Thursday 3 December 2009


I've just finished re-editing Chapter 10 of Cyprus Blues and need a bit of light relief. And since Xmas is loomimg up fast and furious, I thought I'd give you some tips on what to do/what not to do about Xmas presents (all of which has been learnt by personal experience).

So, here goes:-

* If you're a single parent, as I was once, don't overload your kid/s with too many presents to try to over-compensate. Not only does this enormous pile of presents take an age to wrap and then an age to unwrap, but totally devalues presents as such.

* If possible, don't leave present wrapping until the last minute. It totally ruins Christmas Eve and you won't enjoy the wonderful Carol Service on Radio 4 (how I love that station - best in the world) and all the goodies on TV (if there are any), parties (if you're lucky enough to be invited) etc.

* Don't be over-ambitious if you're making a present. You could easily run out of time and then feel stressed. (I once designed, made and decorated a wooden cradle for Lou's doll and was up until late on Xmas Eve varnishing the darn thing, which she actually never used.)

* Don't wrap up/make/finish off presents when you're drunk. It's not fun. And can be very messy. And puts you in a very bad mood for Xmas Day.

* If your offspring have that uncanny knack (and most of them do) of not only locating hidden presents but gently easing open the wrappings to see what's inside, then double wrap the present/s and sellotape securely around every edge. 'Louisa-proofing' is what I call it.

* The smaller the child, the more likely it will be that he/she/they will be far more interested in the boxes and wrapping paper than the contents. So don't bother with the present or choose something really small and then wrap it as if it's 'pass the parcel'. Kids love the excitement and anticipation and fun involved.

* Resist the tempation of being bullied into the'latest must-have' or 'I've got to have what my friend will get' because it will probably very expensive, climate-change unfriendly and often not used after the fist day. And if your kids get bullied at school because they've not got that new Blue Ray Game (whatever that is) etc, then remember that bullies are little shites and will get their comeuppance one day.

* Keep your presents small and simple and inexpensive and stuff that's actually NEEDED and that goes for all of your recipients.

* Golden Rule - if you can't afford it, don't buy it. The world's finances are in a total mess becuase too many people bought what they couldn't afford, like houses. And, like most things, sensible education concerning good finance begins at home.

* If money is really tight, don't fall into the trap of making a deal with a money-lender. You can use essential clothing etc for presents or scour charity shops. Lou still has the jigsaw puzzles I got for her in charity shops (and jigsaw puzzles take ages to do so it keeps your kids well and truly occupied, allowing you the luxury of doing what you'd like to do, e.g. snoozing). Even a large bag of sweets can be very welcome, which leads onto my next tip.

* Presentation is all. Choose goods that are easy to wrap, so that means a no no for e.g. chocolate boxes/ biscuit boxes that are a strange shape. However, a way of getting round this is to use a bright, cheerful carrier bag (keep all those that you get with purchases over the year), place the present inside and cover with crinkled tissue paper. Or,newpaper or magazine paper can be used or paper that groceries were placed in. Find something funky/different to wrap the present up in.

* Talking of tissue paper, although it's easy to use and less likely to tear than the shinny rolls so beloved of W H Smiths, Sainsburys etc, you can often see through it so that there is no mystery as to the contents. Double layer it or triple until there's a definite element of suprise.

* Avoid fancy festive strings to tie around your presents. I bought several boxes of such things, which came in a pack with bows, from Marks and Spencers (in the sale), and they're a nightmare to use - too thick, too unwieldly and too annoying for words. Also, bows come off very easily. Much better to cut and 'scissor' pieces of fine wrapping thread to provide a central display.

* Buy your Xmas cards, wrapping paper, bows, frills etc in the post-Xmas sales - they're so cheap.Even if you're a bit short of cash, you won't have to fork out too much.

* One way of spreading out the cost is to keep an eye open for bargains that you know your recipients will want. My very favourite store for doing this is Boots. (If Boots wasn't a privately owned company, I'd buy shares in it.) There are always 3-for-the-price- of-two / buy one get one free type of offers all the year round.

* And what about those unwanted presents that you receive? Find a little cubby hole and store them there, so you can give them as presents next year. We had a relative who always used our presents, as either birthday presents or Xmas presents for us the next year. Once we had got wise to this, we made damn sure that we gave her presents that we would love to have. And it worked a treat.

* Salvage whatever you can from the great unwrapping ceremony and recycle the next year.

* Attractive Xmas cards can be used as gift tags.

* If you were given some particularly gorgeous cards the year before (particularly if they're hand made - Lou's hand-made cards are particularly lovely), display them with this year's cards, otherwise it's a waste.

* If you're buying for people who already have absolutely everything, then think in terms of Oxfam's charity gifts to help people in developing countries (Oxfam have a brochure of a whole range of pratical gifts). But don't do that if your recipients could actually do with their own their presents. Otherwise it just smacks of liberal, Guardian readers, middle-class arrogance.

* And finally, above all, don't spend too much, enjoy the act of giving and receiving, support, if you can, such charities as The St Martins in The Field Xmas Appeal (always aired on Radio 4). And DON'T spoil your kids. We already have too many spoilt kids in this country and it's not good for them and not good for us.

Okay. Back to Chapter 11.

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