I had one of these moments the other day whilst traipsing around a certain garden centre in Cambridge. I remember a time when garden centres sold plants, compost and garden tools. The more adventurous ones might even have done a line in fencing or maybe even the odd shed, but that was about it.
Now though it's not a proper garden centre unless a huge number of standard products and facilities are included, and all these places are in competition with each other to attract the biggest crowds - especially on a bank holiday when the entire country descends on either a garden centre or a DIY store. Maybe it's a very British thing, I don't know, but what makes someone suddenly need to redecorate the house just because it's a three day weekend? I never have and never will understand this.
To compete, a garden centre now needs to contain a cafe area selling stale sandwiches, overcooked jacket potatoes and awful weak tea. The queues for this cafe must be at least fifty yards long and contain a minimum of 80 percent pensioners, all of whom will need to fumble in their purse for the exact change or forget their PIN number.
The next essential is the barbecue section. In a country where it's only suitable weather for a barbecue twice a year I fail to see why anyone would want to spend a grand on some gas fired barbie when we all have a perfectly adequate cooker in the house. This is even more relevant if you go for an ordinary cheap barbecue because your cooker is at least controllable and won't encase your sausages in a thick layer of carbon if you look away for twenty seconds.
Of course a barbecue on its own is never enough so the garden centre is kind enough to provide the opportunity for you to buy all sorts of overpriced shiny fold-up versions of the things you already have in the house, plus gazebos, giant parasols and everything else necessary for keeping up with the Joneses.
Next up is the pet section where you can spend more on stuff your dog doesn't need than you would believe. Face it, all a dog enjoys is eating, having its ears scratched, and licking its own genitals, and it doesn't need a fifty quid collar and a giant day-glo chew toy to do that.
At some point you will find yourself in the bit where you can empty your wallet in return for all manner of shite with no purpose. It's the zone that taste forgot - a shrine to all that is tacky, naff and pointless. I wandered through this twilight zone bemused by the articles on offer, and I heard a woman say "Ooh, look at this mum, a toast rack with a robin on it". At this point the urge to get the hell out of there kicked in. The realisation that I was walking in a world of insanity where someone would feel the need to purchase anything from this emporium of the ridiculous became unbearable. My wife and her sister came up with the term 'crappy crap-crap' to describe this tat, which while not the sort of thing Stephen Fry would come up with nevertheless sums it up quite nicely, so I've adopted it myself too.
The thing is that it's not just garden centres that sell this rubbish, it's pretty much everywhere you look. Every shop has a range of baubles and trinkets that serve no purpose but some numpty will buy anyway before they realise what they're doing.
I accept that a home only feels really homely with a few personal oddments scattered about the place and these may often be of sentimental value even if they don't have a practical use. But I've never felt the need to buy a novelty bog roll cover or a glass bowl full of coloured beads to fulfil any sort of desire. Some people's house are packed with this stuff though, and I wonder why they do it. I know I'm a grouchy bugger and far more cynical than most, but I question why in this supposedly enlightened age that anyone would want this kind of rubbish around them. If everyone took the money they were going to spend on some tasteless knick-knack to hang from the window frame and gave it to a charity of their choice instead, I'm sure the satisfaction would be greater, longer lasting and wouldn't end up in next year's jumble sale.
The trip out wasn't a complete failure though. Having dismissed the half hour queue for a luke-warm sausage roll and a crap coffee we went up the road to The Rose in Stapleford where we had a delicious meal and a pint which soothed the feathers that had become so ruffled in the garden centre's crappy crap-crap section.
Next time you're in one of these places and you get tempted by this stuff, just ask yourself "Do I really need it?". I guarantee the truthful answer will be "NO!".
Standard garden centre crap zone. You have been warned.