Just a couple of miles away from where I sit now is a shopping centre called Westwood Cross. It's like an open air mall for my friends across the pond. And it is the week before Christmas.
A person is a rational, thoughtful, entity who thrives on knowledge. A person is savvy. Kind. Nice. Call it what you will. People, particularly the week before Christmas are irrational hate-mongers who would cut their own grannies arms off for the last Luke Skywalker on the shelf.
And all I needed was potato starch for chicken. Could I get it at the grocery store? No. Because it's weird. And foreign. I asked the worker stacking shelves in the flour isle. "Excuse me?"
He looked harassed. No surprise. In the build up towards the big day the grocery stores become a battleground of covert warfare - the slow decimation of produce - until the big push on the Christmas Eve, when in a reenactment of the last days of WWI people are crushed for sprouts. Sprouts. "Yes?" he answered.
"I'm looking for potato starch. Do you have any?"
"We don't sell that here," he said from behind glazed eyes.
I'm convinced he just said that to get rid of me, but in all honesty, I doubt they had it anyway.
Which led me to Westwood Cross, the week before Christmas, to go to the health food shop I was sure would have my prize.
I knew that there would be no parking available at the shopping centre itself, so I parked a mile away and walked across the fields. As Westwood Cross came into view over the tops of the grasses it looked like a scene out of Dawn of the Dead.
Nervously I slinked down the walkway next to the cars. There was little space near the shop fronts. People were pushing each other out of the way. They were carrying too much. Presents for family members, brought at ill conceived times. Massive bags being dragged behind them. Small children being knocked to the floor. And this one child. "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh." She just kept screaming - but not like a child - a growl like a demon being torn from the warmth of hell.
I increased my pace.
One woman's bag broke open. Toys strewn to the floor. She spread her arms out to protect them, but alas they were trampled like a ragdoll dropped by a child in a horror movie. Truly, I was experiencing the end of days. I stopped, to try and help, but was pushed on by the horde, losing sight of the woman in seconds. To this day, I don't know if she made it.
Before long the slipstream I was caught in eased as it passed the health food store. I was in luck. It was, of course, empty. I chanced a glance to the entertainment store opposite. It was like they were reenacting a scene from Saving Private Ryan. I saw people fighting for air. And Up. I saw a man kicked to the ground for the last copy of the Last Samurai. Such tragedy. It's on TV next week. A small child stood crying in the corner of the doorway clinging on to a Paddington Bear plushy.
What had we become?
I entered the health food shop, and the elderly lady behind the counter jumped a little. She looked like she'd seen things. Shit that would turn your hair white. Hers was. Turns out she was only 17. Of course, my much valued potato starch (£1.67) was easily available. I bought two - doubling my rations would mean I wouldn't have to return so soon. When I paid for it - the hollow eyed cashier put it in a paper bag. I thanked her, but nestled it in my jacket before returning to the fray. The paper bag wasn't strong, neither was the plastic bag with the starch inside. If it got grabbed at or torn, it would fly asunder, and there would be nothing I could do. My quest a failure.
Carrying my prize akin to Flash Gordon holding a football, I dashed into the crowd, darting left and right. Small child - missed it - smoker - didn't get it in the face. Damn it - family member - I dropped to my knees and crawled - taking care of the quest item the whole time.
Before I knew it I was back in the field. I lay. Exhausted. Breathing hard, I took stock. Neither bag of starch was damaged and I had only minor cuts and bruises. I stood. Smoke rose from the roofs of the stores. I had lived through going to the Cross the week before Christmas. But would I again?
The moral? Do your Christmas shopping earlier people. Some of us need our starch.