Unwanted presents? Have a royal car-boot sale

We should all follow Prince Charles's example and flog them off for as much money as possible
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The Independent Online

Those of us on the front line of interior design, fretting over colourways, curtain fabrics and new directions in sanitary ware, are rather intrigued by the new trend towards specialist rooms. These days, when designing a house, the traditional lay-out is little more than a starting point.

Those of us on the front line of interior design, fretting over colourways, curtain fabrics and new directions in sanitary ware, are rather intrigued by the new trend towards specialist rooms. These days, when designing a house, the traditional lay-out is little more than a starting point.

The truly contemporary home will devote space to truly contemporary activities. There will be a media room, of course, but then there might also be a reality suite, where occupants and guests can show off in front of hidden cameras, or a tantrum parlour for those raised-voice moments which are part of even the most smooth-running modern household.

But right now the most popular space among cutting-edge designers is the wrapping room. Here a hectic, busy mum or dad can retire to prepare presents for the next gift-centric social occasion. In a wrapping room, decor is secondary in importance to practical equipment: rolls of tape and appropriate paper attached to the walls, easily accessible ribbon dispensers, scissors, a variety of labels and cards.

A luxury, you say – a space too far, and one that will only be used once or twice during the year. Designers see it differently. Present-giving, they argue, plays an increasingly important part in 21st-century life. Apart from the whole Christmas business, there are birthdays and the various anniversaries and special occasions which cunning advertisers have persuaded us to mark with some kind of offering.

Domestic contentment is, mysteriously, the fantasy of the moment. Where once financial success or sexual fulfilment were the holy grail, now it is the home that matters. The television schedules are dominated by cookery programmes. Specialists in how to make over your house, your flat, your garden, your life, or where to buy the right antiques for the front room, have become celebrities. In the bookshops, novels which not so long ago would have had a publishing editor reaching for the whisky bottle – stuff about nappies, adorable children, and their middle-class parents, juggling their busy lives – are now piled high on the bestseller tables.

The wrapping-room concept is entirely in line with this new trend. It is no longer enough to lead a comfortable life or to be reasonably contented in one's own little domestic unit. Comfort and happiness have become exterior things that need to be shown off to friends and passers-by. Presents, which involve packaging, design and, above all, money are a perfect, subtle form of exhibitionism.

Here, uniquely – and, one has to say, unwittingly – members of our own Royal Family have emerged as role models. During her glory years, the Princess of Wales was inundated with presents, given by those who wanted to express their affection in the only way available to them. Her staff quickly disposed of the mighty mountain of toys and home-made stuff donated by children and tearful grannies.

The more serious presents, handed over in a spirit of self-serving politeness by the various sheikhs, tycoons and political leaders, were put to good use. Rather than being left to languish pointlessly in a vault, they were handed out to her staff who, it seems, took them down to the nearest up-market jewellers or sold them over the internet.

By all accounts, her ex-husband has refined the system into a regular, useful source of extra income. By quietly reselling expensive presents given to him as a matter of duty and protocol, Prince Charles is said to earn himself a decent £100,000 a year, while his loyal staff – Fawcett the Fence and the rest – also allegedly receive a nice little rake-off for themselves.

It might be argued that those who receive official funding from the state should not benefit personally from gifts they receive in their official capacity, but I prefer to see this royal version of the car-boot sale as an inspiring example to us all. The cult of present-giving, stoked up by grasping retailers and their unscrupulous advertising agents, has, thanks to Charles's shrewd money-making policy, been exposed for what it is, a function of decadent capitalism at work.

When proud householders include a wrapping room in their design plans, then the business of giving things to one another is getting out of hand. What should be a gesture of solid, low-key affection has become hysterical, freighted with anxiety and often more to do with cash, the appropriate level of investment, than with love.

This year's Christmas message from the Queen might usefully make reference to the sterling work in the area of present-laundering done throughout the year by the heir to the throne. We should all, Her Majesty might say, follow his example by flogging off this year's unwanted presents for as much money as possible and without the slightest hint of guilt.

terblacker@aol.com

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