A time of many (un) happy returns
It’s almost with us. The number of sleeps is down to single figures. Now’s the time for that last-minute Christmas shopping you meant to do last March.
It’s all ahead of us – the sorting, the unstoring, the release from hiding of the only early shopping you did do, the surprise at things you’d forgotten buying. And maybe it’s the time to look again at those presents you were given last year and which didn’t quite make the grade.
The ones you got and instantly put away for recycling – into stock as potential stocking fodder for this year or sometime. You know the drill (later, you’ll get that pun). You’ve probably got a special bottom drawer or a cardboard box in your shed, along with the virtually identical parcels from years past.
Like the bargain all-purpose tool that the kids thought sounded great on the telly – the one with special interchangeable heads which convert it to a screwdriver, a hand-drill (now you get the pun) a pressure gauge for tyres, an adjustable bottle opener, a pocket barometer which also gives you the time in Calcutta, which is also a clue to its origin, a player that performs the 1812 Overture or a battery-driven toothpick, depending on your needs of that moment.
There’s a saying intended to be a help in your astonishment or disappointment: “It’s not the gift but the thought that counts.” Which leads you on very quickly to the obvious sequel: “But what were they thinking about at the time?”
Sometimes, that’s blindingly obvious.
All over the country, wives and girlfriends, even as we speak, are looking reflectively at drawers of dated, unopened bottles of perfume they recognise as the brand that smells oddly like scented flyspray which arrived unwanted last year. And that revealing black lingerie, the size specially made apparently to fit Posh (stick woman) Beckham. That last set worn only once. You could say that, in more ways than one, it didn’t come off.
Not that this is a one-gender issue. There’s also dreaded unwanted male underwear. Like latter day, bright-coloured Speedos. (You remember clearly the little monologue: “I thought you might like a change. I threw your old ones away!”) Not only do they not fit the bill or anywhere else for that matter, but, despite the size label, they don’t fit you either.
Which forced you to the realisation that though the Chinese make a great wall they still need to come to terms with a permanent modern elastic. But who to pass them on to?
Then there are those near and dear who should have heeded a matching warning from the reception that greeted the year-before-last’s after- shave and the mutterings that it made you smell like a – but we won’t go there.
You’ll have noted, for one reason or another, that many hardy oldies have had their day. But before they did, you may well have been a victim of their swansong last year.
Christmas ties are, of course, legendary for their failure to match anything, too narrow or too wide for current trends, are even simply ignoring the harsh reality that all the with-it people now fancy themselves with open necks and their high-powered business suits.
Boxes of hankies! Nuff said. Socks are often a problem. The choice of scarves is also dicey. And, as for CDs or DVDs for people who now operate exclusively on iPods. I ask you.
Books? Well, even the closest companions can come adrift there – like the year my wife and I separately bought each other matching copies of the same book.
Music? We’ve got to make discreet checks on the collection before we lash out into yet another version of a Vivaldi flute special with only the jacket different from last year’s.
Jewellery? Unless quickly developed an he’s eye for bling or has a Beckham bank balance which runs to diamonds, he shouldn’t have gone there. Maybe this year he’s learnt the lesson.
Then, of course, there are those handmade gifts from little ones who’ve slaved for hours with matchboxes, bright beads and sticky tape to make something, with a handcrafted Christmas card to match. Just what they’ve produced for you is in serious doubt.
But those mysterious objects must stick around (in more ways than one) so they can be produced whenever you are challenged on the topic, at least until next year and possibly even longer – maybe until the artist has moved into another stage of young life and is actually embarrassed by this relic of their earlier creative past.
Assuming you’ve got a spe- cial box for these, keep it on hand for Boxing Day.
Do that in particular because the time will come much too quickly when you find yourself still mystified by the intention but quite damp-eyed at the memory of it. That’s the stage when the now two-metre high law student would much sooner not be reminded of this rush of tiny artistic endeavour, particularly in front of his latest love.
All this, of course, is the odd day or two too late to be of any help this year but you might store it away as a guide next December.
A warning, if you plan a bit of tactical recycling – you know, that would make a nice birthday/Christmas pressie for someone – make sure you remember how it came into your hands and then ended in that bottom drawer. Don’t want to unwittingly give the disaster back to its original source, do we?
Which brings us to a a true account of a happening in Christmas month from a conversation overheard in a thrift shop.
One woman to another: “I put an Arran fisherman’s sweater in here and at Christmas I unwrapped a parcel from [name withheld], and you wouldn’t believe – it was my sweater!”
Which is a rather unusual twist to that line about “Return to Sender”.
Just thought you might store it away in your bulging bottom drawer as a warning to yourself.
To contact Pat Booth email: firstname.lastname@example.org. All replies are open for publication unless marked Not For Publication.