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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Friday, 12 December 2014

The Passchendaele of gift buying

In some stories the situation is king, the characters dried seeds in a dried senna pod.

VR (my wife) feels indebted to X and must buy her a present. Knowing X prefers presents that are unmistakably “gifts”, decoratively wrapped, hinting at wealth. In a word: toiletries. On a raw day the trail leads through a specialist perfume shop, a chain department store to a chain pharmacy.

RR is merely the chauffeur but is increasingly aware of VR’s impatience. Initially RR looks for items more modestly priced but is drawn into this meretricious, finally fraudulent sub-world. Fifty quid buys two plastic tubes and an ingeniously faceted bottle, all three vaguely labelled with terms like Body Wash. The outer box has a volume four times that of the contents. The brand names are dimly familiar from adverts in “lifestyle” magazines.

Soon VR is close to snarling with frustration. RR, new to the game, is wrestling with abstractions like cynicism, manipulation and brand hypnosis. VR has had enough. Says “Let’s go to Boots.” Boots is a chain pharmacy, the downmarket end to the shopping trail.

Outside the wind is bitter. Defeated, VR says, “I’m coming down (to the city) on Wednesday. I’ll go to Boots then.”

Although they are unaware of it at the nuptials it is for such moments that people get married. “Let’s do it now,” says RR. The couple slog back up the main street to Boots where a branded box (more tubes, more bottles) is available half price. Later, at home, VR thanks RR for that final push. RR reckons his gesture was born out of self-interest, but is warmed anyway. No celebrations because Thursday’s a diet day. But a bottle of champagne goes into the fridge for today, Friday, the best evening of the week.


  1. I must admit I loathe dragging round "ladies" shops with my wife. Women seem to enjoy the browsing and comparing, men tend to have a shopping list, go to a shop and get what they want - then go and do useful stuff like extracting motorcycle engines from their frames.
    We live close to Canterbury, where we go for most shopping (Ashford being dire). When we get off the Park and Ride bus there we tend to go our separate ways, to meet up later at a pre-arranged cafe.
    I get most of my stuff via the internet these days. Very quick and efficient it usually is, too. e.g. I ordered a gel motorcycle battery from a firm in Birmingham one afternoon and it arrived by Parcel Force the next morning. Worth paying slightly extra for the post and packing. In the old days one would go to the local dealer, who would order it and say "comeback in 14 days and it might be here".

  2. Here's the solution to the awful aspect of Christmas shopping: the gift cupboard. When you are out and about, perhaps in London with time on your hands, or in a charming old town without a Costco, buy up whatever you see that is irresistible, take it home and put in in the gift cupboard. You know Christmas is going to come around again, and you know whose birthdays you are obliged to and browsing through your clever inventory is entirely stress free. Christmas shopping is tyranny!

  3. I'm stealing Stella's idea!

    While you might have had your own interest in not going shopping again uppermost in your offer, your thoughtfulness was a kindness appreciated by your beloved. Good job, RR!

    Go select a present of your heart's desire from Stella's Magic Gift Cupboard.

  4. All: Whereas I am delighted to receive any comments these days - even the drop-dead kind - I can't have made myself clear. This was not a traditional anti-Christmas-shopping rant; for one thing VR hates shopping even more than I do. If I said I was simply the chauffeur I ought perhaps to have added "supportive". I volunteered to take VR down to Hereford and to trudge round with her attempting to ease her horrors. As a result - and those who write should always do unpleasant chores every now and then - I saw the concept of the "gift" with new eyes. Saw the blatant exploitation in an area where many people have opinions but few have any knowledge. And this is not a case of women alone being led by the nose. There are tarted up versions of these wretched "gifts" for equally gullible men.

    I should add that as married couples get older it may be necessary - however male their inclinations - for husbands to participate in their wives' activities, however arcane. Managing to pass 50 years together is all very well but is ultimately meaningless if one or the other is often lonely despite having another resident close by.

    Pursuing this advocacy of self-mortification it can bring unexpected pleasures. I was risking it when I urged VR to do Boots there and then. VR tends to be suspicious of many of my suggestions. But her subsequent gratitude was unfeigned and the champagne will taste all the better. Thanks, Crow, for spotting that.

  5. Excellent - this post had me giggling in recognition of the situation. I wish I had been there!