For me, there's nowhere more harrowing to work than Oxford Street during the Christmas rush. But as a raw recruit about to enter the fray, my spirits are buoyed by one thought: the state of the economy means the usual all-out assault may well be more like a phoney war.
Still, some are treating this year's preparations as a military operation. During my morning briefing with Stewart Dawson, personnel manager at John Lewis's flagship store, he talks tactics, reserve teams, following the action, staying in radio contact, with men abseiling 200ft to hang the baubles in the new atrium (part of last year's £60m refurb - codename: Project Beacon).
Stewart hands me over to Chris Hall, head of the furniture and Christmas stationery departments. We tour the shopfloor, eerily quiet at 10am. His shelves are decked with bells and holly, crackers and novelty Christmas trees, cuddly toys and armies of Santas. All that's missing are the insatiable hordes of shoppers. I can picture them clamouring for the store's much-talked-about pair of life-sized fibreglass reindeer. Price: £1,500 each.