I have discovered five cardinal rules of Christmas shopping. They are thusly:
ONE: Never beat yourself up for instantly forgetting all those wonderful things you saw throughout the year that made you think "Ah! That would be perfect for X!" or "Y would just adore that, and think me the most witty, stylish and thoughtful of friends!".
For starters, you should stop making friends with people whose name is but a single letter of the alphabet; they are only trouble. But secondly you should remember that chances are even if you could remember them, they would no longer be on sale or available, and should you have bought them when you saw them in July and stored them away for Christmas, mold/mice/moths/nephews would have reached them. And no one likes people who are that organised anyway.
Likewise, get over not getting down to it sooner. You had important appointments with bar people, dammit.
TWO: Time is limited - pick one good part of town and do everything there.
People are far more easily pleased than you would imagine. Not every gift has to be the pinnacle of sophistication, originality and taste. you are only setting yourself up for failure and unobtainable standards. Do not fear the request for receipts, nine times out of ten it is a sign that a person feels comfortable with you.
Likewise, try not to have some kind of breakdown if the branch of the shop you have visited doesn't have the thing you wanted. Remain polite and dignified at all times. Elegance is our watchword. Your inner-shopper will be distracted by murderous thoughts of lairy shop assistants.
And when you get home and discover you have separately bought three things that could have been part of a 'three for two' offer, remain calm and remember that worse things happen at sea.
Being trapped on a cruise full of cheerful octagenarians learning how to rhumba, for example.
THREE: Always get a few generic spare presents. The horror of being presented with a hand-wrapped gift from someone who you had relied on to dish out nothing more than a nice card is a challenge for even the most socially capable.
The phrase that runs through my mind on such an occasion is "I bet this never happens to the Queen-slash-Elton John...".
FOUR: Seek guidance.
I would love to think I am a 'down and with' uber-cool uncle ("Nang! Book!" Oh ask a kid...). I'm not really, and that's fine. Therefore, it's advisable to consult a parent, co-parent or handy under-ten for advice on at least part of the present. Better still - ask the child itself what it wants. Spending insane quantities of money of a gift your inner child things is really cool may not result in yelps of happiness from your local eight year old. Chances are your inner child is at least twenty years out of touch.
Don't even think about an ethical gift for anyone under twenty, unless they really are going through 'that stage' and have specifically asked for a goat to be sent to an African village. Even then, buy them a book to wrap up. Otherwise save all that for events outside of Birthdays and Christmas.
And don't go expecting a nice thank you note. Weep tears of gratitude at an SMS message and shush.
FIVE: When the wholenerve-wracking, Krypton Factor-esque endurance feat of tghe shopping day itself is over, never, ever, EVER tally up what you have spent. You will only want to cry. And then you'll only feel crap about feeling guilty about how much you have sepnt. It's an ever decreasing circle of latter day self-loathing about conspicuous consumption.
Remember, conversion to an alternative religious bias is always an option, and will get you out of this hidesously ruinous and sticky experience in time for next year. But where would be the fun in that..?
Someone always has it worse than you, and this piece by Lucy Mangan made me laugh like a drain, as my flatmate will testify.
I can say all this in the smug knowledge that I have just finished all of my Christmas shopping. And I did the last bits in a small piece of heaven found in central London, Hatchards Bookshop.
Don't get me all wrong, the rather biblically proportioned Waterstones down the road is just great, but there is something magically homely about Hatchards. It's like shopping in a bookshop created by your Great Aunt. I kept expecting one of the staff to offer me a mince pie and make a disparaging comment about the length of my hair/trousers/nails/conversation.
Oh yeah, and the books are fantastic too. I could have strayed through the sections for hours...
I bought a copy of The Big Issue on the way home, to reduce the fear of a karma imbalance leading to an Act Of God that would wipe out all my hard work.
Mince pie, anyone??