What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? Was it the Big Yellow Teapot your heart desired when you were 4 years old? Or the designer trainers your Mum swore she’d never buy because ‘supermarket ones are just as good but half the price’? Perhaps it was a surprise holiday or an unexpected visit from a long-lost friend? Did someone buy a star just for you that melted your heart?
In the run up to Christmas, I’ve been thinking a lot about gifts. Mostly, the ones that I’ll be giving to other people, hoping to bring joy and express my love and gratitude to family and friends. But I’ve also been thinking about the gifts that have meant the most to me over the past 40-odd years and what made those gifts more special than the giver could have imagined.
My Little Pony Dream Castle
In the mid 1980s, I discovered My Little Pony. I had Gusty and Glory (a higher-value unicorn pony) and my sister had Cotton Candy and Applejack. We made our Dad take us to the cinema to watch the film (an ordeal he has never forgiven us for!) and we hoped and prayed that Father Christmas would bring us a Dream Castle and a Grooming Parlour. It was a long shot, though, because we knew that these toys were expensive and I honestly thought the big man would bring us something else. But he didn’t! When we woke up on Christmas morning, inside the biggest box was a Dream Castle. I couldn’t believe my eyes! My sister and I played with that Dream Castle for months and years afterwards. But the generosity of that gift was not the plastic toy itself – it was belief in the magic of Christmas. And even as an adult, I still feel a tingling excitement each year as Christmas comes around.
(Thanks, Mum & Dad!)
I was 11 years old, in the first year at an all-girls secondary school when the epitome of cool was a ghettoblaster. I didn’t live in a ghetto of have licence or opportunity to walk around with a massive battery-operated tape player on my shoulder, blasting out music to all and sundry. Yet, my friends and I were convinced that we needed these stereos to make our lives complete. My parents didn’t let me down and I trembled with delight when I tore the paper off the box to uncover a twin-deck portable stereo with recording function and reverse play. With Dad’s permission to use the (landline) phone, I called my friend to see if she’d been as lucky. “I dunno” she said. “Mum’s in hospital – I got a baby brother. We’ve not done presents yet.”
I had that ghettoblaster for nearly a decade, only trading it in for a CD player when I went to uni. I never did take it out into the street but it took me into a world of music. I listened to tapes on that stereo every day through my formative years, learned how to make mix-tapes and became adept at recording the top-40 chart countdown off the Sunday Chart Show on Radio 1.
(Thanks again, Mum & Dad!)
About 10 years ago, my Mum gave me a bread-making machine. I hadn’t asked for one and didn’t think I needed one, so it was a bit of a surprise and I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with it. But, in order to give it a good try, my husband and I decided that we wouldn’t buy any bread for a month and make our own using the bread-maker instead. We figured this would be a sufficient trial period to assess the usefulness of the huge machine now taking up half the work space in our tiny rental house kitchen. And we’ve been making our own bread ever since… Honestly, this machine changed our lives! We’ve perfected our standard loaf and always have fresh bread for breakfast.
(Once more, thanks Mum!)
OK, so this one wasn’t a Christmas gift but it was one of the most thoughtful and unexpected gifts I’ve ever received. I was a new mother – my eldest was just a few weeks old – and I was anxious and sleep-deprived and adapting to being at home full time with a tiny human to care for. We don’t have any family living nearby and I didn’t know many other new mums locally. The iPad had been released just a few months earlier and my husband bought me one as an anniversary present. (I hadn’t thought we were doing presents! So, I gave him nothing…) The iPad allowed me to keep in touch with friends and make new ones. It gave me access to companionship and support in the middle of the night. It allowed me to switch to shopping almost exclusively online, whilst breastfeeding, from the comfort of my own sofa. When I couldn’t get to the world outside, it brought the outside world in to me. It was the gift of human connection at a time when I felt very lonely.
(Thank you, Husband!)
I Love My Slow Cooker
Five years ago, my mother-in-law gave me a cookery book: “I Love My Slow Cooker”. The recipes looked great but she didn’t know that I didn’t have a slow cooker. So, I bought one in the January sales and this machine has revolutionised our family life almost as much as the bread-maker. We fill it with raw ingredients, go to work and school all day, and come home to a great smelling dinner! We can make huge quantities of chilli or bolognese sauce or casserole and freeze the leftovers for another day. We’ve learned (from experience) that the fish recipes are not so good but the veggie ones are tastier than they look in the pictures. The slow cooker is a real time-saver that gives us more flexibility within the busyness of modern family life. And if my mother-in-law hadn’t given me that cookery book, the slow cooker would never have found its place on our kitchen worktop!
So, there you have it – five gifts that have proved to be more than they were intended to be. This Christmas, I hope that one of my gifts will do the same for someone I love.