I THOUGHT I would do some Christmas shopping after work, given the season. I reckoned it would be not very busy at that time of day. And maybe I could have a couple of treats at the Christmas market.
There is no such thing as “not very busy” as this time of year, is there? I do not know what I was thinking. Maybe my brain was addled by the tissues I have been using as I struggle with a minor cold.
For I bought some tissues in a hurry and failed to see that they were mulled spice scented. I am not sure what purpose is served by adding mulled spice to tissues. Nobody has ever bought tissues on a whim. It would be like buying scouring pads or bleach on a whim.
Anyway, when I got the tissues back to the office and cracked open the box in order to blow my nose, I was unpleasantly surprised. If I wanted to feel as if somebody had squirted half a can of Glade up my nostrils, I would stand in the doorway of Lush.
Making my way through the crowd of people who also thought it wouldn’t be very busy, I somehow managed to access the shops I needed to visit, by fighting against the stream.
It was long past tea time, or dinner time if you grew up in the south, and I was feeling hungry. After all, I had just done some very strenuous shopping and I could smell sausages cooking over coals. Or maybe I had accidentally bought some frankfurter-scented tissues – it is anybody’s guess these days.
In any case, it was time for the treat I had promised myself. I made my way to a German bratwurst stall and paid five actual pounds for a sausage in a crusty roll. I slathered it with that pointlessly mild mustard that tastes like strained piccalilli and tried to eat it.
It was not an entirely positive experience. First, the amount of pressure my jaws had to exert on the sausage was half that which they had to exert on the roll, so when I bit into it, I did not take into account the differential and most of the mustard ended up on my face.
Secondly, the coolness of the roll and the blandness of the mustard lulled me into a false sense of security. The interior of the sausage was hot enough to melt steel beams.
I burnt my tongue and the roof of my mouth and I had to use the mustard to cool my mouth down. In what sort of zany mixed-up world must the Germans live where mustard is considered a coolant? Do they use Tabasco sauce for eye drops?
I deposited £1.38 worth of nuclear sausage and bread in the bin along with a yellow mustard-smeared napkin. And then I saw it. A stall selling mulled wine…
Maybe the tissues had altered my body chemistry, but I felt the mulled spices calling me. “Cad I had a bulled ine, blease?” I asked, my cold and injured tongue combining to make me incomprehensible.
“What’s that, love?” asked the woman behind the counter, who knew perfectly well what I wanted and was clearly playing with me. She worked on a mulled wine stall. What else might I have wanted?
“Dat dere!” I said, as I pointed at a vat of steaming stuff. The woman ladled some into a waxed cardboard cup and handed it to me.
“Ow!” I said. It was hot. Waxed cardboard, you see, is not brilliant at insulating heat, which is why in coffee shops they give you an extra bit of cardboard to wrap around your cup. And they give you a lid to prevent spillage.
Mulled wine stalls, however, treat these innovations as devilish tricks, and probably European. How on earth was I supposed to carry this cup? I couldn’t swap it from hand to hand till it cooled because I had Christmas shopping, and it didn’t have a lid in any case.
I took a sip, thinking that it would leave a rim of cooler cup around the top. But the problem with mulled wine is it does not have any milk in it to cool it down, unless the stall holder is absent-minded. It was as hot as a German sausage.
I couldn’t carry it, and I couldn’t drink it. And so I poured it into the bin, on top of the other treat I had bought.