Despite hints dropped and suggestions made, some of us still get the wierdest presents. But perhaps that’s become part of the fun of the season of goodwill to all, writes Michael Tierney
The wait, as ever, was simply excruciating. Judging by my wife’s track record these past 16 married years my Christmas present was going to be yet another unmitigated nightmare of horrendousness. I was not let down.
It’s supposed to be me that can’t shop or can’t choose the right gift or can’t tune into all the dropped hints of the past 12 months. Alas, my wife has some kind of spectacular in-built ability to buy me something that defies any resemblance of taste or Christmas cheer.
The first time I noticed it was before we were married and she purchased what can only be described as some kind of shoe. Singular. It was wooden and I was supposed to grow plants in it. Or flowers. It was simply a wooden shoe plant thing for a windowsill. Hideous.
After we got married, we agreed that the way ahead was to buy each other just a few, small gifts and one that was halfway decent. Every year I waited for the decent one and, as sure as eggs is eggs, I got yet another monstrosity.
Clearly, my clues have been either awful or my wife is no Taggart. I must have watched a cookery programme once and, perhaps, remarked on how nice it would be to have some decent olive oil in the house. Inspector Clouseau duly noted this. On Christmas Day I peered curiously at the large, gift-wrapped, five-litre metal can-shaped thing that was on the table with my name on it.
Filled with excitement – who wouldn’t be? – I quickly tore open the large, gift-wrapped, five-litre metal can-shaped thing and found that it was exactly that. And it was filled with five litres of industrial olive oil that tasted like it had been made in a Russian gulag using leftover potato peelings.
Another time I was looking into the story of my grandfather who had died in the Second World War and that was enough to set my wife on her own military excursion. For days before Christmas she hinted that this particular year was the year that I’d really love the present. I imagined a beautiful old, restored sepia photograph in a fine wooden frame. Or, perhaps, she had spent time in some dusty old archive and found some hitherto unknown stories about said grandfather.
Foolishly, I got up that Christmas morning with great expectations and began tearing through the smaller gifts of TK Maxx soap, spotted socks and white almond chocolate. The rubbish now out of the way and there it was; a small box filled, undoubtedly, with incredible historical treasures. My grandfather’s story would be alive soon. I felt the edges.
To my now hyper-trained dodgy gift-receiving fingers it felt very much like a double CD. But that was surely just the cynic in me. It had to be his box of old cufflinks from before he died, or the Bible my grandmother received following his death.
I shook it a little. Nothing moved. Hmmm. And it still felt like a double CD. Quickly I undid the wrapping. “You’ll love this,” she said, chirpily, alongside me. “Really love it. It’s to help you with your research.”
Finally, I managed to get through the deft layers of last year’s birthday wrapping paper and there it was in my hands. Essential War Theme Tunes. Double disc. Yep, 20 of the best war theme tunes a man could ever wish for at Christmas. I stood there, my face a rictus grin. Look, said my wife, grabbing it from me and pointing. “It’s got The Guns of Navarone. Where Eagles Dare. The Dambusters and stuff. You can play it loudly as you write in your office.” And I’d do this why exactly? “For inspiration, of course…”
Two years ago I got a wooden letter holder adorned with silly little knots – Anchor Bend, Bowline on a Bight and something called a Cabillot. And there’s a big rectangle of string on the front. A lovely design quirk I’m told. It sits by the front door and my wife puts menus for pizza delivery and Chinese takeaway in it every day just to prove me wrong about its worth and says, you see, it was a good present. Look, it holds all those bits of, um, stuff.
Now I’ve not always got it right either at Christmas. I’ve gone down the well-trodden lazy husbands’, last-minute perfume route. I bought something for her garden. A few times I’ve even made stuff that almost looked shop-bought. I’ve had black and white photographs of the children enlarged and put on canvas and she swore she loved them. I’ve had, I admit, a few hits and misses with clothes. Buying lingerie would, and does, scare the bejaysus out of me still.
But I don’t think I’ve ever surpassed my wife. I mean seriously, why on God’s green earth would I want an oversized glittery homemade letter M? Or a twin-set book of 100 Contemporary Architects? They remain utterly unopened. Not a twist or bend in the spine. Then there was the nasal hair clipper – “because you’re not getting any younger”. Last year it was a Superman onesie. Frankly, I want to stick my tongue to the nearest frozen pole.
And so to Christmas morning a few days ago. I had tried to drop my wife a few proper hints. Remember? Something electrical with a first-class sound system? Something timeless? Something bright and illuminating perhaps? Ladies and gentlemen I give you the heavy-duty, battery-operated torch radio clock.
Already I’m thinking of next year and what unmitigated nightmare of gifted dread awaits me. And yet, despite these accursed horrors, the funny thing is I’d really hate it to stop. Honestly…