Some of you may remember my advocacy for shopping with women, why it’s worthwhile, and why it’s joyful. In these happy instances, the purchase of a gift heralds a warm glow of mutual satisfaction. It needn’t be contrived, nor hitched to the calendar, but simply occurs as an outward show of affection. What then, of those gifts that are contrived and calendrical, and that must be purchased in the absence of the intended receiver? Such is Christmas shopping, and I hereby declare it no fun.
I confess to be at a loss, most typically at this time of year, when it comes to she who is closest to my heart. She has excellent taste and a refined judgment. She desires only that which she desires, and that which she desires she generally already owns. She dislikes extravagance and conspicuous expense, and is not a fan of clutter. Any event that tends to increase the sum total of stuff in our lives is generally met with terms of disapprobation (you may have noticed, we tend to move countries several times a year). Books are too much like work, she being also of the academic persuasion (we tend to come in packs, or whatever the collective noun for academics happens to be. Perhaps it should be a dust of academics). Chocolate she has in stockpiles, and it is all divine. Scents make no sense – she has several litres of the stuff. Jewellery is oft a winner, but I’ve ploughed that furrow rather too much and the field must now be left fallow lest the crop starts to wilt. Clothes must first be tried on, and therefore have no element of surprise; likewise shoes, boots and hats. Watches, diaries, stationery, writing implements – all of these she owns and, because she is exquisite in her selections, none of them needs replacing, augmenting, or upgrading. In short, I am looking for an elegant wonder, that is valuable and to be valued, but which comes at a thrifty hit. It must be imaginative – innovative even – and be the embodiment of her heart’s desire, and yet she must not have had the prior knowledge of it being so. It should be large in gesture, yet small in stature (ethereal might be best, second only to consumable). I so much want to give such a thing, but its rarity always has me on the verge of giving up.
I shall not give up, however, for this annual process is, I aver, what is meant by the tired cliché ‘It’s the thought that counts’. This phrase is typically and erroneously associated with presents that are completely unwanted and discarded. I have heard it explained that the ‘thought’ in question involves the remembrance of the friend or relation who is the recipient of the gift. ‘Ah yes’, says the gift giver, ‘It is so-and-so’s birthday. I must give any old piece of tat that I can lay my hands on. At least I will have remembered so-and-so, and it’s the thought that counts’. This sounds to me like a very low standard of care, and if it is this kind of thought that counts, then I am sure it counts for little. Is it not better to give not a lot but especially well? ‘I am on a tight budget’, says our gift giver, ‘but I want to make sure that the recipients of my gifts appreciate that I really thought about them this year. The gifts may be mere tokens, but they will be meaningful, because it is the thought that counts’. The process may be not much fun, but the end result ought to be full of joy.
I shall endeavour to give well this year. And so I must continue to think.