Pounding the pavement

discount |noun| a deduction from the usual cost of something, typically given for prompt or advance payment or to a special category of buyers

It’s now been 6 weeks since I’ve arrived in Leicester. I’m halfway through my stay here. If this were a marathon, this would be the point where the risk of “hitting the wall” would be at its peak. How to go on in this cold bleak weather? How to persist when daylight behaves evermore like a rationed commodity? And yet I find humor an exceptional source of nutrients to fight-off any tiptoeing feeling of dejection. The sheer abundance of noteworthy tidbits offered-up as fodder to a non-dormant sense of humor is astounding. I feel not like hibernating, but like hyper-activating. So much to taunt, so little time.

Zeit and Geist, our little friends from a few posts back, are always entertaining company on my Leicester outings. Wide-eyed Geist has a delightful open and gregarious nature with a sincere interest in all those things that make Leicester a fascinating melting pot of cultures. He’s the one who led me to Belgrave Road with its plethora of sari shops, kathak dance studios, Indian restaurants and – at this time – Diwali decorations. Silent, naughty little Zeit is an altogether different creature. He has a delicious mean streak about him and takes no prisoners when it comes to compiling lists of the many fashion faux pas the town is rife with – from Friday night erections (and I’m talking about shellacked hair-do’s) to hoe heels and squirt skirts. If you’re not sure what these terms mean, I invite you to come out for a night on the town here in Leicester (regardless of the weather) and you’ll see what I mean. You can even chip-in with your own personal contribution to our new pastime of coining local fashion trends over pints.

So the other day I went on just another typical Leicester outing with Zeit and Geist in tow. It was Zeit’s turn to suggest the itinerary and his suggestion – made with a wry little smile – was that we set about “pounding the pavement”. Suspicious of what the friend-turned-fiend had in mind, off we went. “This is all about a local obsession I’ve tuned into,” he said. “You really haven’t noticed it after all these weeks? Its what makes this town’s fatty food addicted clot-catcher tick.” “Binge drinking, kebabs and hot pants?” I quipped. “No, silly,” he said sashaying me past the outdoor display of gnome-print wheelie bin numbers and through the door of our first stop: none other than… Poundtastic, where everything is £1! Or I should say, WHERE EVERYTHING IS £1!!!!!!

In this first shop, Zeit’s challenge was for me to go in, touch the back wall of the store and come out. I panted for breath as I finally reached the street again, having struggled to jump over a pile of boxes of “Fake Don’t Bake” self-tanning cream left mid-aisle, while barely escaping a group of little old ladies that were barricading themselves in with their walkers to fight it out over the last bottle of summer breeze discount fabric softner (written in Polish).

In the second shop, I was obliged to actually wind my way through every single aisle of the shop without coming into bodily contact with anyone. I naively underestimated this challenge, until I noticed that every discount shopper either came armed with a plaid wheeled trolley or had their vision blocked by the wagonloads of dishwasher powder they were struggling to carry to safe port through anorexic aisles. Dismayed, I witnessed a horrible collision between a young man carrying an overly ambitious amount of Heinz ketchup bottles and a feisty older gentleman in a mobility scooter. The ensuing scene was worthy of any low-budget Halloween thriller. Called to my senses by dear little Geist, I quickly made my exit to avoid further trauma by dwelling on such graphic gore.

Yet Zeit had no pity on me. He kept upping the ante at each turn. In the third shop, I was required to actually find a sales person and speak with them. “That’s impossible,” I implored. “You’ll find a way. You’re resourceful, “ he jeered – the little bastard. I stood motionless in front of the door, my feet hip-width apart, my arms tense at my sides as if ready to draw a pistol like some John Wayne movie. The tumbleweed crossed my path. I mumbled under my breath, “Ok, Pound Plus, let’s see what you’ve got,” as I spit on the ground, eyeing the huge amount of plastic orange roses on display outside the shop – a bunch of 6 for just £1.

I did go in bravely at first, but this time the suffocating aisles, towering overcrowded shelves and frenzied herd of discount shoppers almost got the best of me. My head began to spin and my life began to flash before my eyes as I plowed through highly flammable satin sheets and water-soluble suitcases with Hello Kitty patterns. “Just one more step. Come on. Keep focus,” I thought as a drop of sweat came down the side of my face. “Just find a salesperson and get out of here.” By the time I found the miniature salesperson hiding behind cans of sweet corn (3 for £1), I was already very faint. Not having thought of anything to say, I picked up the closest thing at hand – a value pack of Private & Confidential Vajazzle lip-shaped body art – and said, “excuse me, but how much is this?” As the fragile creature surely pondered whether or not to call the police, I took it upon myself to quietly exit the scene mumbling, “Sorry, silly question.” As I stepped into freedom once more, I could hear her holler at me, “And don’t come back, lady?! Amateurs!”

“Oh, my God!” I thought, looking up into the sky pleadingly. “How many more could there be? Will this never end? Make it stop!” I begged Zeit. As it turns out, there were more – Pound Plus, Poundsaver, Pound Extra, Pound Stretcher, to name but a few. In a ruthless attempt to corner the market, there was even a genius that thought up the “Just 99p store (Penny less than £)”.

At the brink of exhaustion, we came to our last stop – the queen of all pound shops – Poundland. “Ok, you’re almost there. Here the task is to actually buy something.” Dumbfounded, I protested. “You’re out of your mind, Zeit. That’s where I draw the line.” Ah, but he is cunning. “Do you?…” he hissed. “What about total immersion into Leicesterhood? What about authenticity? Can you really write about the Leicester experience while trying to side-step its more characteristic enterprises?” “Damn it,” I thought. “I’m cornered.”

I went in limping. A bump over my left eye marked the spot where a 3m roll of turkey foil had been thrown at me in a previous shop. This had to be done right. It was not just a case for buying any old thing. Zeit required me to buy something that I could use. I guess that ruled out anything edible, breathable or wearable – so no eggs, no Homer Simpson socks and no DINKY perfume.

This was by far the longest excursion into any of the pound shops so far. I was being asked to dive into the outer realms of my ability to shop and it wasn’t proving easy. After 9 minutes, 13 seconds (feeling my skin begin to break out in hives), I finally settled on a shiny red devil doggy Halloween costume for Botox. Feeling confident about my selection, I made my way to the cashier where a line longer than the U.S.-Mexico border awaited. Novice that I am, I waited for the teller to give me my total. Rummaging clumsily through my bag for change, I handed a pound to the teller as another sparkling pound coin slipped to the ground. The teller gave me a reproachful look. That coin represented who knows what other magical treasures I could take home with me.

I was congratulated by Zeit on the successful completion of my rite of passage. We didn’t hit all the pound stores, just enough for me to get familiar with the local obsession. Zeit’s itinerary may not have been exhaustive, but it was surely exhausting! As for Botox, I showed him the costume. He peed on it. Good boy!

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