Tuesday, 18 December 2007

That last little gift...

Well, only four shopping days to Christmas now, so if you haven’t got it sown up yet...

OK, I’ve got a confession. I’m one of those people who has Christmas shopping finished a week before the event. I hate the last minute rush, with lengthy queues and over-worked, bad-tempered store staff. After all, I am spending my money, and I expect some service for that. Who mentioned retail therapy? It’s just not supposed to be this stressful.

Mind you, it helps that my nephews, God-children and others have all now grown to the stage where all they want is a cheque. And that everyone who wants a calendar or something similar can be catered for by shopping, armchair-style, from a charity catalogue in October. So that just leaves the immediate family to cater for. A cinch.

Or so I might think. One of the main problems is that men – and besides my Mum and Sister-in-Law, that means all my close family – are notoriously more difficult to buy for than women. Women are happy with perfume, cosmetics, toiletries, scarves, and anything containing gorgeously wrapped chocolate. But us men. Oh dear. Socks, ties, handkerchiefs, even whisky have become a clichéd joke. We only need one scarf and one woolly hat. Men in my family don’t wear jewellery. Period.

So, in my book, that narrows the choice down to leaves sports equipment and, well, books. Sports stuff can be bought on the web, but anything beyond golf balls involves a nightmare of delivery. One of the issues not yet satisfactorily solved by on-line shopping is the problem of how to deliver outsized parcels at a convenient time, without resorting to one of those dreaded delivery notes.

“You were not in when we called (ie, it’s your fault). Please telephone this 25 pence-a-minute recorded message, to find several irritating push-button menus and listen to ten minutes of ‘Ray Conniff Sings Festive Family Favourites’ before we cut you off. Alternatively, please visit our depot. The address is an obscure trading estate in a slightly dodgy area. Should your Sat-Nav be stolen while queuing in our office, we will not accept liability. Our address isn't on it, anyway. Customer service is our priority. Merry Christmas.”

So, it looks like books again this year. I admit you can buy those easily on-line, but it is often cheaper, easier and nicer just to go and browse in your local bookshop, and these days, we’re really spoiled for choice. An added bonus is that the shops are festive without being packed full. For me, the National Map Centre is an excellent choice for transport, walking and cycling enthusiasts (which actually just about covers my family). Forbidden Planet is perfect for anyone into sci-fi or fantasy, and Gay's The Word covers pink friends both male and female. Anything else can be covered by Borders or Waterstone's lovely shop in Piccadilly.

So: Christmas made easy. And last – but not least – books are so easy to wrap...

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