x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Dream on of a white Christmas, but don't forget the teenagers

Christmas fun is not just for the little kids.

I haven't even had the time to pop to Spinneys and get myself my Milkybar advent calendar yet, but 'tis already the time to be jolly with Christmas only a month away. And nowhere is this more apparent than at Oxford Street in London. This seemingly out-of-the-blue choice is because I was in the city for our half-term break, and with some wheedling, cajoling, tears and tantrums, I managed to convince the family to stay somewhere where I could be at peace to spend their hard-earned money. That is, in a hotel at walking distance to that glorious place where you can find H&M, Next, New Look and a host of other delights all lumped together: Oxford Street.

Well, OK, in Dubai we call these earthly paradises shopping malls, and as I am constantly reminded, we have more than enough of those back home in the UAE. However, Oxford Street didn't turn out to be a bad decision. Every shop was resplendent from roof to pavement in festive finery, fairy lights twinkling. In what I believe was meant to be in the spirit of modern art, there were also display windows crudely covered in cling wrap to give that apparently chic can't-be-bothered-to-frost-my-window-properly effect. In a peculiar nativity scene at Selfridges, the angels descended to earth: haughty mannequins in things fresh off the catwalk sported halos over their heads.

A window pane had a sign stuck on it telling you to run your finger on the sensor below. This would then wind up a music box in the display. I stood jabbing it excitedly for 15 minutes before it suddenly decided to work and broke into what I think was a tinny medley of Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and, bizarrely, My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean. At least that's what it sounded like.

Funnily, I seemed like the only one even glancing at the displays; you know you're in central London when everyone ignores everyone else and keeps striding forwards purposefully, moving in a slow mass in pace with the rest of the crowd like a herd of harried lemmings. All those fabulous decorations, and the pedestrians just look straight ahead and tuck their chins against the cold into the cable-knit sweaters that have invaded the city at this time of the year. And Selfridges had gone to all that trouble, too.

Within an hour, I had an inkling of what to do next: I'd just had a newspaper shoved into my hands by a bloke standing by an Underground station and an advert splashed across it screamed of, happily, a Christmas parade by the luxury retailer Harrods the next morning.

And so I found myself, bright and early, lined up with hundreds of other people on either side of the road waiting for what was essentially a grand marketing gimmick to begin. I was wedged between two mothers, each holding a gurgling toddler. I made the mistake of smiling at one of them and the mother delightedly told her charge to give me a "high five". I hastily rearranged my face into what I hope was an austere frown, but thankfully a Harrods employee came barrelling down with a trolley just at that moment, distributing giant chocolate coins and Arthur Christmas balloons. She gave one to each of the toddlers, gushing over them, giving the mothers and me a nod. Stare at her in horror was all I could do; since when did I get too old for kiddie freebies and started being lumped in with the mums?

Us teenagers have to bear the brunt of all the world and they give the free jelly beans to the wailing babies. Disgraceful. Relief arrived in the form of a chocolate dispenser only a few years older than I, who gave me a very understanding nod when I asked if I could please have a chocolate coin and a balloon instead of the "lovely bottle of still water or a lovely orange juice pack" she was trying to thrust upon me. Soon, I was covered in fake foam snow, having exhausted my phone's memory with photos of the real white reindeer pulling the sleigh. As I discovered, it's a glorious feeling to let your Arthur Christmas helium balloon soar into the atmosphere with a thousand other balloons in a splendid show of solidarity with, er, Harrods's retailing capability. After an hour of having to endure the toddlers smugly enjoying the benefits of not being an underprivileged teenager everyone thinks are above freebies, I made my way back with the speakers warbling "It's a special time of year". At least I had my chocolate coin.


The writer is a 16-year-old student in Dubai