Back from our holiday abroad and I suddenly realised I only had 4 days until Maggie’s birthday. In fact, by the time we’d flaked out, sorted through letters and phone calls, visited Maggie’s parents and got our acts together, I had one day to focus my attention on presents.
“Any idea what you might like for your birthday, my love?”
“Oh, you know, nice wee things…”
Arrgh! No! I don’t know! My stomach lurched, my heart started pounding and I was engulfed in a wave of panic.
Maggie has an aesthetic understanding way beyond my own. I tend to come from a school of practicality that says if it fits, wear it. Maggie, however, is an artist and understands things such as beauty, form, colours, shape, texture and je ne sais quoi. This finds its way into the clothes she wears, the ornaments she buys, the garden, the decorations and it’s great: I get to enjoy beautiful surroundings without any effort. Left to me everything would be bland, boring and cheap.
But because it’s so effortless to Maggie, she is constantly surprised by my lack of comprehension at what she does and doesn’t like. Oh, how I would love to buy her just the right thing, to be able to see something and know, without doubt, that Maggie would like it. Every now and then I’ll find something in a shop that has, what I think, are sort of the right colours or texture and so I’ll call her over to look at it, and after a quick glance she’ll look at me quizzically, wondering why on earth anyone would think she’d be interested in that.
Over the years I’ve learned some basic rules like, if it’s practical, or for the house, then it will not do as a gift, but that’s pretty limited.
“‘Nice wee things,’ you wouldn’t care to be a bit more specific would you?” I asked, desperately hoping for some kind of clue to unravel the mystery of Maggie’s taste.
“Oh, you know, some nice earrings…” Yeah, right. The last set of earrings I got her have never been taken out of the box and I think were donated to the school bring-and-buy-sale.
“…or some nice smellies – aromatherapy oils or body lotions…” That’s a dangerous a thing to say to a man who can’t tell the difference between Coco Chanel and underarm deodorant.
“…or you could get me a book – see what they’ve got at Ottakars.” Oh god, not literature. My understanding of what she enjoys in a book is even worse.
“Stop right there,” I say, “just scribble down a list of CDs or DVDs you’d like and I’ll see what ones I can find.” I knew it wasn’t ideal, but it was better than either getting it totally wrong, again, or adopting an even worse approach.
I once knew a guy who, when it came to buying presents for his wife, would go into a clothes shop and grab anything off the rail, wrap it up and give it to her, with the receipt inside so she could take it back and exchange it. He’d long given up trying to guess what she’d like and said that anything he bought would be wrong anyway so at least this way she would end up with something she wanted, eventually. While I was horrified by this way of doing things, part of me understood his frustration.
However, to try and make up for my lack of originality, I spent a few hours playing around in Photoshop to adjust the cover of Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall”, pasting Maggie’s head onto Diane Keaton’s body. And if it wasn’t the most romantic birthday present I’ve ever bought her, at least she laughed appreciatively.