Not this year, I hasten to add. This year was fine, spending time with family and all. We're lucky to creep in at the edge of my son-in-law's extended family for Christmas Day, and we then went to spend New Year with our two sons and cook them a belated Christmas dinner. And frankly we've got to the age where Christmas presents are more appreciated as tokens that we've not been forgotten than as material objects. And the old man was very happy with his Christmas sweater, and spent Boxing Day jingling all the way with the little bells sewn onto it.
But it hasn't always been thus, of course. From the time when, as a child, all I wanted was a tricycle with wire wheels and a boot to put toys in, and received instead a scooter, presents have been problematic. Nobody had explained to me that we were hard-up and couldn't afford the tricycle, which is why, when we were in a similar position, I always let our children know our financial situation. Yes, they did occasionally get second-hand presents, though always something they wanted, not just random. I'm thinking of the My Little Pony house here, complete with a whole stable-full of ponies. And sometimes the present had to cover both boys, and birthday as well as Christmas, like the X-Box they got one year.
But bad Christmas presents are in a whole different league. It takes a certain amount of effort to give a really bad present.
I know, as I just said, we weren't a well-off family. But really, my twenty-first birthday present from my mother could have been better. She gave me a second-hand nightie she had been given, but she always wore pyjamas so had no use for it.
But there was one person who had raised bad present giving to an art form, without even the excuse of being hard up, and that was the woman my father-in-law lived with towards the end of his life. He was a lovely man, generous and loving to his family. She on the other hand was the sort of person who always told you you'd put on weight, or asked my daughter, a student at university at the time, when she was going to get married, as time was passing and she didn't want to be left on the shelf, did she?
This person could not, of course, be seen not to give any presents at all. Her speciality was the present that looked reasonable but had hidden flaws. Like the bars of chocolate given to my children which proved to be past their sell-by date. (They ate them anyway.) Or the (actually quite nice) warm padded gloves she gave my husband which turned out to have come second-hand from the Oxfam Shop in town. Or the bunch of flowers she gave me one year. Plastic.
In fact we never bothered to save her presents for Christmas day:; to spare ourselves the disappointment we would stop off at my sister-in-law's on the way back home and open them there, where we could at least get a laugh out of them.
But the very worst present of all was one given to my daughter. She had been very fond of her Nana, who had died several years before. So she wasn't too upset to be given, one Christmas, her Nana's old address book. Until she looked inside it.
Some of the entries were in pencil, and had been rubbed out, as best the donor could. Other entries had been in biro, and these had simply been crossed out.
Doreen lives in the empty bit in the middle of Wales, where since her retirement she has taken up writing. She says it's better than working any day.
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