopkins.

The tradition of vengeful shopping centres has come with me to New Zealand.

The first time I ever set foot in St Lukes I had my wallet stolen by someone who then tried to get car finance on my credit card (good luck there, mate).

This year I went to Sylvia Park the week it opened and sprained my foot in a bathmat shop.

Since then I have vowed to heed the cosmos and keep my distance.

My dislike of malls isn't really born of distaste for commerce though - on the contrary, I'm as acquisitive as the next person - no it's more the feeling of loneliness they give me. As though I could fall down dead and nobody would care. As though I don't exist at all really, and am simply slipping through the world unnoticed and unreal.

Rather than prompt such existential crises, I choose to avoid 277 and its ilk. Which is why I'm filled with gloom every Boxing Day, as I behold the frenzy with which crazed bargain hunters take to the shops.

It's Grinchy I suppose - families have a perfect right to enjoy themselves whatever way they like - but hearing Retailers' Association spokesman Barry Hellberg declaring the 26th "a good day for retail" and thanking the bad weather nationwide for driving people to the shops makes me wonder if any of us care about conspicuous consumption, and, even more worryingly, if there's anybody left in New Zealand who knows how to play charades.

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