The 12 Gore Vidals of Christmas

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Today, in the run-up to the festive season, we turn to the knotty topic of Christmas presents and how to choose them for yourself.

Of course, when I say choosing presents for yourself, I do not mean choosing presents to give yourself. I mean being ready for the question: "So, what do you want for Christmas this year?"

It is a serious question. Most people have not the faintest idea what to give each other, so they end up asking the recipient for help and advice. The trouble is that the recipient seldom has any idea what he wants either. Oh yes, he might have said to himself that it would be nice to have that new Gore Vidal book, or that new record by Jessica Williams, or that he needed some more shirts, but most of us seldom rise above this mundane level, and even then we seldom even remember that we wanted that Gore Vidal book when we are put on the spot.

So, as we near Christmas, we get distressing repetitions of conversations like this:

"Any idea what you want for Christmas this year, Dad?"

"What? Oh, good Lord, I hadn't thought. I don't really need anything. Book? Record? Something like that ...."

That is worse than useless. That is useless and irritating. It leaves the asker feeling aggrieved at not getting any help. You think that you are sending out the message: "Oh, I don't want to be a problem at Christmas time, so don't worry about me," but you are doing the opposite. You are creating a problem. The problem of you as a black hole, present-wise.

So what you have to do is sit down well in advance of Christmas, long before you start worrying about what to give other people, and work out what you want. This is not selfishness. This is generosity. You are giving help to other people. You are selflessly making their Christmas task easier by preparing a list. In the old days you would have put at the top of the list "Dear Father Christmas, what I want is as follows..." but just because you do not believe in Father Christmas any more does not mean the principle does not hold good.

The way you make a list is by listening to your own conversation and writing down things you told yourself you needed. During the year there have been moments when you said: "Oh, if only we had a ..." or "What we need is a good ..." or "I can't believe we haven't got an up-to-date ..." or "How much longer can we survive without a ...?"

Well, instead of saying it, write it down. And gradually you will accumulate a list along these lines:

Music stand


Warm gloves

A dictionary of quotations

A garlic press

A wine cooler

A corkscrew that looks good, ie, not like an old cider press, and works as well

As that list looks a little dreary and functional, and also does not mention anything particularly gift-like, you will probably add to the list one or two other items that you really want, such as that Gore Vidal book or that Jessica Williams CD.

(I would like to make it plain that I know most of you do not want a book by Gore Vidal and may not even have heard of Jessica Williams. I am just using these as examples. Examples of the sort of thing I want for Christmas, actually. For you it may be something totally different - maybe boxed sets of Purcell or the new Blur CD. Incidentally, did you know that on Merseyside there is no difference between the pronunciation of the group Blur and the leader of the Labour Party? Just a thought.)

So when people ask you what on earth you want for Christmas, as you are so difficult to buy presents for, you smilingly produce your list (or quote from it from memory if you do not want it to seem too much like a wedding list at John Lewis's) and mention all the things on it from the wine cooler down to the Gore Vidal book.

The result of this planning is all too predictable.

When Christmas comes, you find that you have been given anything up to 11 copies of the Gore Vidal book.

And you do not really want any of them now.

Because two weeks before Christmas you could not resist buying yourself a copy, just in case nobody bought you one at Christmas.

So the only result of all the careful Christmas planning is that you now have 12 copies of that Gore Vidal book, and you got them too late to give any of them away as presents to other people.


Tomorrow we will try to rethink this whole Christmas thing again.