The art of present buying (for those of you who haven’t a clue)

There are those people who have a talent for present buying, and there are those people who think presents are a bit of a nuisance. This post is targeted at the latter.

First things first. I am a heterosexual girl so this is very much written aimed at a male significant others. That said, the points are fairly general, so whoever you are you should find some nugget of inspiration for that special present giving occasion. Read on my people, read on.

The fourteen (yes fourteen, get over it) basic rules are:

1. If you think you should possibly be getting someone a present, then you definitely should be

2. Birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, Valentine’s day and Mothering Sunday are present-buying occasions

3. The sorts of presents a person gives shows what they would like to receive

4. Girls like to be spoilt

5. Buying someone more than one present is perfectly normal and at times expected

6. There is no such thing as too many presents

7. There is such a thing as too few presents

8. Sometimes the cheapest presents can be the best ones (but remember that unless you’re on the poverty line it’s not best to always be cheap)

9. Homemade and thoughtful beats expensive and thoughtless

10. Girls are good at dropping hints, so listen out for them

11. “I’m too skint” is not a good excuse for no present

12. “I don’t have any time” is also not a good excuse for no present

13. If you forget, run out of time or in any other way screw up, make sure you apologise (and mean it)

14. Underwear is a present for you, not her

So there you go. Not too difficult are they. Pretty logical in fact. But just in case you need a few more details then let’s flesh those bad boys out a bit.

Present

Presentation can brighten even the dullest gift

1. If you think you should possibly be getting someone a present, then you definitely should be

Very rare is the occasion that you get a present for someone that isn’t gratefully received. And this is undoubtedly the case with a significant other. In the interest of discouraging stalking, however, I should point out that it is not considered acceptable behaviour to ply a random stranger or non loved one with an incessant stream of gifts. Just use your common sense. Or comment below and ask me if you’re not sure.

2. Birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, Valentine’s day and Mothering Sunday are present-buying occasions

Girls love occasions so you’d be wise to mark them. You don’t have to go all fancy and buy a £100+ necklace every time (although buying one once in a while would, I’m sure, go down well) but a nice card is an absolute must and a nice card and a bunch of flowers a staple minimum. Here are the rules, by occasion:

Anniversary/Valentine’s day: card as an absolute minimum, bunch of flowers a nice minimum extra, nice meal on top considered normal, present on top of that also considered normal
Birthday: card and present considered a minimum. Bunch of flowers considered a nice, normal added extra. Cake also considered normal.
Mothering Sunday: As anniversary but provided by the child/children. If the children are too small to do the providing, it’s the Dad’s job to help

3. The sort of presents a person gives shows what they would like to receive

“It’s all very well telling me that I have to buy her a present but how do I know what sort of thing she likes?” Well a good start is to look at the sorts of presents she gets for other people. There will usually be a bit of her personality in them, so find that personality and use it for presents for her. This is especially true of the presents that she gives to her best friends, as they are likely to share some personality traits with her. It will certainly show you the special little added extras that she values. For example, if she always puts a little something in the envelope of birthday cards, then put a little something in hers. Or if she often scatters things on tables at people’s birthday gatherings then put a little something on the table for her too – we’re talking hearts/stars/’happy birthday’ sprinkles/petals, etc, not your naked greased up body. Although depending on your relationship, that might also go down well… each to their own after all.

Still not sure what to get?  Then dig through the depths of your brain and think. Does she like fine dining? Does she like photography? Does she like books? Does she like jewellery? Does she have a particular foible? E.g. does she love Harry Potter – well type Harry Potter into Etsy or NotOnTheHighStreet and see what comes up.

If you’re still struggling then ask her! E.g. what sort of jewellery do you like darling? A word of warning here though: if you do this, then make sure you LISTEN AND MAKE NOTE OF WHAT SHE SAYS. And for god’s sake don’t then not get her jewellery – she’ll be very disappointed.

If you don’t want to ruin the surprise by asking then here are some staples that will always go down well:

– a nice meal out (posh it up with bubbles and definitely go for a dessert, if she says she’s watching her weight obviously tell her she doesn’t need to)
– a massage/facial/other treatment
– a spa day
– a night away
– a weekend away
– if she doesn’t get to see her home girls often then (babysit and) pay for her to have a girlie night out
– a face/body treatment for her and a friend

4. Girls like to be spoilt

Did you know that girls often say to each other ‘Happy Birthday! I hope you have a fabulous day and get spoilt absolutely rotten’. Imagine the disappointment, therefore, when they don’t. Spoiling someone is really very basic and it should give you a warm and fuzzy feeling for making someone else feel good too, so we’re all winners. Here are some ideas:

Bubbles: Girlies love it. Doesn’t have to be champagne. In fact most girlies would prefer a nice prosecco because that way you can afford to buy her something else (I’m not joking). You can reserve the champagne proper for very special occasions like getting engaged, child’s birth, etc.

Birthday(/anniversary/valentine’s day/mothering sunday/etc) breakfast: there’s no nicer way to start a festively significant day than having someone lay on a nice brekkie for you. So roll up your sleeves and get your jams out. Here’s a list of example brekkies for you to consider:

English: if you’re handy with a frying pan then do the eggs, bacon, tomato, sausage, mushrooms, beans and toast vibe. Or if your girly is health aware grill the bacon, tomato, sausage, etc. and poach the eggs
Continental: if you’re likely to make a complete hash (brown) of a fry up, then play it safe and go continental. So croissants (warm (but don’t burn) them for extra points), jams (those little mini pots are good), nice bread and a nice selection of teas will go down a treat. And why not plonk them all in a basket to make it all look extra fab? And add some meats and cheeses if you think you’ll go hungry.
Champagne: If you want to get really flash then throw in a bottle of fizz and some strawberries to your continental breakfast. Probably not best if your loved one then needs to work in a hospital, drive a train or operate dangerous machinery, so let’s be sensible shall we. Just to be clear, I do not advocate a drunk-on-the-job philosophy.

Massage: Don’t skimp on this and do it yourself if you have no idea how to do it. You’re likely to be a bit shit, which means that your massage will probably make your lady feel more stressed as she battles mentally with how to phrase her ‘compliment’ at the end. So until you’ve bought a book, practised and received genuine, glowing feedback, buy her a massage in a (reputable) spa or massage parlour.

5. Buying someone more than one present is perfectly normal and at times expected

If you ask your loved one to give you her birthday/Christmas list and she lists, say, ten things, then don’t just pick one and think that you’ve done yourself proud. You have done the very minimum and you will leave your other half battling with a mix of feeling slightly disappointed while chiding herself for behaving a bit like a spoilt brat.

6. There is no such thing as too many presents

No further comment.

7. There is such a thing as too few presents

See point 5 above.

8. Homemade and thoughtful beats expensive and thoughtless

For example. Give her a reasonably priced rose plant whose name matches hers or is something romantic (or hand make a pretend label) over a birthday breakfast, rather than get your secretary to send an enormous bouquet to her office for her to struggle with on the way home.

9. Sometimes the cheapest presents can be the best ones, but remember that unless you’re on the poverty line it’s not best to always be cheap

For a good example of this see 8 above. Other hints: don’t make her get a load of time consuming money-saving buses to get to a restaurant/show/gig if you can afford to splash out on a cab. You’ll look like a complete tight arse and the evening will be getting off to a bad start. Don’t take her to a BYO unless she’s specified that it’s a place that she’s really wanted to try out. Even if she has, though, unless she’s specifically said she wants to go there for her birthday it’s worth saving that for another night and going up a notch for her special day.

10. Girls are good at dropping hints, so listen out for them

Girly people are good at dropping hints, so look out for them. If she lingers near a shop window then linger as well and watch where her eyes are drawn or outright ask her what she’s looking at. Pay attention at which internet sites are open on the computer when you open it up. Listen out for buzz words like ‘I’ve never got round to doing that’, ‘I could really do with a new..’, ‘I’ve always wanted to..’ Yes, girlie present hints can be pretty unsubtle, but research tells us that they are still not unsubtle enough.

11. “I’m too skint” is not a good excuse for no present

If you’re both saving for a special purchase or trying to be better with money generally, then do it in your own time. Birthdays are an exception to that rule, so unless she specifically says that she doesn’t want you to spend any money on her, then forget the money saving for one day only and give her a treat. She deserves it.

Above all never, ever give the ‘I’m skint’ excuse if you’ve just bought something for yourself. If you’re willing to spend a decent amount of money on a bike/car/sports equipment/booze/food/goretex then you will do wisely to give your significant other a decently priced present.

That said, here are some nice ideas that will get you brownie points if you don’t have a tonne of cash to spend:

– Birthday/Anniversary/etc breakfast (see point 4, above)
– Homemade card
– Cake (extra points for homemade)
– Homemade present
– Something silly – any show of ‘special’ is good on a birthday – something to mark it out as a special day. So give her a birthday piggy back home (especially if her feet ache), put a few little Happy Birthday sprinkles on the table at dinner time,  pay for a cab rather than making her get the bus, carry the umbrella over her head, open the door for her (if you don’t usually), generally be more of a gent than you normally are.

12. “I don’t have any time” is also not a good excuse for no present

Obviously we all have times in our life when we have no time and it’s easy to use this excuse with people’s presents as it requires that you give it a bit of thought. However, if you’re struggling for time just go for one of the staples as they don’t require much effort and then suggest that she buy something herself on you. And just to chuck a bit of a gender specific example in there.. if you are willing to spend 3 weeks researching what bike to buy or which goretex jacket has the best wicking effect, then don’t only spend 5 minutes trying to think what she might like for her birthday. Especially if these two events closely follow each other.

13. If you forget, run out of time or in any other way screw up, make sure you apologise

We’re all human and we all make mistakes and forget things. Just try not to do it too often as then it looks like you just don’t care. So if you don’t get it right then apologise, mean it, give some big cuddles, kisses and make or take her out for a nice meal within the next week. Don’t put this off too long as then it’s lost its significance.

14. Underwear is a present for you, not her

Unless she’s asked for it then this is really a present for you rather than her, so why don’t you let her buy it for your birthday and you can both enjoy it then.

OK that’s it! Please comment below if you if you have other hints and tips. Good luck and remember, it’s always a good idea to give someone a present. It will brighten their day and make you feel good too. Happy shopping! Mine’s a massage and some chocolates.

Guilty as charged

Following on from the theme of perfection, or at least the action of striving for it, let’s talk about guilt. This is more for the parent types out there, but I’m sure it can be applied to others too, it’s just that I can no longer remember not being a mother. It seems like a wild, crazy, hedonistic dream I once had.

Ok, so do you find that you constantly feel guilty and therefore feel the need to justify yourself to others – even to your other half or your best friends – for those moments when you stray from the perfect parenting path? Do you even find yourself justifying yourself TO yourself? (I know. That’s a lot of yourselfs.) For example, today I’m feeling guilty for a nice healthy spectrum of things: the two and a half pieces of toast topped with lashings of nutella that I am gobbling just before bedtime, the fact that I didn’t take the kiddies out this afternoon, the fact that I resorted to letting them watch the television for an hour or more so that I could get on with sorting out a logo for this site (it didn’t come out quite as I’d hoped, so I’ve hurled it back into the design phase in disgust), and the fact that I let them have dummies outside of sleepy time (in fact, the fact that I let them have dummies at all, being that I promised myself that I’d ditch them as soon as they turned two).

So there’s some good solid guilt in that little selection, but there must be a bit more I can squeeze out of myself if I really tried. Well let’s have a think…[2 seconds pass]…Ok that’ll do it. Here is a list of my top ten guilty mummying actions:

1. Not breast feeding for ‘long enough’
2. Letting them watch the television for longer than 10 minutes a day
3. Allowing them to have a dummy
4. Getting a nanny for a couple of days a week to let me have some ‘me’ time even though I don’t have a (proper, paid) job
5. Sometimes giving them quick and easy meals that are just that little bit too salty and/or sugary
6. Buying a non essential cute toy
7. Buying a non essential cute outfit
8. Ditching bath time
9. Despite buying various non essential cute toys, feeling guilty that they don’t have the latest and greatest ‘best’ toy or book that is essential for their development (and which, as it happens, that baby over there has who is talking/walking/tap dancing/snow boarding better than my children)
10. Not being proactive enough in encouraging them to speak and wondering if that is why they are still generally only saying mama, dada, mamadada and now gaga (which instead of augmenting their vocabulary has generally replaced dada)

and one for good luck

11. Feeling like I must have done absolutely everything wrong because for some reason my children are the only ones who are clinging to me in terror and floods of tears in a room filled with otherwise quiet, happy children.

But why should we feel so guilty? Granted, if I was only ever eating nutella on toast, or feeding the kids back to back KFC, putting them in front of the box for nine hours a day with a dummy in their mouths and never ever venturing outside the house (other than to go to KFC of course) then I might have a case for poor parenting, but should I really feel like I have to justify myself for those little moments when I feel like I ‘let myself down?’

Well do you want to know what I think? Fuck it. That’s what I think. It’s as simple as that. Fuck the lot of it. I’m fine, the kids will be fine, they will talk, tap dance and snow board just as well as the next guy and my nutella tastes delicious.. I might just have to put in a few more skips tomorrow morning.

Not seeing your guilt-maker on the list? Do let me know – I do so love to share.

I have a confession: I’m not perfect

Until recently I had been of the opinion that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing well. Indeed this phrase rings out in my mind on an almost daily basis. I usually hear it in my Grandma’s voice .. I have a memory of her saying it to me when we were both younger and it was something that her mother had said to her too, a little family ideology if you will. And I find it useful. It helps me to do all the washing up at the same time rather than adopting a (never-ending) one-batch-at-a-time approach. It allows me to wash it all properly with hot, soapy water rather than allowing the last quarter to be washed in the previous three-quarter’s tepid grease. It makes sure that I soak and scrub the laundry rather than just bunging it all in the machine and crossing my fingers that my washing liquid will do the job on the paint, poo and pasta sauce that has come to dominate my (laundry) life. It means that the bees I paint on the kiddlies’ bedroom wall1 are actually quite passable in comparison to my first mediocre attempts that turned out just that little bit shit. Yes, all very helpful. Makes me more productive and at the end of the day I’m glad that I got those things done: there’s little to no smell of rotting food or dirty undercrackers in the house, the plates aren’t greasy and the bees look lovely.

Bee painting addiction

A close to perfect bee

What I hadn’t banked on it doing, however, and what I hadn’t really even noticed until recently, was that it has stopped me from completing a variety of things that have been in the offing for a good decade or more. To start with there are those piles of photographs from a travelling adventure in 1999 that are still waiting to be put in an album because the album is ‘worth doing well’. Now I’m a bit of a photograph album perfectionist, so for me ‘worth doing well’ means that it has to have hand-drawn maps of the locations that the photos were from, excerpts from the diary that I wrote along the way and maybe the odd little sketch of something relating to the pictures at various stages (all beautifully scribed in metallic pen, of course). In summary, it has to be nothing short of a work of art. And it will be in 2078 when I finally get round to doing it on my death bed (I’m hoping for a 102 year innings).

Now photograph albums are one thing, but what if we’re talking about me applying for the job of my dreams? In this situation it is easy for most of us to put off applying for that challenging career catapaulting job by convincing ourselves that we don’t have quite the right qualifications. And sometimes this is true. I’m not going to run for President of the USA just yet, for example, as I haven’t read a newspaper in months, have very little aptitude for diplomacy and, most importantly, still haven’t got round to deleting all those offendingly compromising ‘Uni Days’ photos that some kind soul put on Facebook. (I’m also not American.) But sometimes we don’t apply or don’t apply yet for a perfectly achievable (if challenging) job just because we can find excuses not to; because it’s a little bit scary, or the job is too perfect that unless I’m perfect myself there’s no way I’m going to get it. So in the same way that I have put off doing my perfect photo album I start finding reasons that this perfect job isn’t for me: I only have the 1 year’s experience in a particular skill rather than the 3 they ask for in the job description. I start doubting my abilities.. “I’m just not good enough”, “I’d feel like a fraud”, etc. I’m just not the perfect candidate. Well here’s a thought. What if no-one else is either? The consequence of this situation is not only that I don’t get my dream job but also that the person that does get it is possibly not as well qualified as I am. And all because I was waiting to be perfect. Well maybe it’s time to stop trying to be perfect and settle for good enough instead.

Even Mary Poppins had a day off

Even Mary Poppins had a day off

Ah-ha so now that we’re banding around phrases like ‘good enough’, suddenly the concept of not trying to be perfect becomes a bit more familiar to me. As a mother of a wriggling, jiggling, giggling, squawking, food throwing, howling handful of twins, one of the earliest lessons I learned was that I needed to adopt a ‘good enough’ approach to being their Mum. Fortunately some clever soul thought to tell me this right at the beginning of the twin Mum fun-ride as it is physically and mentally impossible to strive for ‘perfect parenting’ with twin babies. So although I still did try to do some baby signing, baby led weaning, baby massage (when do I bloody get one?), baby swim-swim, baby silver service and cocktail waiting, etc. I did, and do, just about manage to remind myself periodically that just because I’ve had to push them around in an enormous Titanic monstrosity of a pram rather than have them all aesthetically slung around my body; just because I gave them puréed food rather than starting them off on organic beef wellington with a rosemary jus it’s just, just possible that they will still develop into perfectly fine, happy, functioning adults.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not dissing the benefits of all those things I’ve listed and I do still find myself drifting towards the unnecessary where things like handmade play dough is concerned., but I’m also perfectly aware that whatever I do I’m still going to completely screw my children up. That is inevitable. Can you show me an adult human being with absolutely no insecurities or other character flaws? Even Mary Poppins is only practically perfect in every way and she can fly, slide up bannisters and make a flight of stairs out of a puff of smoke (and manage not to punch Dick Van Dyke in the oh so un-cockney mouth for two hours). So my point is, that we shouldn’t and mustn’t allow ourselves to worry constantly about how imperfect we are, whether as parents or otherwise. It is okay not to be perfect. In fact it is advisable not to be. So let’s all say it out loud. I am not perfect. But I am perfectly good enough.

1 I have a small addiction to painting bees on my childrens’ bedroom wall. I am seeing someone about it.