Not an Odalisque

Posts Tagged ‘gifts

May I Be Excused From Christmas, Please?

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This year I’ve decided to opt out of Christmas with family, but I don’t get out of buying presents or receiving them. I find the two equally dispiriting. It’s not that there isn’t anything I want, on the contrary, when your income exceeds your rent by only £20 a week, it’s easy to come up with a long list very quickly. This is what I thought of in the shower this morning: an electric blanket, Microsoft Word, an apple corer, woolly Wolford hold ups, a gymslip, a pair of winter boots, a warm winter dress, books about Bluebeard and books from Persephone press, a yarn swift, a haircut, fabric for new living room curtains, silk for French knickers and fur for stoles, a winter coat and five new sets of lingerie. If you’re looking for a theme, it’s cold. No one has seen my list, dear readers, except you, and much as you light up my life, I don’t think we’re at the stage where we exchange presents.

I will get presents, and I won’t be able to help mourning each unwanted gift. Last year my father spent forty pounds on a wooden box of tea bags for me. His girlfriend’s packages contained more tea bags (in cardboard boxes), film-themed bread mix and jewellery of purest green. Each expensive item seems like a gigantic missed opportunity to make a significant difference to my life. Yes, I know I’m being ungrateful and that a well brought up young lady would be happy to have been remembered at all, but every time a guest picks a teabag from the chest (such special teabags can’t be frittered on everyday consumption, after all), I’m reminded of the chasm of misunderstanding between my father and me, and wish at least for the lesser warmth of an electric blanket.

It goes both ways, of course, as friends and family open their presents from me this Christmas they’ll be wondering where in the house they can store them until enough time has elapsed for it to be acceptable to throw them out. In my family no points are given for effort: the year I learned that my father’s girlfriend needed new gloves and suggested knitting some, I was told in no uncertain terms that she wanted the branded ones with science woven into the fabric. The year before, when I spent all day making a gingerbread house to present to my hosts on Christmas Eve, it ended up in their bin by New Year. Since they’ve already moved from bemusement to derision of my making things, I don’t want to see what comes next. Fortunately, my friends are a little more forgiving, so I think they’re likely to be polite about my efforts, even if they don’t exactly understand why I thought they needed a jar of lemon curd for Christmas.

A lot of people tell me that Christmas is about materialism. Reading my list, and guiltily considering my ungratefulness about unwanted presents, I feel that’s true. I want of those things, not as an idle fancy, but in many cases a daily wish. That, however, is to overlook the way I’m touched when a friend buys me something I didn’t even know I wanted, because they know me better than I know myself. One friend still chides me for looking so downhearted as I thanked her for a grater which turned out to be one of the most useful items in my kitchen. I only wish I could pull of such a feat myself; I’m a rotten present-buyer.

To make it worse, the people I most need to buy for this year are the ones I hardly know. They’re the people who did my shopping, cooked me meals, cleaned my kitchen and told me repeatedly to get back into bed after I broke my collar bone. One of them was a friend’s boyfriend, a man I haven’t met before or since. And the lover, of course—how do you reconcile a low income with expressing appreciation to the person who slept on your floor and fed you painkillers when you weren’t even able to wash yourself? What present would ever manage that?

So, dearest readers, since I suspect we’re all spending the month going over and over the same dilemmas, I’m asking if you’ve come to any better conclusions than I have. Do I gaily distribute jars of lemon curd around my acquaintance, or aim to divine their true desires, as I wish others would do with me? Is it reasonable to aim for a fuller opt-out from Christmas, perhaps by moving to a hermitage by next year? Or do I need to find inner peace and come to terms with the colossal wastage of money and effort that present giving entails? Ideas on the back of a Christmas card. Meanwhile, I’ll be making curd, and adding ‘heat proof bowl’ to my secret Christmas wish list.

Written by Not an Odalisque

December 10, 2011 at 12:56 am

The Unstoppable Advance of Socks

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I was browsing in a bookshop in Belfast, once, when I noticed a blonde woman in an intimidating suit walking around the store with a shop assistant in tow. She went from display to display quizzing him about how the set up, and it became clear that she had come from head office to standardise the shop’s marketing. They worked their way around the tables near me:

“What’s this one?” she snapped.


“And this one?”

“New releases”

“And this?”

The man slouched, put his hands in his pockets and then mumbled, “Books I think my ex-girlfriend should’ve read.” The woman looked horrified.

I imagine that the assistant and I would share an approach to Christmas shopping. It isn’t so much a case of what you think people might like, as what they ought to have in their lives: The text that will influence their thinking, the novel set in a world you’re sure they would love to inhabit. If that’s difficult to determine, and you’re cohabiting, a book which will influence your own thinking is a viable alternative. Do consider the possibility of break-ups if it is a romantic relationship, though. There’s a lovely dictionary out there, and a hardback book of fairy tales, both of which I suspect are unused and neither of which I felt I could take when I left.*

Choosing becomes difficult with people whose tastes you don’t know, but in this circumstance something with wide appeal, or, more properly, something you think everyone should read, is a good choice. And the receipt. If they really wanted a book on building model aeroplanes the shop will probably give them one. The impossible challenge, I have discovered, is buying a gift for someone who doesn’t read. Not someone who can’t read, as in the case of the blind grandmother for whom I’ve purchased many audio books, but someone who has the ability to read and chooses not to. This is the case with my father’s girlfriend. I just don’t know what to do.

My father’s girlfriend is a lovely woman. She’s successful, tall (I approve strongly of tall women) and glamorous. She also used to read her science textbooks during English class. From this I can infer that she likes science text books, but I don’t think she needs any more of those. She doesn’t need much of anything, and I have yet to fathom what she wants.

Before the first Christmas I spent at her house, I rang my father and asked if he had any suggestions for what I could get her. A book, perhaps? No, he said, he had the perfect answer. He was buying her an amplifier and speakers. Why didn’t I purchase the wires to connect them? “No,” I tutted at his masculine ineptitude, “you can’t get someone wires for Christmas!” He had no further suggestions, so I chose and wrapped a bottle of perfume. On Christmas day I received a hi-fi from my father, and some prettily packaged wires from his girlfriend.

It’s been no better since. I’ve given her garishly coloured pashminas and she’s bestowed costume jewellery upon me. Last year I received a box of Wallace and Gromit themed bread mix (I put it in the cupboard with the twenty or so bread flours I already possessed) and Harvey Nichols fruit tea bags. I took her an architecturally unstable gingerbread house which was binned after a few days of dereliction, due to staleness.

What do you buy the woman who doesn’t read? There must be an answer. If you know it, save me, please, from giving the soulless gift of candles or bath bubbles. One of us has to change, or soon we’ll spiral down as far as socks. I can see them marching towards me, with a sense of impending doom.

*I’m not bitter, though, I think I make a net gain on books in most relationships. My last boyfriend packed a 1901 edition of ‘Psychopathia Sexualis’ in with my things. Perhaps he was trying to make a statement, but I’m rather pleased.

Written by Not an Odalisque

December 15, 2010 at 3:34 pm

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Christmas is over and the presents are in. I received some very thoughtful gifts from those who know me well, and some rather odd gifts from those who don’t. The oddest may be the handful of mismatched cutlery one friend kindly presented me with (her mother was going to throw it out and she objected to eating lasagne with chopsticks last time she visited) but it was certainly not the least considered. I have boxes of chocolates in flavours I hate, lip gloss in a shade I would never consider and, most strangely, a box of Wallace and Gromit themed bread mix. So, for future reference, here is a list of things I actually want. Those who have acted abominably towards me recently could do worse than sending one of these as an apologetic gift.

‘Winter Blooms’ by Kim Hargreaves, a book of beautiful knitting patterns.
Very nice knitting needles in 4mm. I hear rosewood is a rather good material.
Earthenware soup bowls, to withstand temperatures of up to 240 degrees.
‘The Victorian Chaise-Lounge’ by Marghanita Laski, which is available in a lovely edition by Persephone Books.
‘Hard core: the power and the frenzy of the visible’ by Linda Williams, because I like porn.
‘The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood: Versions of the Tale in Sociocultural Context’ by Jack Zipes, because I like fairytales mixed in with my porn.
‘Burlesque and the Art of the Teese / Fetish and the Art of the Teese’ by Dita von Teese, see above remark about porn.

Gosh, that turned out to be a rather feminine list, didn’t it? Should I ask for a power drill, too?

Written by Not an Odalisque

January 4, 2010 at 6:20 pm