Are we all bonkers? And I’ve got quite a few Christmases under my belt so should know better. But a couple of days before the big day this year, I woke up in a lather at 4.30am – how completely crackers is that? The thing is that I’d thought I’d be far away from all this manic malarky, with my son and his family in Argentina where it’s midsummer and Christmas is a low-key affair (with, sadly, no turkey) and all over on Christmas Eve. My daughter’s family in Essex had decided we’d do Christmas when I got back which meant extending the festive feeling into gloomy January, getting presents in the sales and a turkey dinner – so a win-win situation all round. However, I’d postponed my trip south since my partner was not well and, with me now coming to theirs on Christmas day, granddaughter 3, a lifelong Christmas enthusiast and traditionalist, suggested we do the whole kit and kaboodle then which made sense. Then the stress kicked in – now I’d got to a) find out what the four grandchildren wanted, b) get the stuff and c) wrap it up and all in under a week. Panic stations big time.
I tried not to involve my daughter – like other working mums and dads, she was in the crazy Christmas run-up, juggling school concerts, mock GCSEs, schools breaking up, getting presents, just to name a few – oh, and doing actual work. I spoke to granddaughter 1 first – a teenager, she suggested money – a few folding green ones in an envelope? I could do that! But, fairness being the watchword of a gift-giving gran or grandpa, it would have to be the same amount as the others’ presents cost. But one done and three to go.
Granddaughter 2 likes something that’s maybe not tied up with string but at least to unwrap. She’s helpfully happy to say what she doesn’t want which leaves the field wide open. But hadn’t she said yonks ago ‘All I want for Christmas is a Holland & Barrett voucher’? Yippee – in an envelope like her big sister’s money. But, oh dear, she’d moved on. ‘No, gran,’ she said, to vouchers and all, even relating to her favourite things, healthy eating, experimental cookery and craft creation. ‘So a surprise, then – are you sure?’ I asked, reaching for the Argos catalogue and, since, as any grandparent knows, the perils of present duplication looms large in the Christmas kerfuffle, I rang my daughter. ‘I’ve made a list,’ I said, hoping to be brief. ‘Number 1: a Chinese bamboo steamer’ which, I’d thought, if she didn’t steam stuff in it, she could decorate and hang in her bedroom which is an artwork in progress. Some hissing came down the phone. ‘What?’ I said, being a bit mutt ‘n jeff. Slightly louder hissing. Oh ok. granddaughter 2 was in the room, but I gathered eventually that her mum had got her a gadget which had a steaming function.
I moved on: ‘Metalex Rolomac Herb Manual Chopper?’ and went down the list which included an Appachatti (don’t ask), several more chopping devices and ended with a Fallen Fruits Cast Iron String Dispenser – a triumph of blue sky thinking of which I was justly proud. ‘No, no, no, etc,’ said my daughter, ‘and no’ to the last item. I felt a bit crestfallen. ‘But it has this little cast iron bird on top,’ I added, ‘and you can pull out the exact amount of string you need and cut it with the handy scissors which are included in the price.’ A bargain, so I’d thought. ‘Hm,’ said my daughter – ok, so granddaughter 2 is not exactly an ‘exact amount’ kinda girl. ‘But,’ I haplessly continued: ‘she could put ribbon or other such decorative tape in it.’ I could hear my daughter thinking and now granddaughter 2 was elsewhere, she said: ‘She’s always wanted a fridge for her room to store her beans in.’ To granddaughter 2, kidney beans are the pinnacle of healthy eating. But a fridge sounded a bit steep. And for her bedroom? Wouldn’t it keep her awake going off and on all night? But, blood pressure rising (I’m on the tablets), I went into Argos online and there it was, a 4 Litre Black Mini Travel Fridge, ‘a must-have accessory’ – well, it did have wheels and a handle for cool bean transportation. And you could plug it into the cigar lighter in your car (or a handy socket in your bedroom) and not too expensive either. Dear Directors of Argos, I could kiss you all.
On to granddaughter 3 – her mum sent me a link to Ebay for roller shoes. Two things: I’m not good at Ebay
and I’m not into brinkmanship (though it was Buy it Now). But, oh god, Argos didn’t do them so I tried Tesco Direct – result! I could click and collect from Tesco Express up the road before Christmas. Wowee! On to grandson. ‘He likes anything,’ my daughter said. ‘Could you be a bit more specific, please,’ said I. A pause, ‘Well, he watches Lego Superheroes a lot on Youtube…’ Say no more, off I jetted into Argos online. Oh Jesus and Mary, all the cheaper Lego Superhero sets were sold out already. Tesco Direct, then? A miracle! I could collect the Lego Marvel Super Heroes Avengers Iron Man vs Ultron kit at the same time as granddaughter 3’s roller shoes. But, oh no – Mega-Disaster! I got a message saying it had gone out of stock – how very could they? Back to Argos online and, delirious with desperation, I scrolled down and down and down – by now anything remotely superhero would do. I lighted on a Batboat kit. Ecstatic, I told his dad and a shadow passed over his face. ‘It’s ok, it’s only Lego so no tricky self-assembly needed.’ I now know I was a bit off the mark there.
‘You do realise, don’t you?’ I’d said to granddaughter 2 after I’d ordered her mini-fridge, ‘if you don’t give people an idea of what you want, you might just end up with a Fallen Fruits Cast Iron String Dispenser.’ ‘But gran,’ she said, putting her arms around me and smiling that enigmatic smile of hers, ‘Christmas is about love.’ Oh gosh, I thought, after all that stress – why hadn’t I remembered that? Unfortunately, though, you can’t so-and-soing wrap it up and put it under the Christmas tree, can you? And it’s only three hundred and fifty odd days until we do it all over again. Happy New Year.
*Granny on the frontline is Jill Garner, grandmother of six.