I was asked to write a short piece with the title “Good Present/Bad Present” the other day. It got me thinking about how much the present buying process says about our relationship with the person we’re buying it for, particularly when it’s a boyfriend/girlfriend. Firstly there’s a question of how much to spend. Personally I hate the idea of setting a budget for Christmas presents with your other half. It makes it all about how much you’re spending, rather than the thought behind it. But establishing the protocol does take away the potential for rows when he unwraps the silver hip flask you’ve had lovingly monogrammed and he, thinking you were doing cheap and fun, hands you one of his homemade books of “cuddle vouchers”.
And once you’ve negotiated the minefield of how much to spend, you have to decide what you’re going to spend it on. Do you play it safe and ask him to draw up a comprehensive list or insist on surprising him with something he never knew he wanted - with the risk that he actually doesn’t want it?
And it’s not like his is the only present you have to think about. There’s family, extended family, family’s girlfriends and boyfriends, friends and work colleagues. Just when you think you’ve got it all wrapped up (excuse the pun) you remember someone else you need to buy for.
I do love giving presents to people, it’s the thinking about what they’ll want and then slogging around trying to find it that stresses me out. I prefer to give slightly unusual things and I’ve found Bristol’s great for this. The Woolies Indoor Market at the top of Whiteladies Road is full of quirky gifts, as is the Clifton Arcade. I also happened upon the market that’s held in Start the Bus a few weekends a go and picked up a couple of really lovely, unique things there. And I do love House of Fraser in Cabot Circus - department stores at this time of year make me feel like I’m in Miracle on 34th Street.
So this year I’m actually feeling rather pleased with all the offerings I’ve got to place beneath the tree. Now I just can’t wait for the best bit - watching people open them.
And here’s what I wrote under the title Good Present/Bad Present.
It was the Christmas present that finished it. Not his to me. That was fine. Safe and unimaginative but it was my favourite perfume and I didn’t really mind that he’d left the “half price at Boots” sticker on the box. But by then it was too late. In choosing his present I’d realised this was never going to last. I wanted my gift to be meaningful, special. A book of poetry perhaps, or a beautiful tweed waistcoat I found at a flea market. I imagined him opening these perfect presents on Christmas morning and just - couldn’t. He didn’t read poetry and would think the waistcoat was old, not vintage. They weren’t presents for him, they were for the boyfriend I wished he was. In a last minute panic I bought one of those novelty books they pile high in Waterstones at this time of year. It was as good a way as any of ending the relationship. I think I left the half price sticker on too.