Ready for that annual traipse around the high street?
It’s only when you have to buy presents for them you realise how little you know your family. What are you even meant to get these people that not only embodies your bond with them, but is also meant to improve, complete, or add joy to their lives? Lives you are becoming less and less aware of. Do you try and go for something from the heart or just something with surface value; and if you can make that choice, then what? How are you meant to know what your pragmatic older sister you only see three times a year is into now? How are you meant to know every insane, contradictory lifestyle choice every dentist-waiting-room magazine has convinced your Mother to adopt? How can you even be asked to guess what your spiritually rambunctious, yet hippie, father could possible want beyond the usual ounce of green we secretively get each other every year from our respective cities, London and Manchester? Luckily family gift getting only has to happen a handful of times a year, twice for siblings; birthdays (if she’s lucky) and Christmas, and three times for parents; birthdays, Christmas, and the derogatory day to immortalise their parenthood. But today’s mission I think is the hardest simply due to the drastic global scale: Christmas shopping.
Even indoors the air is wet and frigid, as I find myself inanely skipping through the kitchen appliance section of some chain store, trying to guess what my mother would like this Christmas; as my lucky guess of a personalised yoga mat relating to her next big thing had been a roaring success last year, if only for the first two months. Maybe carving knives made out of animal bone if she’s still a vegan, or two dozen sachets of powered breast milk if she’s still on her Mammaries Meal Plan, or an ice cube mould shaped like famous dictators if she’s still only eating ice, or even a new portable juicer if she’s back on her liquids only diet. But it occurs to me I haven’t seen her cook since Bush senior was in office, so I relocate to a second hand bookstore to look for an inappropriately dark and twisted urban sex crime true story that will shock her out of her suburban bliss. But dozens of the glaring overly attractive face of Nigella Lawson, as well as those of a leering off-puttingly young Jamie Oliver propel me to leave without looking, out of sheer unease.
Even wetter now I potter around Scarlet Pluto, the local “herbal” shop in search of something inconspicuous I can pass off as a normal gift for my father, but one look round its selection of uninspired shaped pipes, to oversized bongs and repulsive “legal” highs, I realize there wasn’t anything here he didn’t already have in one form or the other. So I have to fall back on the one other thing I know of his character, and venture on a long cold quest for any religious iconography that could be considered giftable, from Jesus engraved watches, to Buddah shaped glasses, to Vishnu printed underpants, and even Muhammad action figures. But I unapologetically give up, unable to find anything that fits with my image of my father, because the term ‘spiritually rambunctious’ I take to just mean religious, but in a way that is painstakingly ambiguous about what you believe, and I think my father only acts as such as some form of penance free for all, to cover his ass in case any God is finally ever thought-formed into existence.
After I whip the frozen water from my short ponytail and share a nod of recognition with the cashier Jenny, I sidle through Ann Summers with homely ease. I peruse its fine selection of oversized dildos, brightly coloured strap-ons, turbo powered vibrators, terrifying butt plugs, and beautifully ornate anal beads, like I’m looking for a relevant text book in my Uni library. I consider whether any of these would make a good gift for my sister, as I know she lost a large part of her collection last month when her suitcase vanished on the way back from New York. Or so she told her insurance. But I decide not to, as they would be a more appropriate present for her girlfriend Jenny than for her, if they are even still together, and if they have broken up the toy would just become an arousing reminder of her or just a painstakingly well-designed replacement. But I still make sure to pick one for my girlfriend Maria before I leave, for use when we next have time. As I return to the freezing drizzle masquerading as mist to look somewhere else, I realise outside of stimulating her libido I’m lost to think what my sister actually is, and what she even does.
The threatening moisture in the air has decided to skip snow like a wanker and go straight to hail, cascading down and nibbling on my face as I trek back up the long hill towards my disgustingly big house that rules at the summit, empty handed for any of the people I had actually ventured out to buy things for. Sweet baby Jesus’s birthday is still some months away, but the day most people equate it to, is tomorrow and outside some seasonal miracle this year’s gathering of strangers will be the most painful and awkward since the year we forgot Mother had become a Hindu and set the tree on fire. But as I fight my way past the tube station that isn’t quite sure if it wants to be open or not, I realise how this Christmas can be salvaged from the awkward disappointing mess it is destined to be remembered as but no one will ever admit to, and how I can kill three birds with one nicely wrapped stone: a gift the whole family can enjoy.
I buy a ticket back to Manchester.
© Mark Tonkin (2015)