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Beat the Cripmas shopping rush!

by Liz Carr

11th November 2007

It's only mid-November and there's still over six weeks until Christmas, but I've already begun shopping for gifts. It was completely unintentional though, because I hate Christmas shopping. and that's thanks to an unfortunate late night festive spree when I was younger.
Liz Carr, weighed down with bags whilst Christmas shopping
It was the 1980's, I was still at school, the exams were over and at last I could look forward to Christmas. Back then, my social life was practically non-existent, so when an opportunity arose to go late night Christmas shopping with my mates from school, I was embarrassingly keen. My mum was going to drop us off, my friend was going to push me in my manual wheelchair and for once I wasn't going to be 'different' or 'disabled'. No, for once I was going to be one of the normal gang.

But all that changed when we went into Woolworths. A shop assistant wearing a pair of brown felt reindeer antlers decorated with red and white flashing lights came dashing over to welcome me and my friends. I thought perhaps everyone who shopped at Woolies was treated like this ... how wrong I was. My heart sank when I learnt that we had in fact wheeled into a special late night shopping charity event for 'older and disabled people'. Now I understood why the St John's Ambulance staff were at the entrance to every store on the high street.

The antlered assistant's job was obviously to pounce on people like me and lure us into the shop with the promise of mince pies and sherry. This was so not cool. Here I was trying to be just like every other teenager, just like my mates, but instead I was having to fend off one of Santa's more over zealous little helpers. I kept saying "No, no", but no one was listening and no one cared. Before I knew it, he'd plonked a Father Christmas hat on my head, grabbed the handles of my wheelchair and was pushing me past the Pick 'n' Mix in time to I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day. I was mortified. Meanwhile, my friends were having a merry old time knocking back as much free sherry as fifteen year old girls could get away with.

Twenty years later and I still can't stomach the taste of sherry, nor the thought of Christmas shopping.

Last weekend, however, a friend who knows about my handicraft habit invited me along to a Christmas Craft Fair. I thought we were going to a church hall with a rickety wooden ramp, where there would be crocheted toilet roll holders, home-made decorations and a tombola. Instead, I found myself spending far too much money in an exhibition hall the size of a small country, hundreds of craft stalls and hundreds of disabled people.
Do you think they're me, darling? Liz tries on some earrings at the Christmas craft fair
Everywhere I looked there were wobblers, wheelies and whatevers. The car park was full of 'special' buses, and I had to queue for 30 minutes just to use the accessible loo. Not since a disability rights rally in the 90's had I seen so many disabled people. This truly was a Cripmas Craft Fair.

The most popular stalls were six deep in crafters, making it practically impossible to get close enough to see what they had to offer. I learnt the hard way that crafting folk aren't all patchwork, pot pourri and politeness and that when it comes to the cut and thrust world of buying hand-made gifts, people can be surprisingly vicious. At first, I tried being well-mannered, saying please, thank you and excuse me as I made my way through the crowds When that didn't work, I tried a pitiful look and a "But I'm disabled, please let me through". But hat also failed, so in the end I just closed my eyes and wheeled towards the stall regardless.

I really didn't want to start my Christmas shopping so early, but when I finally made it through the throng, the craft addict in me came to the fore, and I was immediately seduced by all the unique and unusual gifts. Before I knew it I was laden down with bags and boxes, as the pictures on this page show.

Yet despite the abundance of crips at the fair, the stall holders became flustered when one of us made it to the front line and actually began to browse or even handle their wares. As I picked up a possible gift for my dad, the seller snatched it from my grip and handed it to my PA, "I'll give it to your daughter to hold for safe-keeping". So not only did they see me as incapable of handling a pottery owl toothpick holder, but they also thought I looked old enough to have a 30 year old daughter! Just like that fateful late night Christmas shopping trip some twenty years earlier, I was once again mortified.

Needless to say, I didn't buy the pottery owl, and from now on I'm doing all my Christmas shopping online.


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