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

If you’re struggling in the run up to V-day then look no further for some top notch present buying hints and tips..

Hovering Close to Insanity

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…

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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.

Festive Fat

It’s 6:30am and I am skipping in my cold, dark garden. I am having another one of my funny I-must-exercise-right-now turns and I am looking for someone to blame. I mutter with each skip, grunt with each hop, and swear at those hops that result in me nearly falling flat on my (slightly pudgier) face as the rope catches on my (c)ankle. I am not very good at this. And become even worse the more I tire. After about 50 (non consecutive) skips I give up. That’ll do. That’ll burn it off. ‘It’ being Christmas.

Bloody f-ing Christmas. Sitting there all smug with your endless starters, mains, puddings and cheese courses. Mmmm cheese…. Damn it, there I go again. Cheese! Just get the hell out of my house will you? Am I going to be forced to eat you all up until you’re finally satisfied with yourself? Or shall I make a pasta sauce and freeze your smug little ass so that I can throw you out in a year when I find you sitting at the back of the freezer drawer looking thoroughly sorry for yourself. Well let’s just see if there are any crackers left. That will be the deciding fact… oh fuck it there are. Well just a little sliver then…

Yes I made it! (I survived my childrens’ birthday party)

Ok so they say that the most stressful life events are moving house, getting married and having a baby1. Getting married was indeed pretty stressful2, and yes, having a baby (or babies in my case: Just two. At the same time. Like, twins in fact) wasn’t exactly trouble free either3. But I think we really need to give due credit to the stress involved in arranging a children’s birthday party. And particularly doing so while in the process of trying to move house.

It all starts off so simply: About a month before their birthday I say to my hoosboond,4 “I know it’s potentially more stressful but I think it might be better if we hire a little room for the party this year so that we’re not so crowded in our flat. And then I can invite a few of their little friendies along and it’ll be cute and festive and we can sing songs, eat a party tea, bla-di-bla (ha-di-ha), etc”… I find myself getting all smiley and excited at the thought of the little kiddlies all sitting around singing and hopping to ‘sleeping bunnies’, having their party tea, blowing out the candles on the cake, cheering and then sending their little friendies off home with a little party bag containing a piece of cake and maybe one toy because we’re not bloody made of money you know!

Monkey/ape shaped ginger biscuits

Surprisingly, the black tar-like icing tastes delicious.

Then a week or two pass and I find myself deciding that the party is going to have a monkey/ape theme (I have to put ‘/ape’ as I know that there will be at least one smart arse tutting at a rogue gorilla or King Louie5 reference) and start busily searching for both toddler and adult monkey outfits on eBay along with all manner of matching accessories. One thing leads to another and a few days before the party I find myself purchasing monkey shaped cookie cutters to make monkey shaped biscuits for the party bags (I don’t in general agree with the word cookie, but ‘biscuit cutters’ sounds wrong) and then searching around Sainsbury’s for monkey nuts so that I can leave a trail of them from the reception of the building down the very long (3-4 metre) corridor to the room that we have hired. I imagine the kiddlies and their parents spotting the nuts and laughing, looking for the next one while gaily skipping towards the room.

Then before you know it I’ve gone around every local supermarket and found that they don’t bloody stock monkey nuts at this time of year: it being the end of November they’re only stocking ‘festive’ nuts and apparently monkey nuts aren’t considered festive enough. (They may have a point.) So instead of giving up on the monkey nut trail idea like a sane person (or as sane as a person can be who thinks a monkey nut trail is necessary in the first place), I find myself saying ‘That’s ok, I shall simply replace real monkey nuts with cut out pictures of them instead, and while I’m at it I’ll print out a load of monkey colouring-in pictures for them to have on a table in a ‘craft section’ of the room. I find approximately 50 different monkey/ape themed colouring-in pictures (which should just be enough for the 8 attendees), and even use Photoshop on one of them for a couple of hours to remove the copyright watermark. I then find myself thinking, “ooh then maybe I can make little mini colouring-in books to put in their party bags along with their – what now seems like a rather measly – slice of cake and a small bottle of party bubbles”. Fortunately, in an uncharacteristic moment of clarity, I decide that that is going too far.

Coping with fame

Rock star for a day? Joni decides that fame is not for her

Despite getting all sensible on the mini colouring-in books front, on the eve of the party I nevertheless find myself frantically cutting out (unfestive) monkey nuts one minute while making and decorating monkey shaped ginger biscuits the next. Oh and of course I have the brilliant idea that the kiddlies can help me make the biscuits. Which naturally translates immediately into a fabulous game of running joyfully around the flat covering everything in flour, (Hoosboond absolutely loves this and walks around menacingly muttering about house viewings while sweeping and vacuuming as flour flies all over the kitchen and (horror!) lounge carpet as if it is like beetroot juice or something else really stainy…) followed by fights over the dustpan and brush when I try to make tidying-up a game and inevitably ends up with them both collapsing in a tantrum of howls.

By the time the actual party starts I have developed a somewhat noticeable twitch in my cheek and soon find myself shouting at my hoosboond that ‘it would really help if you could get the booze out of the car now???!’. While a nagging thought at the back of my mind tells me that I might have lost touch with the whole point of the party, I still can’t stop myself from blu-tacking all those blessed (but not festive) monkey nuts along the corridor, even though most of the guests have now arrived and are enjoying themselves in the room WITHOUT HAVING FOLLOWED THE MONKEY NUT TRAIL TO GET THERE!!

Pointless monkey nut trail

The ‘I’m losing touch with the point of today’ monkey nut trail that nobody followed

I decide that a sip of fake bubbles will help. But I am unable to keep track of my drink while continuing to attach pictures of monkeys and their nuts everywhere, so my hope for it calming me down doesn’t quite come to fruition. And now little girlie one is crying non-stop. Hoosboond tells me that the best use of my time is to comfort little girlie one rather than decorate an empty corridor with nuts. I don’t even laugh at the ludicrousness of this sentence. Instead I smoothly (ish. I mean, considering that I was pointlessly decorating an empty corridor with nuts) flip into calm, quiet mother mode and together me and little girlie one wander around happily looking at all my wonderful pictures of monkeys and nuts (ah-ha! there was a point to them after all).

Drowned monkey biscuit

Drowned monkey biscuit

She has just calmed down and is quietly murmuring a tentative ‘oo-oo-oo’ when someone rushes out of the party room bearing the news that ‘there has been a disaster with your biscuits!’. I smoothly flip out of calm, quiet mother mode and rush into the kitchen, sending little girlie one into floods again. The biscuits have been left too close to the sink and the box is now full of water with a dozen now double-sized, handmade, hand-decorated, house-destroying monkey biscuits in it, all doing the back stroke.

Survival bubbles

There aren’t many times I pop open the bubbles, but surviving my children’s birthday party is definitely one of them

I realise that it is pointless. Chaos is in charge, not me. So I decide to sit down, snuggle my little girlie and drink my drink. The party happens. I barely remember it. Little girlie one cries fairly constantly throughout and at the end we fill about 18 bags and boxes full of all the uneaten nibbles I had carefully prepared for the adults and head home. Crying girlie is cuddled to sleep. Frantic boy (who did actually enjoy the party and spent the last hour of it filling himself with sugary things he was only supposed to have a small amount of) bounces off the walls and eventually catches one at just the right angle to project him neatly into his bed. It’s time to relax. I swap my monkey paper cup for a real glass one and say to myself “Thank God that’s over. Next year it’s 2 pizzas and a DVD”.

1 A google search tells me that Kalms once asked 2000 people which big life events – moving, having a baby, getting married, changing jobs, etc. – caused the most stress. They obviously deemed it unnecessary to include other somewhat key stressors like chronic illness, death, etc, but maybe they didn’t want to get people down.

2 Largely in our case because I insisted on making it an all singing, all dancing festival, event of the year kind of do, decided to hand make various key elements of it and then ran out of time to actually make them.

3 Three days of pointless agony before someone sliced me up, dragged them out, chucked them in intensive care while muttering words like ‘having trouble breathing’ and then insisted we all stay in hospital for weeks while they tested the bejesus out of the little blighters.

4 Hoosboond = husband. I’m just not that big a fan of the word husband. It sounds too grown up and dull. I’m not entirely sold on hoosboond either, to be honest, but I’ve yet to come up with something better.

5 The cool Orangutan from The Jungle Book who “wants to be like you-oo-oo”