In the Red: A monster, a fiver, and something far more valuable

As I sit here, tapping away at my orthopaedic desk in the centre of In The Red's hexagonal-shaped room, a light-deprived, flea-favoured, mouse-friendly space at the back of the edifice that provides a home for The Independent and i (as well as a Costa Coffee franchise and other nefarious "businesses"), something dawns on me.

We've often had lively discussions about the monetary value of various gifts, like should you throw caution to the wind and spend loads on your better half and your kids or occasionally let your love and devotion speak for themselves? So, never one to repeat myself, I thought I would touch on the emotional value of actual cash money as a gift.

My wife and I were in Northern Ireland last weekend, visiting some friends of ours and their two very nice small kids. One of them, the little girl, will have had her birthday by the time you read this. She is in the first year of primary school and is a wee sweetheart. I was putty in her hands.

Anyway, by way of thanking our host and hostess for making sure that our glasses of creamy black beverage were never remotely empty, we decided to buy a birthday card for said giggling, skipping moppet. During a family visit to the supermarket, we surreptitiously bought a nice card (well, it featured a comedy monster with big, goggly eyes, but kids love that sort of tat), placed a fiver inside it, then gave the card to her Dad to be passed on, come the big day. Hopefully when she took delivery she had that lovely feeling we all used to experience when you would open a card from someone peripheral to the immediate family and realise there was more inside it than platitudes. Nowadays being nowadays, there is the possibility that, to her, £5 will represent nothing more than an afternoon's interest on her Isa. But the act of stuffing the envelope brought it all back to me. It's hard to admit, but back when we were kids, any cards you got which were financially empty were disregarded as utterly as those soft Christmas presents under the tree that you just knew were either school trousers or a crappy jumper. If there was a fiver in the card, all was good.

And so I offer the birthday girl this heartfelt wish: may all your cards be full of money, but if they're not, don't forget to read the message from the sender. Those little crosses at the end last a lot longer than money … even if you can't swap them for Haribo. xxx

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