Sunday, 14 December 2014

Token Gestures

Christmas shopping was always a pain for me, back in the day. Not only was I always lacking in inspiration, I’m male as well.

The great question was ‘what do you get the person who says they have everything they need’? A closer inspection of the look of barely-hidden greed deep down in their eyes always gave lie to that statement. Doubly-so when it came to one or two of my wives.

Many of my ‘I-don’t-want-a gift-really-but-heaven-help-you-if-you-either-believe-that-or-forget’ targets were prone to describing in minute detail just what they ‘didn’t’ want, even down to the point of hinting at favourite colours and precise sizes. And not just for clothes, believe me.

Those types were, consequently, fairly easy to buy for, even if one or two of them developed sudden allergies to man-made fibres just before Christmas Day, or just after one shop or another announced that they were now stocking a more expensive, natural, version of whatever the product was. There was much swapping of ‘polyester’ for ‘cotton’, and ‘leather-like’ for the ‘hide of cow’. But my point is that they were, relatively speaking (and isn’t family what it’s all about really?) easy enough to buy for compared to the other type.

These were – and are, in one or two cases – those who were/are adamant that they didn’t/don’t know what they wanted/want other than a ‘surprise’. I’ve lost count of the number of times I resisted the temptation to wrap up a box of firecrackers with a rip-cord detonator tied to the Sellotape. I probably would have given in to the need to surprise them in that way if I had a camera with a faster shutter speed (which was not a hint, I assure you).

There are others who do express a preference, but these are another near-impossible group to shop for. Some claim to love animals but I’ve found that kittens and puppies tend to object to the boxes and wrapping paper. Especially if you need to mail them to the intended recipient.

Right up to a couple of years ago I was still trying to please those who at least openly said what sort of thing they liked, but I still maintain that it was not my fault when I confused Fifty Shades of Grey with Fifty Sheds of Grey. The relative in question has never looked at me in quite the same way ever since.

And then there’s the whole wrapping thing. Quite apart from the difficulties presented by small animals, even a small shoe box can be a daunting exercise for the average guy. And in other circumstances, what’s the point – really – in wrapping something with a very obvious shape? I’ve seen people try to disguise the fact that what they are busy wrapping is a bicycle. Seriously.

However, the answer to my shopping quandaries was staring me in the face all along. Quite literally (and I’m not talking about the dogs, who are staring at me as I type away here, but who are not a problem to buy for at Christmas in any case – they’ll eat anything. Really, anything). Rather, I work in the information technology sector, and we’re all living in a very digital world these days. Let me explain.

Sure, I have MS and that means that forays into the shops along the High Street are painful to the point of near impossibility – more-so when the Sales start or my wife thinks a few minutes (i.e. hours) of shopping would be fun (I don’t use the word ‘fun’ in connection with shopping, although the letters ‘f’, ‘u’ and ‘n’ do come into play when I am asked to describe that sort of experience…). Rather, I dive onto an appropriate site somewhere on the interweb-thingy and wield my plastic (no, I mean my bank card) when I find what I am looking for. Most places even wrap the stuff before sending it (although not the pet shops). Sometimes I don’t actually find ‘the thing’ itself, but I do locate the sort of online store that might sell them at some point.

And that’s when I resort to the ‘ideal’ solution.

I buy the person concerned a gift token for the store in question. If the person is a book lover, then it may be an Amazon voucher. If they are searching for some gardening equipment then B&Q might spring to mind. Even the more obscure types of product are often available from digital sales outlets who will issue credit notes (or send the item, if found, gift-wrapped in plain brown paper).

Tokens and credit notes are perfect. Everyone’s a winner. The recipient gets whatever it is they want because they can choose it themselves. It’s paid for already – or at least partly. They won’t end up with a dubious-looking garment that was sent by a person who didn’t correctly count the number of limbs that they have. They can browse all of the products available from the comfort of their armchairs. And I don’t get trampled by a dozen teenagers who have just noticed the new One Direction album. My recipients can stream their own music to suit their own tastes. Better yet, if I’m careful, I never have to hear it.

So this year’s shopping is a doddle – quite literally a token effort. I’m even sending digital Christmas cards. No more paper cuts to the tongue (sticking down the envelopes), no more hunting for the end of the Sellotape (how come’s you can always see the damned stuff all over a parcel, but never find out where the thing starts on the roll of tape itself?), no more reams of horribly designed ‘festive’ paper to throw into the rubbish a few seconds after it’s presented to the kids, and no more red-faces when you confuse male cousin ‘A’s’ gift with female cousin ‘B’s’ present (‘B’ has got used to black pepper freshly ground on all her meals and ‘A’ still believes it’s a bicycle pump…).

What with Boxing Day sales now starting in later September, my Christmas Shopping horrors are a thing of the past. Thanks to multi-channel TV offerings including box-sets of every programme known to man I can even guarantee there’ll be something to gawp at during the festivities.

All that’s left for me to do now is try to convince people that over-roasted turkey is no longer in fashion, and that Christmas spirit is far better drunk than ignited…

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