Now, to cap it all, it started to rain. A persistent, fine, drizzle, whose cold, grey, wetness struck Mrs. Watson’s face, froze her hands, and seemed to penetrate deeply into every part of her weary body. In her despondent mood, she was not surprised that her shoes had chosen this moment to start letting in water. It was not long before she felt her feet starting to grow numb with cold stiffness. Aware that her arduous day was not yet over, Mrs Watson sighed, lowered her throbbing head, and continued to trudge along pavements thronged with shoppers.

For months she had been afraid that it would end up like this. There was that first shrill “ Mummy ! Mummy ! Come, look ! Can I have that for Christmas ? ”, accompanied by excited fingers jabbing at an October television screen. Her husband was no longer around, leaving her to bring up two small boys on her own on a severely restricted budget. Mrs Watson realised that, in contrast to earlier, more affluent years, it would only be possible to buy the cheapest toys this Christmas, and she would have to sacrifice to manage even those. She felt her heart sink, conscious of callous advertisers’ unspoken implication, that good, caring, parents would want to fulfil all their children’s expectations, no matter how unrealistic. Why did they not realise that, in suggesting that toy cupboards would be incomplete without this, or that, gleaming object, they were placing people like her under pressure they could well do without ? She suspected that manufacturers’ drive to increase profits made them oblivious to these concerns. In the weeks which followed, she felt the pressure intensify as an ever increasing range of advertisements appeared, showing well-behaved children in casually affluent surroundings happily playing with new, expensive, toys.

Soon, even the most down-at-heel shop in her district joined in, rough hand-drawn signs urging membership of their “ Christmas Clubs ”. Down town, Department stores competed to fill their well-polished windows with the most glamorous display of Christmas goods. Mrs Watson felt trapped : there was no escape from this whirlwind of festive excitement. Even the most mundane items were now clad in Christmas wrappers. It seemed, to her jaundiced eye, that the season’s sole purpose was to tempt people to spend money, even if – like her - they could ill afford to do so.

At last, Mrs Watson decided that she could postpone the inevitable no longer. She had no option but to take the boys Christmas shopping. Wrapping them as warmly as she could in their charity-shop coats, hats and gloves, she strapped a wriggling Darren, the younger one, into his well-worn buggy, took his brother Wayne’s reluctant hand, and headed for the bus stop. In the few minutes before a bus came, she felt a chill wind blowing through her threadbare coat. Inside, the bus windows were steamed up. She was glad to be sitting down, even if Wayne insisted on sitting uncomfortably on her knee. All too soon, they reached the town centre. She had a brief moment of happiness, noting her boys’ eyes shining with excitement at the twinkling array of coloured lights decorating the crowded streets. It soon passed. The next two hours passed in a daze. Wrestling her charges awkwardly through revolving doors. Failing to persuade the disconsolate boys that the cheap toys she could afford were as good as those they had coveted on television. Elbowing her way through hordes of shoppers none of whom seemed concerned at the staggering prices of the seductively displayed goods.

Finally, Mrs Watson had had enough. She simply did not care whether she had bought all the items on her list. Tired Darren and Wayne were squabbling continually and noisily. Her wet feet were sore. Her arms were exhausted from pushing the buggy and hauling reluctant Wayne into shops where he did not want to go. She felt cold and miserable. Despite regular, loud, protests from its occupant, the flimsy handles of Darren’s buggy were festooned with polythene bags containing her shopping. As Mrs Watson tramped along, they brushed wetly against her chilled legs. A dejected queue was gathered at the bus stop, their heads bowed against the rain’s penetrating misery. Mrs Watson was resigned to a lengthy, and unpleasant, wait. After fifteen long minutes silently suffering, she was able to manhandle the buggy, and her crying children, on to a packed bus. Gratefully, she sank into a seat vacated for her by a hat-touching man. It was all too much. In an agony of tired frustration, Mrs Watson muttered “ If I could get hold of whoever was responsible for all this, I’d string him up ! ” Unaware that anyone might have heard her, she was startled when a quiet voice, behind her, sadly said “ Oh, but they’ve already done that, two thousand years ago. ”