Sue Limb: Problematic Presents

PUBLISHED: 13:04 31 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:24 20 February 2013

A phone in the form of a flashing nun and a tea cosy shaped like a baboon - but Sue Limb still can't bear to cart them off to the charity shop!

Presents always make me tense. I have a lifelong friend whose taste in gifts verges on the hallucinatory. I dont like to seem ungrateful, but over the years shes given me a phone in the form of a flashing nun, a tea cosy shaped like a baboon, and a stone painted with a face which reminded me uneasily of Idi Amin. (Oh! Wow! Just what Ive always wanted!)

At the moment when I unwrapped the stone, I developed a theory that you should always give presents which can be eaten, dissolved in the bath, or that will wilt on your windowsill after a week or two.

Fifteen years later Im still staring at Idi Amin, and hes staring back at me from his perch atop a pile of papers. The flashing nun telephone is in a cardboard box in the attic, because when her batteries ran out she lost her power to inspire and heal. The baboon tea cosy was, Im happy to say, eaten by rats - bless them!

Some people are much more ruthless. A few days after Christmas they rush into the nearest charity shop and dump all their unwanted presents in a dustbin liner. But I feel that to discard a well-meant present is churlish, and that somehow such an act would be witnessed by the spirits who guard the universe, and that my friend, minding her own business in Wantage High Street would be approached by a gypsy who would stare into her eyes and say, Even as we speak your friend with the glasses is throwing the baboon tea cosy into the rubbish bin.

I love receiving bath things. But I now have such a toiletries mountain I would have to spend the rest of my life in the bath, and live to be a hundred, in order to use them all. This would certainly add meaning and focus to my declining years, probably meriting the offer of a TV reality show, and it might eventually result in canonisation. Theres a saint in Tuscany who attained sanctity just be refusing to get out of bed for years. They thought it was a sign she was blessed: nowadays we know this is a symptom of a disorder called Being a Teenager.

However, though Ive received some weird presents in my time, Ive given some stinkers. I always have the best of intentions, visiting the eco charity shop in October and noting with approval the little notebooks made of banana leaves and the soap made with the wax of the endangered Brazil nut. Why then, last year, did I suddenly realise it was December 18 and run through the streets like a madwoman, gathered foolish random detritus and bearing it home in triumph?

Why did I send my poor defenceless nephew (in his mid-30s and so far childless) a gigantic cardboard baby? He placed it on the piano and it gave the dog a nervous breakdown. Why did I foist upon my unsuspecting daughter, who has been pestering me for a puppy for 18 years, a handbag shaped like an armadillo? Why did I impose on my venerable far-right Republican friends in New York the shock and awe of a subscription to Private Eye? (Sue, we just dont get it.) Why, why, why?

Im always tempted to buy a goat for an African village, but how would you gift wrap it? (The village, obviously gift-wrapping the goat would be easy.) Desperate for inspiration this year, I turned to the Bible. Gold, frankincense and myrrh! Brilliant, stylish, cool! Although I bet Jesus had broken them by Boxing Day.

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