A time for giving

November 11, 2011

I have a friend who, every Christmas, would insist on giving me a present. It did not matter to him that I had actively asked not to receive a present – in fact, I had made this friend aware that receiving a present every year made me a little uncomfortable, precisely because he knew that I did not intend to give him a present in return: I had stated, unequivocally, “I only exchange Christmas presents with family”. I wasn’t being weird about it. I just feel that, particularly when it comes to the business of Christmas presents, you have to draw the line somewhere. If I give presents to this friend… then why not that friend? Etc

This particular friend was very fond of giving Christmas presents. He once purchased an indecent quantity of mid-range Parker pens, and set about making gifts of them to pretty much everyone he knew. This, to my mind, was a great example of where the cost of what’s given vastly outweighed the value of what’s received: one man had spent a couple of hundred pounds in acquiring the gifts; a good dozen recipients were left with a pen which, in all probability, would end up largely unused, forgotten and, ultimately, down the back of a sofa.

One Christmas, this friend presented me with a gift which, as I peeled the wrapping away, revealed itself to be a hand-operated juice press. “To juice your oranges,” he said.

But it was not just at Christmas that this friend could be inspired in the act of giving. Once, as we strolled together through Stoke Newington, my friend expressed an interest in checking out a local second hand shop. He emerged a few minutes later and handed me a leather attaché case. “Look,” he said, opening the various compartments to demonstrate its utility. “To carry your stories around with you.”

Strangest of all, perhaps, was the occasion on which I was given an advance choice between gifts. Explaining himself truly grateful for my companionship and the emotional support which I had leant him over the years, my friend decided that such generosity of character could only be allowed to go unrewarded. Of course, I protested, friendship does not require reimbursement of any kind. But my friend persisted, eventually insisted. And here was the choice: he would either treat the two of us to a slap up meal; or else he would buy me a bespoke suit.

Well, I said, let’s go for a meal. It’ll be a nice thing for us to do together. My friend smiled, sighed, and failed to hide the look of mild disappointment. “But the suit would really work for you.”

I’m seeing him again in a few weeks. I wonder if I ought to get him a little something?

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