Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Art of Shopping

I cannot trust people who say they never enjoy shopping. That's just sad, or else it's terribly narrow-minded as these people tend to equate shopping with buying winter clothes and stocking up for the weekend. There's a part missing about people like that, and clearly they have never been to a decent second-hand bookshop. 

There was a moment in Gateshead years ago, when I ran like a barbarian into a record store trying to locate The Who, The Kinks, The Byrds or whatever it was that I listened to at the time. W, K, B! Through the beads of sweat and disheveled heaps of my fringe, however, I could see my friend patiently browsing through letter A. It was a remarkable sight, and rather stunning in its own strange way. Thirty minutes later, he would hand me a record by Honeybus that would be spinned in my CD player (yes, this happened in 1789) for days on end. That day, my friend walked away with a fantastic John Cooper Clarke compilation, and I realised there was art to the whole thing. 

These days, I find that God has created two types of enjoyable shopping: shopping for wine and shopping for vinyl. Both are absolutely essential and both should be enjoyed for the end result and the process. I remember being extremely annoyed at the chap from a vinyl record store in St. Petersburg who kept pestering me about the records I wanted to buy. 'We have thousands of them, and I'm the one who knows where each of them is'. He was offended, too, when I said I would probably be all right doing that myself. 

But I absolutely loved the two middle-aged gentlemen from Valencia who never said a word during my solemn two-hour mission and only expressed their love for The Shirelles which I'd fished out of some well-hidden 60s box. Same with wine - please, don't give me any suggestions because you will just tell me that more expensive wines are better than cheaper wines and, please, don't tell me about the palate because the chances of you remembering the taste of this particular wine are frankly miserable.

Still, perhaps the most striking thing about shopping for wine and shopping for vinyl is that they are both based on very much the same principles:

- The older, the better, obviously, just beware the sour scratches.

- If you like the cover/label, you absolutely have to buy it. The result will always be special. I've tried some great German Riesling that way. I've heard Bessie Smith doing "St. Louis Blues" because of the unforgettable sleeve.

- Heaviness, be it weight or degrees, is generally a good sign.

- Never go for anything 'sweet'.

- Always remember what Oscar Wilde said: "One is not enough, three is too many".

- Don't buy anything over 30 dollars unless you are dying to get it and there's nothing else in the store that could improve your late night in.

- If you see Tom Waits, take it.

- Enjoy the process. Don't rush it. This is art.

In fact, there's just one crucial difference. On occasion, you can find a two-dollar LP that will blow you away. With wine, however, it's never that simple. With wine, as Christopher Hitchens put it, you have to upgrade yourself, because you are not going to live forever.