Christmas again. Shopping again. Trying to fill up a stocking again. I wonder when I’ll stop doing these for the kids. Not for many years, I suspect. Not till the shops have run out of mini bottles of nail polish, and glittery false eyelashes, and bath plugs in the shape of an actual pug. Yes, I’ve been looking at the “stocking filler” suggestions again, which are only partially helpful, but not as completely insane as the “gifts for men” lists.
It seems commonly accepted that men are “difficult to buy for”. Perhaps what we mean is we’re worried that the obvious presents – socks, aftershave – simply aren’t good enough for the menfolk, whereas women are bound to be grateful for more or less anything at all. I can’t be the only one though who has to buy for a man whose tastes fall entirely outside the prescribed options.
This year’s ideas are the usual mixture of the weird and the dull. A make-your-own chorizo sausage kit. A pork scratchings advent calendar. Leather and cufflinks, golf and gadgets. Lots of beard grooming products. Something boring that is apparently livened up by the addition of manly swearing – Fucking Hell beer, Fucking Strong coffee. And then there are the “experience” gifts. Flying lessons, behind the scenes at Wembley, driving a sports car, a prison tour – wait, what? Yes, I did read that right. There is a website offering a “Guided Prison Tour. Three locations. Spend some family time behind bars with this immersive prison tour led by an informative ex-prison guard. Available on Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends.”
At this point I begin to wonder whether the whole idea of gift buying hasn’t gone slightly mad. Can you remember your best ever Christmas present? Mine was a small Yorkshire terrier stuffed toy. It was made special by the fact that inside it was a tiny transistor radio, so that when you turned a knob on its furry underside – as I did during the Christmas morning church service, which we were attending for the first and only time in our lives – the silence of prayer was magnificently broken by Wizard singing “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday”.
A few years later I started keeping a diary, in which I recorded all my teenage Christmas presents. In 1976, when I was 14, and after watching a Rod Stewart Christmas Eve concert on the telly, I “got GORGEOUS pressies – hairdryer, earrings, perfume. Really GREAT day.” By the following year, I had started a Saturday job in the local supermarket, and so had to work there on Christmas Eve: “Got £8 altogether for yesterday and today and £1 Christmas bonus.” On the last day of term I had been given presents by my school friends, records by the Stranglers and the Vibrators, and on Christmas Day itself: “Got LOADS of really great presents – £25, Rats LP, Jam LP, Boots token, record token, diary, ring, earrings, necklace, leg warmers. Saw Funny Girl.”
In 1978, aged 16, I got more records from friends, including “Tommy Gun” by the Clash. In the run up to Christmas I was ill in bed, so Mum bought me the Sounds and NME Christmas specials. “Took me ages to read.” There was “not much to watch on TV cos the BBC are on strike, so we missed Top of the Pops”. And on Christmas Day: “I got a pair of shoes, Penetration LP, Chique talc, perfume. Watched a bit of The Sound of Music, it was hilarious! Saw Morecambe & Wise.”
In 1979, my presents were : “Dave Waller’s poetry book, a pair of slippers, and some Smarties, the Mekons LP, a shirt, sweatshirt, Youth Dew, two Adrian Henri books, The Country Girls, Leonard Cohen book, London Calling and Setting Sons.” I didn’t say what I watched on the telly, but instead, “Dad mended my amp. Put new strings on my guitar.”
By 1980, the gifts were starting to repeat. “I got a pair of trousers, hairdryer, Teardrop Explodes LP, Youth Dew, books etc. Watched The Front Page with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.” And my presents have basically stayed the same ever since: music, books and perfume. I like to think I’m not that difficult to buy for. Lots of things make me happy. You don’t need to impress me or be clever. And I definitely don’t want to visit a prison.
This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special