Saturday, May 17, 2008

Gruesome Gifts

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 d├ęcor, 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.
*Sigh*, maybe a leaf blower isn't so bad in the scheme of things...


franzy said...

Oh Kath. Woe is you on many, many counts. Fear ye not. Ey ame heree to save yon daye.

1. No leaf blowers. Ever. Planet death anyone? If you have a leaf-blower, throw it away and get a broom. They're just leaves. Sorry - but I've had a gut-full of leaf blowers. They're like petrol-powered toast butterers and just as sensible.

2. Enough telling off. You've had your smack. Here's what you get your mum. It's cheap and it's easy. You have a digital camera?
You have taken photos of family? Take the photos on your digi-dipstick to Black and White Photography on Magill road and get three nice ones blown up. 8" x 6" should just about do it.
Go to IKEA, yes IKEA. Go straight to the end bit where the photo frames are and choose a triple frame job.
Photos in frame, get Sapphire to write "Happy Birfday G'ma!" on it and sign your names.
Bling bing zing. Thoughtful, unique, personalised.
Don't say blogging doesn't give back.

3. Vacuum cleaner? Go to AusVac or Godfrey's or whatever and do deals. But make sure that they aren't planning to put that model on sale for $150 cheaper the next week (as happened to us) and if they won't cut some dollars off for you, ask if you can have a free servicing voucher.

4. Dad? A stripper. Kidding. Or I am? Actually, hit those dusty antique shops along Magill and get him something that looks cool. Or hit a $2 shop and get him a huge swag of entertaining toys that will keep him going long enough to forget about the fact that you slipped another polo shirt in underneath so he wouldn't feel hard done by.

5. If you'd just told me your fridge had broken, I could have flogged you my parents' 30 year old clanker! Or not. I'd like to think we are better friends than that.

Now I'm off to pack the (new) car for Queensland!

Kath Lockett said...

Thanks Franzy - clearly you and I think alike 'cos I've done the photo thingy a few times and Dad's already stolen the idea of going to a two buck shop and getting all sorts of silly gizmos that he gives to us each Christmas (the ACME egg beaters are still going strong, long after the joke made about them 15 years ago).

Best of luck in Qld - stay in touch - - there must be some way we can harness our evil writing skills and it was a shame our paths didn't cross in Adelaide.

The Blakkat said...

This post - so true. Christmas time, present buying for parents - TORTURE. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I am so bad at it that last year I had to go back on boxing day and get them something because I couldn't find anything in the 363days I had before Christmas. Whatever I bought on boxing day for them (my dad & his wife, that is) was so heart breakingly lame I don't even remember what it was. I'm sure somebody once told me it's the thought that counts. I'm going to try that this year and see if everybody is happy with thoughts for Christmas. Should work. Thoughts or a leaf blower, either or.

River said...

Gift vouchers are good idea, that's what we do in our family.Everyone has already got everything and we all decided that the headache of trying to find that special something just wasn't worth it. So gift vouchers it is. We collaborate to ensure that the younger ones get vouchers from several people for the same store, for instance S will get vouchers for Borders from 4-5 relatives, E will get vouchers for JB HiFi and so on, they use these in the after christmas sales and get more for the money. One year S kept his vouchers and used them during the stocktake sales. He loves his books.
Why do your parents not use the DVD player? Too busy or do they prefer the older video technology?

Naomi said...

Re Clothes for mum - gotta love Miller's gift vouchers. One from me, one from my brother - add in their buy 2 pieces get one free - whammo head start on the new season's collections, hand chosen by her - win/win I'd say : - )

Johnny Wadd said...

When in doubt buy them a t-shirt!

Baino said...

Lovely piece Kath you had me giggling at 7:30am! And that's no mean feat. Yep, guilty as charged, I love my leaf blower (five acres of gum trees means a broom is just useless) and my Dyson (devilishly good for doggy hair) but wouldn't want either as a pressie. My in-laws live on the Central coast so I've resorted to online hampers of late, they're tennis players and love taking their little gourmet delights to show off to the other golden oldies.

My best friend once received an iron from hubby for Mother's Day . . he's got photos of her hurling it across the back lawn in protest!

eleanor bloom said...

I quite like my old-fashioned straw broom.

And, I would actually get quite excited to make a purchase from Godfreys. Unfortunately I have my parents' old vacuum (cos they gots that inbuilt system) and its a Nilfisk so - although it's hefty to drag around and hence bangs into the walls unless I baby it, has half a wheel missing and the head makes a squeaking sound like a dying Cocky on the timber floors - it's going to last for bloody ever! Hence I drool over those lightweight, bagless numbers. Even the cheap ones!

ashleigh said...

Hey Kath - don't diss the Dyson:


Anonymous said...

Seconded on the Dyson - when you've got seven cats, it's like one of the family.