A recent ex-change on Ken Bruce’s consistently good Radio 2 morning show put Christmas in perspective for me.
The topic had become well-intentioned festive presents that had gone down badly and a man texted the show to tell of the time he bought his wife a car jack. No need to ask how well that had gone down. But there was more. His wife then texted along the lines of “He seems to have forgotten that was for his first wife”.
Not much imagination needed to take that story on for at least the next few fraught days, but I would be surprised if most farmers have not been at least as far as the car jack stage followed by the fraught day or two. There’s something about farm work and the lack of romance and finer feelings that surround it that pushes present buying on to that fabled back-burner, meaning that when it is done, if it is done, it is done in a hurry and usually badly.
Someone who spends their working days in a boiler suit, wellingtons and woolly hat or baseball cap is not fashion conscious. Someone who works with cattle, sheep, pigs, slurry and silage is unlikely to be a judge of subtle differences between perfumes or body lotions. Someone whose main daily concern is falling prices for milk, grain, beef and sheep does not find it easy to think about the dainty and expensive jewellery option without extensive prompting.
Or at least that used to be the case, based on both empirical and anecdotal evidence. Empirical being the blouse for the colour blind and tacky earrings bought in a last-minute panic that are still mentioned occasionally about this time of year. Anecdotal was the man who bought new tyres for the family car as his wife’s present.
It could be, of course, that we’re talking about the past. It could be that the familiarity with computers most farmers now of necessity have, mobile phone apps, the internet and the development of online shopping has revolutionised Christmas on the farm as elsewhere. Hundreds of thousands of items can be studied online, selections made and orders placed. No need to step inside a shop, no limits except your imagination and credit card.
But even with this electronic cornucopia available, it’s amazing how many catalogues still appear in the post for bedding, kitchen gadgets and utensils, electronic gadgets, entertainment, jewellery, shoes, leisurewear, nightwear, and much more. Not forgetting there are catalogues aimed at men – suits, shirts, shoes and boys’ toys, the equivalent for “adults” of those Seebackascope, “fool your friends” and “instant disguise” adverts for boys in bygone comics such as The Rover, Hotspur and Adventure.
One that came this week is a good example, packed with things I never knew I needed or wanted and, come to that, still don’t. For instance, a “build it, crank it, watch it work” model of Stephenson’s Rocket, £339.99. Coin collections. A radio-controlled model of a tank, £139.99. A chocolate teapot £24.99. Make your own cheese. Novelty whiskies for hundreds of pounds, the last tot of Royal Navy rum at £610. A five-function tech-tool pen, the latest example of my dictum never to use any piece of equipment that claims to perform more than one function well; a Swiss army knife is a classic example and why I’ve never had one.
There is a “I can’t believe it’s not Meccano” construction kit to make a ferris wheel, a “fully functioning radio-controlled excavator”, stools with those old-style metal tractor seats at £99.99, a clock accurate to 1/60 millionth of a second a year, any number of plane assembly kits and, what is admittedly my favourite, a 1:12 scale model of a Morris Minor 1000. List price for that is £179.99, only about £20 less than I paid for a genuine, full-size, second hand Morris 1000 when I started work.
What the alert will have spotted is that to get any of these as presents the catalogue must be studied by a significant other. Otherwise I have to buy one for myself. The chances of either happening are, ho ho ho, approximately nil. Merry Christmas, by the way.