Cutting it fine is a risk at Christmas
MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Martin van Beynen
With the Christmas and New Year orgy of present-giving and feasting over, it is time to reflect on what we could have done better.
Unless we now cement these lessons from the festive season, we will be destined to repeat our mistakes.
The festive season was unusual for us this time. For most of the last 10 years we have been in various parts of the country, surrounded by baggage and a minimal collection of presents.
So this year it was to hell with simplicity and non-consumerism and my teenagers decked the house - well one corner anyway - with all the trappings of the traditional schmaltzy Christmas. We had stockings, lights, a tree, decorations, bunting, strings with Christmas cards and an excessive pile of presents.
Normally I don't have much to do with the gift side. Mrs VB is a sensational present buyer and, since I hate shopping, the gifts are generally her domain.
And, given that Mrs VB has everything a woman could want and has yet to show effusive appreciation for the lovingly chosen kitchen utensils I usually buy her, I don't, now, give her anything.
But reminded recently of my own mortality and with a new sensitivity to the importance of birthdays and other special days, I decided to make a radical change this year and actually do some shopping. I wanted to retrieve the joy of giving.
I know the risks of buying presents. According to psychologist Marc Wilson, a well- chosen gift can cement a relationship whereas a poorly selected one can actually have more serious consequences. Women, apparently, are better at dealing with the disappointment, perhaps because they have more practice, while men, the sensitive flowers we are, take it more to heart.
Wilson does not mention the psychological damage incurred by the trauma of shopping, especially for men who have left it all to the last minute. You only need to see the desperate, haunted-looking souls frequenting the jewellery shops on Christmas Eve to know what I'm talking about.
One of the hidden risks of Christmas shopping, which neitherWilson nor I had considered, was the inherent danger of the product itself. This year, for instance, I had decided to buy my youngest a proper hunting knife.
I don't hunt or fish but my youngest is fascinated by the whole business, although perhaps more the eating than the killing. He reads the hunting magazines from cover to cover and watches all the fishing programmes. Hence the hunting knife.
I didn't expect him to use it seriously any time soon but my thinking was that, when he did get around to tramping the hills with his rifle on his back, he would maybe remember me as he skinned his boar or stag and cut the backstraps out for that night's dinner.
Anyway, there I was in Ballinger's Hunting and Fishing, on Christmas Eve looking at the knives and wondering what on earth people did with those huge Bowie blades that seem all the rage at the moment. I am sure my son would have loved one but I wanted to give him a knife which would not get him laughed out of the wild by his fellow hunters.
The choosing entailed the removal of various knives from their sheaths and once I had decided on an all-purpose skinning and boning knife, I, of course, had to appraise it several times.
It needed some force to extract it from its sheath and it came out in a jerk. In one of those inexplicable, unrepeatable snafus, it was during this jerking motion that I managed to stab myself in the chest.
The razor sharp knife went through two layers of clothing and I felt a sharp little twinge in my chest. By the time I was at the counter, blood was seeping through the clothing and I looked down to see a neat, deep, little 1 centimetre cut just above my breastbone.
I could just see the headlines. "Journalist stabbed in hunting shop." "Reporter self-mutilates during Christmas shopping." Anyway, the comedy of the situation was not entirely lost on me, and once the shop assistants realised what had happened they were all over me, offering me medical assistance and a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit to help replace the lost haemoglobin.
Well that last bit is not strictly true. The guy at the counter acted as though every second customer arrived with some injury acquired during product selection, calmly told me the price and took my money. Not a word of sympathy or concern and perhaps that was the kindest way to handle it.
My brother, who is steeped in the ways of the Cherokee, told me afterwards I couldn't have given the knife back anyway, since it had already drawn blood. Blood I had expected, just not mine and not so soon.
Anyway the lesson to be derived from this incident and others I witnessed as I went about my shopping is that you need to start thinking now about next Christmas and your presents.
That way you have a whole 12 months to do your Christmas shopping and you will avoid the mistakes of 11th hour decisions. You will, in other words, avoid the horrors caused by cutting it so fine.