To assess an industry properly, get drunk

Matthew Reeves gets smashed and goes Christmas shopping

Going home for Christmas always drives me to drink. I feel lucky I've escaped the tortures of small town life, as if I'm Terry Waite, or a former reality TV contestant whose earnings are no longer a function of how many "bush testicles" they can keep down.

Upon my arrival, I expected a hero's welcome or, at the very least a token gesture like the local dignitaries arranging for a ramp to be put up against the train and for me to be paraded to the nearest exit on a golf buggy while the villagers cheered and small children handed bunches of  flowers to my entourage. Perhaps the Lord Mayor or a town crier could have given me a key to the city, or just paid for a taxi ride so I wouldn't have had to lug all those bloody gifts for my family home myself. I was even good enough to give them some preparation time by stopping at a friend's house on the way for a fortifying beverage.

In social situations that hinge around drinking, I turn into an athlete pushing my body to the limits. Much as an astronaut in one of those spinny machines battles g-force, I battle the forces of gin - like a true champ I've often tested how far I can push myself and passed out. The difference is that in my field I don't wake up until the next morning and still have to get to the train station. The astronaut, on the other hand, can probably just get straight out of his capsule and go home for a fish supper.

Being still pissed, and with time to kill before catching my next train, I head towards the town centre. As I'm meandering aimlessly, I make a discovery about the retail industry: you can best assess a shop through a drunk inspection. Take Greggs. I can practically still smell the whisky on its breath. So long as drinking alcohol is a popular pastime, there'll be an animalistic need for meat in a modern-day pastry shell and Greggs will be the king of the high street.

WH Smith, with its strategy of having more items on its counter than its shelves, has long been on my "will go bust" list. Now I fear that I may have been gravely wrong all this time. Go in after drinking and the experience is wonderful. The nonsensical aisles take you through a Narnia-like imaginarium, where you might see anything from a museum of all the ballpoint pens ever produced to leather architects' folios, with magnetic bookmarks (for all your ferrous books) and "Make Your Own Last Will and Testament" kits in between. I'm sure I heard somewhere that if you can find your way to the centre of any WH Smith store without taking a single wrong turn, you get a free lifetime supply of filofax refills. I try, but can't - I keep ending up at the pregnancy magazines or the Moleskines, and feel so trapped that I buy an expensive notepad. Their plan has worked.

Free again, and with only a few minutes left, it's time for poor old Grandad Jessops. Everything's chained down but also on display, luring you in. I'm pounced on by an elderly shop assistant dressed in a shirt fit for a NASCAR driver or a darts professional. I turn down his everyday gadgets at luxury prices, and if you can't make somebody with very poor judgement and financial management skills suffering from chronic dehydration want to spend money, you really are screwed. I can't leave fast enough, and get my train in uncharacteristically good time. Once in my seat, I hurriedly Google "retail analyst jobs" from my phone. I think it'd be a match made in heaven or, as I sometimes call it, Reading.

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