The first Christmas present I can remember was a blackboard, with chalk. Not coloured chalk, mark you, just plain white chalk. I must have been very young, because I remember it was in my mum and dad’s first home, a one floor up room and kitchen in Glasgow, sadly flattened now as part of the international conspiracy to erase me from history.
My dolls, a random pair of socks and a hot water bottle were immediately lined up and I started to play teachers. This is before I’d even seen the inside of a classroom. Clearly, the demand to command was strong even then.
There have been other gifts down the years that I can remember. That’s What I Call Music 5, the first video, and the slippers. That last one is a bit generic. We got slippers every year. It was the only time we ever thought to get new slippers. We must have been fair hummin’ by Christmas morning.
Christmas morning was so exciting then. Well, it was so rare. This year I’ll hit That’s What I Call Christmas 59. The novelty has worn off slightly.
The year of the blackboard was probably only my third or fourth crack at ripping open wrapping paper and looking thrilled, no matter what. Believe me, sometimes that can be a challenge. It was much easier in Christmases one through ten.
Children are encouraged to write letters to the North Pole with a list of demands, like some sort of demented Children’s Liberation Army in a hostage situation. What we didn’t realise was that we were the hostages to fortune. We were giving the ultimate sanction to mum and dad. It was one thing to ask Santa for the moving eyes, realistic grip Action Man, but just one whine in the back of the Morris Minor, mate, and you could say goodbye to the latest recruit joining the battalion at Christmas.
After a while, you realised who really bought and wrapped the presents, and the notes stopped, but mum could still be relied on to thrill on Christmas Day with that suddenly grown-up perfume, or that suede fringed shoulder bag.
Come the first flush of romance in your adult life though, and you utter those deadly words ‘Oh, just surprise me’. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
What you are doing there, of course, is trying to find out if the boyfriend has paying attention to your subtle hints as you wandered through the Christmas shops.
Weirdly enough, he probably has. These are the early days. He still listens. Go out now into the streets and you can see them, The Couple Christmases one through five(ish).
He shops beside her like he wants to be there, making a mental note of things she points to saying ‘ISN’T THAT LOVELY’ in a volume calibrated to be heard over Mr Belfonte banging on about that Little Boy and his drum, pa rum pum pum.
By Christmas six or seven, he’s lost the Christmas mojo. The boyfriend, that is, not Harry Belafonte, who’s been pa rum pum pumming on about that blasted drum since at least 1965.
By year seven, the gifts can make you nervy, because they think they know you by that point. These presents can be downright disturbing.
The underwear. Strange one, this. I’ve yet to meet a woman who would willing don a flaming red embroidered matching knicker and bra set, simultaneously two sizes too small for her bahookie and three sizes too big for her bosom. What shape do they actually think we are?
On a related note, sequined knickers. Avoid. My friend’s smear test was derailed by the unexpected wink of light in a very unexpected quarter.
The cookery books. Bad idea, especially to a woman who considers ‘delicious hot or cold’ a recipe. One year I received the Dr Atkins Diet Recipe Book. Wacky. Offbeat. Unusual. Stay away from these words, even if you’ve encountered them earlier in the year.
She may well remember that pub and the novelty Whoopee cushion with the uncannily realistic sound of a Dundee trucker letting rip after two jars of pickled eggs. She probably howled with laughter all evening back then.
But, if she opens a carefully wrapped gift on Christmas morning and finds that you’ve sourced just that cushion, be prepared for an icy day, my friend.
It’s no wonder Mary looks beat
A quick word about Harry Belafonte and that little drummer boy.
Kids, if you visit a lady who has just had a baby, even if he is the Son of God, rocking up with a drum and announcing you will play it all night will not endear you to the new mother.
Bad enough she’s got to cope with those blithering angelic choirs belting out hosannas, not to mention a couple of gawping shepherds and a bleating lamb.
Jeezo, no wonder Mary looks shattered in a lot of those paintings.