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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

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Christmas oddity merry-go-round has no losers

There was a raised eyebrow in my neck of the woods when some local charity shops complained people were being mean with their unwanted Christmas gifts this year.

Is that really what people do? Are gifts routinely off-loaded even before wrappings hit the recycling box and bald trees have been dragged off to pulping heaven?

How insensitive and ungrateful is that?

But then I always was a bit soppy about presents. However weird, impersonal or ugly, the point that someone had taken the trouble or spared a thought – and it’s the thought that counts – was always enough to feed my sentimental hoarding instincts. I have a rare collection of oddities now.

Some folks are thankful for small mercies, I’m shamelessly grateful for double-headed egg cups and retractable washing lines.

Not everybody feels that way, of course.

“So what’s with the pineapple, Mum?”

The text standing in for a thank you note was sent to a friend (the twinkly one) who’d treated her daughter to – amongst other gifts – a larger-than-life-sized pewter pineapple, intended to stand on the mirrored hall table in her new home.

“I thought it was lovely,” she said in a tone thinly disguising hurt feelings.

“But there’s no accounting for preference. She says no way will she stand it in her hall. I think she hates it.”

Having just heard this sorry tale of unappreciated generosity, gifts were on my mind as I queued for my weekly quota of chicken breasts, mince and smoked bacon.

“Do you still have your speciality sausages?”

The good-looking man ahead of me at the counter had already caught my eye. Handsome and helpful enough to do the Saturday shop. You don’t get many of those to the pound. Impressive, I thought.

“Mango and stilton? Lovely! I’ll take those,” he said.

Then, beaming at me, he explained himself.

“It’s the wife’s birthday. I’m treating her to something special.”

I’m not often speechless. And I wasn’t on this occasion.

“You’re doing what? Sausages? I hope you’ll be hiding a diamond ring in the gravy!”

“Oh dear,” he said, colouring up a bit. “That didn’t go down too well, did it?”

He being in clear need of a spot of relationship counselling, I ploughed on with some illustrative elaboration.

“Be warned. My ex-husband once bought me a pressure cooker for my birthday, And notice the emphasis on ex.”

Actually he didn’t. He bought me a wok. But I couldn’t bring myself to own up publicly to having married a man so cheap and lacking in imagination he couldn’t even run to a heavier pan.

The men in the butcher’s shop shuffled kind of nervously. Women laughed out loud.

It was the kind of laughter that suggested they too might once have received a gift-wrapped ironing board or a wall-mounted can opener with ribbon trim.

“Having said that,” I added with benefit of deep afterthought, “I do still have the pressure cooker (wok).”

“It outlasted the husband?” asked the cheery, rosy-cheeked lady, chuckling as she wrapped bacon.

“Too right it did. More useful.”

The good-looking shopper picked up his sausages and left. I rather hoped he’d be making his way to the jeweller’s round the corner. Not that it was any of my business, of course. But one does like to do one’s bit for the sisterhood.

Here, I now understand, is the true advantage of local retail. A bit of banter, a chance for uninvited marriage guidance.

All human life is there – unlike the online alternative, which just seems to lumber long-suffering neighbours with delivery collections.

“You’ll never guess what I got!”

Chum Jane was bordering on over-excitement.

“Please don’t make me.”

“A kitchen composter... you’re not impressed are you?”

“Well, I was just...”

“It’s Le Creuset.”

“Oh well, that’s different, obviously.”

Another learning curve, successfully negotiated. Thank goodness for charity shops. All finally becomes clear. One woman’s dream emerald necklace is another’s French food bin.

Next time you’re passing one of our many good cause retailers, keep your eyes peeled for some of this year’s just-in bargains.

Who knows what useful items you’ll pick up. A pewter pineapple, two double-headed egg cups and a kitchen composter, to be sure.

But if I may offer a word or two of advice... give the mango and stilton sausages a miss.

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