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Rab's Week: There's nothing to beat shopping centres - for lonely men like me

Welcome to the sideways world of our star columnist

By Robert McNeil

Published 30/04/2015

Popular: the new Applegreen service station
Popular: the new Applegreen service station

I am not as other men. For I like a good shopping centre, me. It's not that I enjoy shopping. Well, I do and I don't. I don't enjoy shopping for clothes and haven't done so for a couple of years.

You may have seen my underpants on a recent edition of The Antiques Roadshow.

But I almost enjoy supermarket shopping. As with shopping centres and malls themselves, it's the company and the throng I appreciate.

Working from home, all I have to talk to is a small bouncy sheep and a Buddha. They sit together on the desk next to my computer and I'm sure they're conspiring against me.

That's what happens when you work on your own. Inanimate objects start plotting your downfall. Little do they know I've installed CCTV cameras to keep an eye on them.

Given that sort of hassle, it's essential to get out and mingle with the mob, even if you can't speak to strangers other than to say, "Gosh, you're very fat", or "I'm sure you can get a cream for that nowadays", or "Didn't I see you on Crimewatch, missus? Running a brothel?"

It's important to feel you belong to something, and the mob in the mall is about as close as I get, even if it's just to be slapped.

So, metaphorically speaking, I dance an undignified jig of joy with the people of east Belfast after news that top discount supermarket Lidly - is it Lidly? Ludl?- is to expand its store at Connswater retail park.

The future of the shopping venue has been under a cloud after a couple of stores closed. But now Lidly has brought its cheap and cheerful sunshine - and 15 jobs. At a press conference at Westminster, it was announced that you can get a versatile "shift dress" - is that for working shifts? - for just £6.99 and a trendy denim shirt for £7.99.

It's all good.

Meanwhile, out on the highways of the land, punters have been piling out of their vehicles and blundering enthusiastically around shops at the new Applegreen Service Staion.

As we go to press, Mr Gregg the baker is about to open premises there. Riot police, with experience of flying yumyums, are on standby.

This is all good news to those for whom shopping venues are principal social centres.

Just be careful what you say. Some folk are a bit touchy.

Friday: A grand trip to Portrush

All aboard the Irish Orient Express. Well, all who can afford it, that is.

From August 2016, the Belmond Grand Hibernian train will take passengers from Dublin to Belfast and on to Portrush and Coleraine.

The cost? Nearly £1,000. A night. At that price, I'd want a train that could fly.

Saturday: Ikea's a marriage-breaker

Many factors put a strain on relationships and marriages. Drink, football and missing socks can all spell disaster for domestic harmony.

However, in today's modern-style world, the biggest threat to live-in relationships is Ikea. Don't take my word for it (oh, you weren't?). Top psychologist Prof Ramani Durvasula, of California State University, has branded Ikea's Liatorp wall unit in particular "the divorce maker".

This monstrous calamity consists of three separate bookcases joined together with three doors. It comes with a 32-page instruction manual made up of helpfully wordless cartoons.

Failure to interpret these correctly causes confusion, manly shame and female scorn.

On the plus side, adds the Prof, if the two of you can put it together, the sense of co-operative achievement can benefit your marriage.

Zoiks. Never in the field of human history has so much been owed by so many to so few instructions.

Sunday: Prisoners living the high life

There are many things in life I don't understand: possession football, the film Inception, Justin Bieber's quiff.

But topping these is how there are so many drugs in prisons - places patrolled relentlessly by guards with powers to search people.

A mate who was a warder did explain it to me. But once I don't understand something it stays misunderstood.

At one Liverpool prison, the authorities have had to deploy a cherry picker to remove all the drugs mislaid on a roof.

How did they get there? Don't the people inside want to reform themselves and live wholesome lives? It's baffling.

Monday: New ferry will whisk you away

Exciting news for intrepid travellers from Northern  Ireland who enjoy a dram: a new ferry service linking Ballycastle, in Co Antrim, with the Scottish island of Islay will be launched in June.

Islay is famous for its whiskies, particularly if you like 'em peaty. Campbeltown-based Kintyre Express's 'Taste of Islay' service will run Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.

Tickets include lunch, whisky- tasting and a distillery tour. Islay's a lovely place too, so remember to drink in the landscape as well.

And please do drink responsibly: add a drop of water to your dram (liberates the bouquet, don't you know?).

Tuesday: More power to the veggies

News just in from the Late Jurassic Era: a new lineage of dinosaurs, related to Tyrannosaurus Rex, has been found to be vegetarian.

Chilesaurus diegosuarezi - didn't he play centre-forward for Liverpool? - belongs to the same controversial group of theropods as its sociopathic cousin but, instead of eating pies and sausage rolls, grazed on vegetation.

The finding has caused uproar in many rural areas. And popular books about theropods have had to be hastily rewritten.

In the evil kingdom of Online, meanwhile, meat-headed pedants point out aggressively that the beast was hardly vegetarian, in the sense of having made a lifestyle choice on moral grounds.

It was, rather, a herbivore. Yes, well it was important to clear that one up.

To be fair, it's distressing enough that history keeps getting rewritten, but now prehistory is having a makeover too.

Still, more power to the veggies. The long march of evolution continues.

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