A time of many (un) happy re­turns

Central Leader - - Opinion -

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: off­pat@snl.co.nz. All replies are open for pub­li­ca­tion un­less marked Not For Pub­li­ca­tion.

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