The last time I talked to my far-flung best friend, she was knitting.
“That’s funny,” I said. “I was just wearing the scarf you made me, when we went out for a chilly Sunday walk.”
She was thoroughly touched that I still think of her every time I wrap up in the nubby blue-ish green scarf that’s as soft as eiderdown. It’s a good 12 years old or more and yet – at the risk of sounding hideously corny – it’s like a hug across the miles and the years.
Our conversation got me thinking about the most memorable presents I’ve received over the years. I hesitate to mention that more than a few are useful kitchen items though, unlike my dainty teapot, not all of them are treasured.
I’m fairly rubbish when it comes to imaginative gift-giving, so this year I’ve decided to get ahead of the curve: I’m making a concentrated effort to think of some unconventional, yet personal, presents while there’s still time to make them happen.
First up, my spouse, because he’s by far the most difficult. What he would really like is limitless time to go off into the hills and discover himself, but with four kids, a co-dependent geriatric dog and a demanding job, that’s not quite on the cards. So the next best thing is to find a workshop where he can spend a weekend learning something practical, in order to be frustrated for the other 51 weeks of the year when he has no time to whittle a canoe or build a brick pizza kiln in the garden. Oh well, it’s a start.
Next, his mother. I am fortunate to be one of approximately .003 per cent of women who truly love their mum-in-law. If I have one gripe about her, it’s that she doesn’t take time out to enjoy things she likes to do for herself, like gardening. So, along with a gardening magazine subscription to give her ideas (and the impetus) every month, I’m going to put together a few practical things, like new gloves and a good kneeling pad, that I know she’ll use because she won’t want them to go to waste. I think it’s called reverse psychology.
Another group I struggle with – and I’m sure I’m not alone here – are teachers. My mum was a primary school teacher, so I know that no one who works with children ever needs another mug, scented candle, toiletry item, Christmas tree decoration or little knick-knack for their desk. The chocolate-wine-gift-card trifecta is usually pretty safe, but I’m going to try to personalise it by finding out whether they belong to a book club, for instance, or maybe enjoy films (bookstore voucher, cinema gift certificate.) It’s not wildly imaginative, but especially if some of the other parents want to chip in, a group present for treatments at a spa would be welcomed by most weary teachers.
Whether for teachers, posties or other deserving folks, homemade treats always go down well and don’t have to involve a whole weekend of foraging for blackberries and making jam. A batch of fudge can be quickly whipped up and packaged in a bit of cellophane and a pretty ribbon or, even easier, make some homemade hot chocolate mixture and bulk-buy some containers. Get the kids to help stick on labels or decorations and hey, presto! An original, thoughtful, enjoyable handmade treat. Even better if it comes with a bottle of Bailey’s or similar grown-up addition.
Failing those ideas, could you book a few yoga sessions for a friend and look after her kids? Take a meal and some drinks ‘round to your bachelor brother or get your parents tickets for an upcoming sporting event, lecture series or concert? Promise to show them how to get online and then regret it when they start uploading pictures of your teenage years and sharing them on Facebook?
Or you could always learn to knit. Not something that’s high on my priority list, but I would recommend getting friendly with a keen knitter – you’ll never be chilly again.
This is a collaborative post.