One of my cyber idols, Myninjacockle, recently discussed the moral quandary of wanting a decent present for his birthday instead of a useful leaf-blower.
My first thought was that it is a clear sign of growing up when you seriously consider a leaf-blower as something you need as opposed to a Uber-doof-doof quadrophonic sub-woofer tri-tweater stereo system for the car, and even go as far as enviously checking out your neighbour's decibel-destroying gardening appliance.
However it's not just the onset of middle age, mortgage and parenthood that leads us towards the ideals of sensible gift-giving. For instance, a leaf-blower can be a useful item for the household - especially during summer and autumn when we're plagued with the never-ending rainfall of eucalyptus leaves, a large garden but not the enthusiasm for doing any active work in said garden (me). On the other hand, it's not exactly a fun-filled present for an individual person, is it?
A couple of Boxing Days ago, Love Chunks' first fridge - purchased second-hand in his post-uni, first-paypacket, better-quality-pizza-and-beer sharehouse days, finally died; shorting our fuse box with its dramatic death. His beloved Kelvinator 'Foodarama' had withstood moves from Adelaide to Melbourne; Melbourne to Darwin (and two moves in Darwin); Darwin back to Melbourne; and then Melbourne to Adelaide. It weighed more than a carbo-loading sumo
and left more than a few gouges in each kitchen floor it was dragged across. Despite this, it had done a sterling job of cooling our food and was proudly entering its fourth decade as probably the only existing 'Foodarama' still in working order. Any product ending in 'arama' or 'omatic' is a winner with me.
Trudging over to the Great Blokes Super White Good Warehouse HomeMaker Hell Centre, we ended up buying the ubiquitous Fischer and Paykel. Light, white, on wheels, freezer underneath. All huge improvements on the Foodarama but the purchase was about as exciting as watching golf. Nor am I thrilled to spend any of my precious time with the Comb-over Crazy - the guy from Godfreys - to buy a new vacuum cleaner. Yes we need a new one, but it's not pants-wettingly thrilling enough to burst inside the front door, Dyson box above my head, yelling, "BEHOLD - this wondrous object I hold here, in my arms will suck harder than Paris Hilton at a Playboy party." Nor will the rest of my family gather round, oohing and aahing in admiration, choosing to turn off the telly and gaze at the Godfrey purchase instead.
But back to gift giving. When you've been with your regular squeeze for a long time, what on earth do you buy them that they don't already have? If Love Chunks needs clothes, he buys them. Wine - he orders it; DVDs, books, fitness stuff, cooking gear - he wants it, needs it and gets it. How do you surprise your partner? It turns out that five blocks of Cadburys and a Mitre 10 gift voucher doesn't quite say 'I Love You' as effectively as a childless weekend in a five star cottage equipped with wine and Foxtel might have done.
Are there any people more difficult to buy for than your parents? Parents don't (normally) live with you and like to get their own fuddy-duddy frock wear. They usually have no mortgages or debts and aren’t in need of anything to help with home renovations. Well, we might think they need some help regarding their décor, but they don’t. Whatever the differences in style and taste, it’s still hard to work out just what they might like or need. The other day it was reported that foot spas, ice shavers and grills were among the least popular gifts and it caused me to blush a little. I had been seriously thinking about getting a foot spa for Mum, thinking that she might appreciate a bubbly soak after a long day on her feet in the Lifeline shop or out in the garden. Plus I'd bought them (as a joint present - *wince*blush*wince*) a health grill many years ago. It seems as though appliances of any sort are not what people want for Christmas.
As a 39 year old, any obvious shockers for gifts would of course be less forgivable than it was for a nine year old. Way back in 1977, my younger brother Thumb and I thought it would be a great idea to combine our pocket money and give Mum a flip-top rubbish bin as a Christmas present. To say that her response was a shade less than enthusiastic is like saying Jordan's best feature is her book writing skills.
In 1978, I thought I had easily made up for that childish faux pas by taking an ancient bicycle out of the Mackenzie’s back shed and painting it with pink undercoat found in the Dutton's old garage. Mum didn’t have a bike and I figured that she’d no doubt love to ride along with us three kids in her free time. Hell, who wouldn't? After I was made to return the bike and apologise to a puzzled Mr Mackenzie (who didn't even know that his dead father's rusty 1930s bone shaker had gone).
I awaited the dreaded punishment that night. This usually entailed Dad having to come in just before us three kids hopped into the bath (either in turn or together, depending on age, size, mood and toilet needs). He'd give us a swift, sharp smack on the leg which was designed to sting and show up on the skin as a red reminder. It never really hurt that much, but when combined with his deliberately angry face each one of us would end up in the tepid brown Murray river bath water hiccupping and sobbing in sorrow. This time, the dreaded visit from Dad never came.
Looking back now I can understand that they knew that my intentions were good: it was just the execution of it that was bad. The following day I rode my own bike (a maroon Malvern star with sissy bar, fluoro-orange flag and a plastic basket on the front) to Tom's the Cheaper Grocer for a more practical gift. The chosen item pretty well blew my entire budget of $4 - a green and white set of plastic salt and pepper shakers and a mini rubbish bin (old ideas clung on hard) filled with Pez pellets. Mum’s reaction to these gifts has been wiped from the memory banks but I don’t ever recall seeing the shakers on our dining table.
Thirty years later brings us to the present day, trudging dispiritedly around Tea Tree Plaza, tired, in need of a Farmers Union Feel Good Iced Coffee and a personal shopper. My budget may be slightly larger than 1978’s four dollars in twenty cent pieces but my brain is just as clueless. Our dog chewed the legs off a rather cute wooden chicken that Mum had sitting on the edge of her plant stand – what if we found something similar to replace it with? Nothing we saw was as whimsical or cute, just ugly and tacky.
I decided to go with my instincts and avoid getting her the Bawdy Bart Simpson statue who grunted out: "Roll me over darling, and I'll show you yer birthday present." She is allergic to perfumes, soaps and bath oils, has more jewellery than Zamels and would rather chew her own leg off than have someone else select any clothes for her to wear. Any books I’ve given her in the past have not been enjoyed and seeing as Catherine Cookson’s been dead for about a decade I do not want to buy one of her ‘latest’ books, written earlier this year. Maybe a set of three clay ducks instead.
Dad, Dad, Dad. Tools - the man already has three back sheds full of the stuff. Books - he's a member of a book club and has read everything before our local Angus and Robertson's put it on the shelves. Chocolates - he'd love them, but Mum would be likely to snatch them away and say "No, your father doesn't need those. Not the way he's looking at the moment." (She means well, but it's no surprise that he doesn't appreciate her intervention). The CSIRO diet? Oh yeah, that's really nice, really tactful way to embrace the spirit of Christmas. Clothes? Naah, we always give him clothes. He may need a couple more Penguin shirts, but what sort of thrilling gift is that? DVDs? We gave him and Mum a DVD player last year (with some movies they like) and last week or so Mum inadvertently blurted out, “Oh, we haven’t used that DVD player since you showed us how to put on ‘The Wizard of Oz’ for Sapphire on Boxing Day last year.” Bugger. A 'Got One' fishing gift voucher for it is then.