Sweatbands, chronographs and Bradford City hold-alls - the Christmas gifts from hell

MIKE ROWBOTTOM ON the presents That fail to fit the bill
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The Independent Online
What is it about those revolving doors in Tesco?

You approach them with your goods-heavy trolley and you - just - miss the opportunity to get into one of the turning compartments. All attempts to alter this phenomenon are futile. You might as well ring up the Speaking Clock and expect it to tell you the time without mentioning the sponsor first.

"The time - sponsored by Accurist." Why must they always interrupt? And how dare anyone say they are sponsoring Time? What next? Space?

But anyway, there you are, awaiting your moment, and it arrives, and with a shove of your hip you manoeuvre yourself into the merry-go-round and... stop... Some kid, running into the store ahead of Mummy, is pushing on the door and activating the safety device.

So, with pigeon steps, you complete your semi-revolution and arrive at the fair field of cars, thinking to yourself things like this: "pounds 123.27p. How did I spend that? Christmas, though - always expensive. But pounds 123.27p..."

And things like this: "Where is the car?"

And things like this: "Pasta sauce...pasta sauce...didn't get it. And bread!"

Thinking all these things this week as I stood outside the booming superstore where I spend half my life and more than half my money, I heard a little voice calling to me: "Slow down! Pull over!"

As if to underline the urgency of the message, there was an accompanying sound of a siren.

My advice, as I swiftly observed, was coming from a 20p-per-ride children's police car plugged into the store's outside wall.

And I thought to myself: "This little electronic fellow has a point. We could all benefit from a few moments of quiet contemplation at this busy time."

So I took a couple of minutes out to reflect on the deeper meaning of the annual mass madness that is Christmas.

Nope. No good.

This time of year always reminds me of the New Yorker cartoon where a young couple are showing their friends a wall-full of empty new bookshelves and the woman is explaining: "Harry and I are thinking of getting into reading."

Christmas resolutions arrive before those of New Year; but they go by the board just as easily. The only difference is that Christmas resolutions are imposed on you - by gifts.

Somewhere in our house - perhaps in the children's dressing-up basket - are a set of sweatbands for the wrist and forehead, designed to keep active sports enthusiasts in the game when the going gets hot.

Two sets to one up and serving for the match? Sweep away that bead of perspiration trickling down your nose before hammering the ball away for an ace.

Got a grudge match down at the squash club? Don't let sweat put you off at that crucial moment.

But the thing is, I have never used any of them. Not even once.

The way I look at it is this - you put them on, you need to sweat. I don't like the feel of that obligation.

Another Christmas brought me the hopeful gift of a stopwatch. I was put on guard immediately by the official description of the item - "Water-resistant LCD Chronograph."

Why would I need something water-resistant? Was I expected to stand in rain at some stage? Or venture underwater?

The accompanying information confirmed my darkening fears. "With Nine Lap-Time Memories."

Er...not me. And I wasn't anticipating a career as a rainswept coach either.

But the mute challenge of a more recent gift made that chronograph seem no more than a gentle hint.

This was a back-pack water container with a pipe which jutted towards the wearer's face, enabling refreshment to be accessed without the need for halting or breaking stride.

I don't call that a gift. I call that a demand.

It wanted, it required an exercise freak, a person who regularly ran long distances and was so serious about it all that they couldn't spare even a minute to stop for refreshments.

What next? A mobile larder?

But at least one is able to set such items aside with a shudder, compose oneself, and press on with the slacker lifestyle.

If only such an option had been open to me as a 12-year-old West Ham United fanatic, when Christmas Day brought the gift of a much-needed sports hold-all from a distant aunt.

It was a football bag. That was good. It was a Bradford City football bag. That was not good.

I had to use it for the entire first year. Which was more than enough time for me to assimilate the important life-lesson: beware of relatives bearing sporting gifts.

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