hat for crimboImagine if, instead of trudging round the shops at Christmas with your lugholes assaulted by Slade, you foreswore the demon conspicuous consumption (CC to his mates) and declared unto your nearest and dearest, ‘this year, I want to give you the gift of my love.’

To which they would respond as one, ‘cheapskate!’

OK, maybe you could sweeten the pill by offering coupons entitling each family member to a chore carried out on their behalf (nothing says ‘I love you’ like declogging the shower drain), but homespun dogooding* usually goes down about as well as congealed advocaat or a box set of John Major’s greatest speeches.

At Christmas, we are as susceptible as magpies to a surface sheen; so much so that a leaf blower or pair of pliers is transformed from man cave staple to pixie-sprinkled pressie by a bit of festive ribbon.

I’ve researched this carefully in my role as emeritus professor of gift gaffes at Oxford University and summarise my findings as follows:

snowman1The beauty of a present is in the eye of its beholder. In practice, this means that a foolhardy bloke will pick up an oven mitt, convincing himself, ‘she’ll love it.’ Leaf blowers and pliers should be approached with equal care, unless specifically requested (on a catalogue page left open with neon-pink Post-It note stuck over picture).


Enforced proximity and exposure to relatives, like all good aversion therapy, releases people from inhibiting behaviour, in this case the fear of giving offence. Thus empowered, you are likely to hold aloft your lovely gift of a three-legged pair of leggings and demand, ‘what the hell is this? I’m not auditioning for Jake the Peg.’ Not everyone will laugh (especially the ones crying). Two words to the uninitiated: gift receipts – though anyone flogging hybridised legwear has probably skipped town (or hobbled out of it), covering their tracks.

snowman3Offering the fruits of your artisanal endeavours over mass-produced ‘tat’ is a risky strategy. It’s OK to volunteer to knit a jumper if you’re Kaffe Fassett, but not if you’re the sort of person who buys three-legged leggings without noticing. Perspective is everything – something you might like to consider before reproducing a relative’s cherished dog, cat or husband in charcoal or paint. Since aspiration tends to outstrip ability in the keen amateur, you might assess your work thinking, ‘shades of Edward Hopper,’ while your lucky giftee is thinking ‘Denis’. Should the recipient be taken unawares by your homage, your well-intentioned gesture* can come off as self-regarding and slightly intimidatory, especially if they can find no more suitable niche for your tribute than the downstairs loo to deter loiterers or the larder to scare mice.

Finally, people who say ‘I don’t want anything this year, but please buy a village a goat on my behalf,’ are lying. Even if they are your mother. Naturally, they want the caprine-free villagers to get the goat, but they also want a ‘proper’ present.

Tbh, I still won’t be chucking my hard-earned about on leaf blowers and the like. Who am I, the Sultan of Brunei?

gift rap goat