HE was standing beside a shopping trolley and a pram with a calm look on his face, while two blokes sat near him fiddling with their phones.
He caught my eye because of the setting – a collection of fairly ornate-looking high-backed chairs of a candy-coloured blue in a circle facing each other, with a little rug between them.
It looked like something out of Alice in Wonderland, but it was a still little haven in the centre of a big shopping centre on a Sunday less than two weeks before Christmas.
All around were people pushing laden trolleys or carrying bags, talking, talking, talking.
Overhead the Christmas music was pumping. It wasn’t nice “Little Drummer Boy” music featuring a smooth crooner like Dean Martin, Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole. No. It was something like Mariah Carey butchering “All I Want for Christmas is You” or a couple of strangled cats accompanying Justin Bieber on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.
Overhead the Christmas music was pumping. It was something like Mariah Carey butchering “All I Want for Christmas is You” or a couple of strangled cats accompanying Justin Bieber on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.
To add to the misery (there’s something about Mariah Carey putting 874,000 notes into a simple song that makes me long for a brick to hit my head with and reduce the pain) a couple of nearby stores were also pumping music of an objectionable kind. Think heavy metal shrieking or a country and western wailer bemoaning love gone wrong or the death of a donkey.
Anyway, within that tinsel-draped, noise-saturated, consumer-frenzied scene were the three wise men – one standing and two lounging, for all the world as if they were out in a quiet paddock somewhere sipping tea.
I walked up to the standing man, said hello, gave him my name and said I was a journalist doing my annual survey of men doing the Christmas shopping. He looked at me for a second or two to assess if I was a nut about to hit him up for money, or press a Bible into his hands, and finally said hello back. His name was Geoff.
I hadn’t seen her before but Geoff’s only grandchild, a little girl of about six months, was sitting on one of the ornate chairs happily playing.
Geoff and the baby had made their escape from Christmas shopping with his wife and daughter, he said.
He was guarding the goods and keeping the baby happy.
We discovered we live in the same suburb. We also discovered Geoff is not against shopping in a huge shopping centre just before Christmas, but if he’d had a choice between doing that and hitting his head with a brick he might have had to think about it.
He didn’t know the other two men hunched over their phones on the ornate chairs. They hadn’t said a word, despite sitting only a metre or two from each other for some time.
“They’re just waiting like me, I suppose. It’s easier just to pretend you’re on your own and think about something else,” he said.
I left him to it.
If you’re in a shopping centre this weekend – and particularly one of the huge ones – enjoy playing my favourite Yuletide game, Men Doing the Christmas Shopping Spotto. It’s easy. Just walk along and say “Spotto” every time you see a man asleep on a lounge, or sitting calmly amidst a sea of Christmas shopping turmoil, or leaning against a shop looking like he’s under strict orders not to move, or marooned in a sea of shopping bags.
And for a fun few minutes walk up to one of them and have a chat.
That’s how I met Carl the other day. He was waiting for his wife Suzanne.
Like every man I’ve wandered up to in a shopping centre at Christmastime over the past few years, Carl did not ask me for identification when I said I was a journalist doing a survey.
That’s the other good thing about men doing the Christmas shopping. They’re usually so bored all their natural instincts – like being careful around slightly weird strangers - are stripped away. They’ll talk to anyone, no questions asked.
Carl was rather taken with playing Spotto.
“I hadn’t thought about it but now that you mention it, there’s one there [man leaning against a shop window just ahead of us], and there’s another one [man with shopping trolley tucked away near some Christmas decorations to our left] and my mate behind me [older gent on the twin of the lounge Carl and I were sitting on] and another over there [man reading the paper on a seat outside a candle and scent store],” he said.
I pointed up to the next level above us where a man was leaning over the glass barricade calmly looking down at us looking up at him.
“It’s like a scene out of The Birds,” I said.
“First there’s one, then a couple more join him, and soon there’ll be a pile of men waiting for their wives to do the Christmas shopping, just looking down and freaking everyone out.”
Carl accompanies his wife shopping once a year, at Christmas.
“My role is chauffeur, bank, security, meeting point, heavy bag carrier and whatever else might come up that needs a bored bloke to attend to,” he said.
“Of course the cricket’s on now so it is a sacrifice.”
He has a suggestion for shopping centres putting up decorations next Christmas.
“While they’re doing the decorations, is it possible to put up some big screen TVs as well. It’s Christmas. There’s always cricket. If we’re going to be here sitting around we may as well have the cricket to watch.”
Suzanne returned and laughed when I told her about playing Spotto with her husband to stop him from being bored. She handed over a pile of shopping bags and off they went.
I wish everyone a safe and peaceful Christmas.