Gift Wrapped




“Gif’ wrapped?”Image

She is in her fifties, piped into the store’s idea of what a woman should wear in her thirties if she were a size 12. She is not a size twelve.

Plastic smile.  “Would’y’like to include-a-message?”


“Message.  Would’y’l….”

“Oh!  Sorry.  No thanks.”

The boxed perfume and cologne upon which I have just expended next month’s rent lies before me on the counter.  As enemies go it is already vanquished – its acetate window a little clouded, a little wrinkled, its cardboard colours brash.  Defiant, but defeated.  It is nothing like the resplendent offering that I selected from the brightly-lit glass case.   A cell-phone begins to play something Bieber.   She stifles it at the third chord.

“Yeah? Did he?  Oh, right, and he….”

A miracle happens.  Cell tucked against shoulder, bright paper from somewhere.

“Silver or gold?”

“Erm, silver?”

My perfume gift disappears, is interred, in a whirl of glitzy paper.

“Well, it’s not my fault, I tried!”  She tells the ‘phone.  “No, not tonight.  I’m goin’ t’ Freddy’s.  I said.”

Ribbon shoots from somewhere far beneath, not one but two strips.  She holds them up for my approval, her face a mirror of enquiry.  I am being asked to select a colour.  The ‘phone is squawking angrily. 

I point at red. 

“Its no good him prattin’ on.  I said last night I wasn’t goin’.”  From furious to obsequious.  “Yes, madam?”

She has a customer enquiry further along the counter.  I expect her to move away but no, the miracle is still happening.   My gift is wrapped neatly in silver, a red ribbon is flying around it.

“Those are really more for the older man, I think.  Hav’y’thought of Hugo Boss?”  And to the ‘phone:  “Well he knows where he can put it, doesn’ee?”

Ribbon in a tight binding, scissors from treasure house  below, their point stripping through the loose ends, reducing them to tight curls.  Gum, glitter.  To the new customer:  “He’ll really go for that one, I should think.  What about the cologne?”

To me:  “Seventy-Nine pounds, dear.  Cash or card?”

I never hear the end of the conversation.  I am dispatched, processed, a satisfied customer.  My gift cradled in my respectful grasp, my work of art, my Picasso in silver created by the hand (well, one hand) of an anonymous woman whose work should surely be exhibited somewhere more prominent than my humble Christmas tree.

At home I contemplate the bottle of single malt with naked fear.  They stretch out before me – the paper, the scissors that will never cut it in a straight line, the sellotape which has no distinguishable end; the instruments that are the true hell of Christmas.  Grimly, but with determination, I down a third gin and fit the scissors around my fingers.

My wife comes in from work at six o’clock.  “The neighbours are complaining about you shouting again.”  She sees the broken glass and the splash of gin on the wall. “Have you been throwing things?”

“It was an accident.”  I tell her.  “Me, shouting?  No, must have been number fifty-eight.”

“What on earth is that?”  She has spotted the wrapped bottle of single malt.  “It looks like a traffic accident.”

I come clean.  What else can I do?  At least in my long-sleeved jumper she cannot see the scars where I finally turned the scissors on myself.

“Well you do your best and it is the season of good will!”  My wife says charitably.  “I hope you haven’t bought me perfume again.”






The Destructive Driver

This goes back a few years now, but I still remember it well…..

I was sitting in a queue of vehicles approaching a fairly busy roundabout, one which allowed access to the A1M, when I checked my driving mirror.  Nuzzling my rear bumper affectionately was a large BMW.  It was dark green.  That’s how well I remember it.

My attention, though, was not drawn to the car, but to its driver.   Why?  Well, possiblyImage because his face was distorted as he tried to get his mouth around a large and very uncooperative hamburger.  He wasn’t having a great deal of success, because the hand holding the food was also in use turning the leaves of a document propped against his steering wheel.  He was scrutinising the document carefully, so carefully that when I moved forward he did not notice for a while, and when he did it was with some speed.  Watching in alarm as he sped up behind me, I wondered at his lack of steering control until I saw the mobile phone in his other hand.  He was texting.

When I entered the roundabout he followed, oblivious, I’m sure, to my relief as I saw him turn down onto the motorway.  He left me wishing in some macabre fashion that I could be witness to the next act, that of joining a busy motorway while he indulged his odious form of multi-tasking.

We all remember those foolish ‘driving moments’ when love seemed a sensible thing to express at 70 miles an hour on a bendy road, or, in smoking days, the dropped cigarette that found secure accommodation beneath our genitals.  I am reliably informed they still happen, though not to me – both habits were lost long ago.

But now we can add a battalion of new ideas for those bent on either self-destruction or the destruction of others.   Pick your own favourites!

1.            The non-signaller.   At junctions or roundabouts this driver has clearly decided to economise on light-bulbs.   He (or she) has sufficient confidence in your intuition to give you no visible sign of his intention to turn left or turn right.  This includes lane selection – why use one when you can use both?

2.            The conversationalist.  These drivers are very talkative.  Their social instincts are so enhanced they can’t resist striking up a conversation with the driver opposite them.  They will usually pick the busiest possible traffic situation and conduct a lengthy discourse through their opened windows while a line of other drivers builds up.    It’s a form of arrogance destined to provoke conflict which, of course, is exactly what they want.

3.            The CLARA, or Member of the Centre Lane Resident’s Association.   A dedicated overtaker who doesn’t see why he should move back into the left-hand or driving lane if there is another prospective overtake to be made a mile further up the motorway.  He will stick resolutely to the middle lane, doing fifty mph or possibly less, from Watford to Manchester, if the motorway is busy enough.

4.            The tailgater.   My car is faster, therefore you should not be in my way.  Or, possibly, I am so short-sighted I have to be this close in order to see you at all.  Or am I curious?  Are you hopping about like that because you’ve dropped a cigarette or is something more interesting going on?  I have to be close enough to see….

5.            The Turner Prize.   Awarded each month to the most adventurous turning manoeuvre in the most inappropriate circumstances.   BTW, reversing into a main road full of traffic these days is commonplace – you have to be far more enterprising.  The flying-U-turn-into-the-mouth-of-a-side-road-that’s-not-quite-wide-enough is popular, especially when accompanied by a diligent passenger who decides to direct traffic.

6.            The Parker who Never Was.    This motorist never parks – he just stops.  Anywhere.  The essential skill of this driver type is in his selection of the perfect situation, but it is such a natural ability he does not have to think about it at all – in fact, he doesn’t think about it at all.  If the shop is on the corner and he wants to buy, he stops there.  Right there.  Not close to the kerb, oh no.  He’s not sure of his car width, so he acts on the Rolls Royce principle.  There are usually canyons of space between his wheels and the pavement:  rather less, unfortunately, for those who want to pass in the road.

7.            The Music Lover.   He loves his music – fine.  He likes to bop a bit – no problem.  He likes to have his window open, on the assumption you are going to like it as much as he does.  But I’ve got music of my own, Bro!  Okay, give and take, I see that – it’s when you park outside my house, and leave 75Db going through open windows for half an hour that I start thinking of intolerant acts.

Those are my seven selections, no doubt you can think of more; or maybe you can recognise yourself from the descriptions above:  whatever, they give you an idea of how easy it is to drive not just badly but atrociously without realising the sins you commit.