Saturday 25 December 2010

Oh, bugger

15st 10lb, 6.0 units. My sense of being Unlucky Alf from The Fast Show was only increased by eagerly tearing open the wrapping on my largest present this morning and finding a £50 pictorial history of Gyndebourne that I had coveted on a visit there during the summer. Only I had not particularly wanted a copy with a broken spine and dirty fingerprints on virtually every torn page. Very particular about books, I am. I am often to be found in Hatchard’s or Waterstone’s working my way through the pile of (preferably signed) first editions to find one that is in absolutely pristine condition. I gave a brief account of my obsessive compulsive approach to Mrs H, who had surely grasped it already, and she explained that she had behaved with remarkable similarity in selecting my copy of the book from the display in the Glyndebourne shop. Then she had taken it to the till, where a charmingly posh lady had replaced it with another one from beneath the counter, lovingly wrapped in logo-embossed black tissue paper. Clearly, with the benefit of hindsight, a knackered old display copy fit only for the recycling bin. It is a long time since even a dodgy fruiterer on a market stall has tried to catch me out like this.

I asked why Mrs H had not thought to check her purchase before handing it over, as I checked the signed copy of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire’s memoirs that I bought for her, and had posted to me by an achingly upmarket bookseller in Mayfair. “Well, if I had bought it anywhere else I would have done,” she said. “But I didn’t think I needed to bother with Glyndebourne because it’s so posh.”

There you are, then. A valuable lesson learned, and a valuable tip on market positioning for anyone planning to sell a load of battered old fruit to unsuspecting punters over a market stall. Give yourself an upmarket name and employ some plummy-voiced ladies to take the money.

Early Christmas morning: Santa has been
Still, at least I liked my main present of a voucher for a day’s “trolleybus driving experience” at the National Trolleybus Museum at Sandtoft in the summer. A boyhood dream about to be fulfilled there, unless of course something goes unexpectedly wrong.

The Boy seemed to like his plastic toy farm, too. As he should have done, given that he dragged one off the shelf and started hauling it towards the till three times when he spotted it in the toy department of Fenwick’s in Newcastle when we took him there at the end of October. Foolishly, we did not buy it there and then so as “not to spoil the surprise” (as though an 18-month-old would remember) and I was despatched back to the store to pick it up earlier this month. We did not realize, as experienced parents no doubt would, that the stock of toy departments changes almost completely in the run-up to Christmas, as popular lines sell out. Not only did Fenwick’s not have it, but neither did John Lewis, WH Smith, Early Learning Centre or the beautifully appointed but comprehensively useless new Newcastle branch of Debenhams. Luckily an internet search tracked down one that we could pick up in Toys ‘R’ Us.

As a consolation prize, I bought him a train set. Not the Hornby Dublo or LGB I really wanted, sadly. I would like nothing better than a vintage Gauge One live steam tinplate train that could career around the sitting room, spilling burning methylated spirits onto the carpet, but it would be ruled out on so many Elfin Safety grounds that it is hardly worth beginning to recite them all. But at least it is an LNER train set with those nicely solid Brio wooden tracks. The box says that it is unsuitable for children under the age of three, but then the box of virtually every toy seems to say that and he has been playing with lots of them for months. I do hope that this confession does not lead to his removal by social services, as I am getting quite fond of him now that he has started talking.

The Boy unwraps his train set
Meanwhile, I gave Mrs Hann a computer. She has been complaining for over a year now that her old laptop is on its last legs, and asking if she could borrow my MacBook to surf the internet and send e-mails. So in a moment of wild generosity I bought her one of her own, sweetening the pill by ordering myself an iPad at the same time. She seemed pleased, though I think I detected a slightly wider grin when she unwrapped the coat that I had also bought her. I suppose a computer is a bit on the utilitarian side to induce festive ecstasy in a lady. Not quite in the league of a new ironing board, perhaps, but definitely in that box rather than the one occupied by guaranteed pleasure-givers like frocks and shoes.
Mrs H and new laptop
Mrs H and new coat
I hit the jackpot last Christmas when I bought her a pair of Dubarry boots. She liked them so much that she hardly ever wore them, holding them back for special occasions. Then a couple of weeks ago the zip on one of them disintegrated. She took it to a reputable cobbler, who pronounced the boot beyond repair, though he suggested that since they were clearly expensive and little used, it might be worth returning them to the manufacturer. My friendly local country store has now done that, with no word yet. Unfortunately I had already ordered this year’s Dubarry coat when this little quality issue came to light, so no doubt it will have fallen to bits by Easter. Surely a man of my experience and intense cynicism should have been able to spot the fatal, oxymoronic flaw in the very concept of an Irish luxury goods brand?

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