Perfect Present Pressure

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38 tabs open. Wishlists and wishlists and wishlists. Every Black Friday deal scoured and every RRP scorned. ‘Tis the season. Time to find the perfect gift for every man, woman and child in the land. And, blimey, are some of you hard to buy for.

My compulsion to get The Perfect Gift™ for everyone is exhausting. And it’s not your fault. You’re great. I know you’d pretend to like it even if I were to get you a gift voucher for Build-A-Bear.

It’s me. I’m doing this to myself.

Every year, without fail, I’ll waltz into a department store to pick up something specific and I’ll be overwhelmed by a flood of aggressive marketing: was/nows and 3 for 2s and cashbacks and WHAT DID I EVEN COME IN HERE FOR?!

I’ll be suckered into every deal going if I’ve got a person in mind for it. I’m weak. And once I’ve bought one Perfect Gift™, that’s it! That’s the game. Over. Because I couldn’t possibly get something this perfect for Emma and not somehow materialise a gift equally fitting for Hannah and Laura and Claire.

So, the search then begins to match whatever probably-quite-high bar I’ve started with. A combination of rush purchases and over-thought buys will be laid out across my bedroom floor, with an internal monologue debating the virtues of each potential gift matched up with each person. There’ll be switches. There’ll be notes-to-self highlighting notable gift gaps, or perhaps those ideas that are feeling a little below par because, actually, does Laura even like [insert giant generic franchise here] anymore? And, naturally, there’ll also be a formal present pile analysis to manage relative generosity from person to person, because every loved one must feel precisely the same amount of joy this festive season.

This dramatic escalation of retail chaos typically occurs by mid-November, by the way, leading to an overly-prepped and ultimately disappointing Black Friday weekend where I attempt to fill in all of those aforementioned gift gaps – or close the deal on pre-made purchasing decisions. You add 30 items to your wishlist for easy deal-watching and you’d think at least one of them would be reduced at some point, right? Wrong.

By Cyber Monday, reduced or not, the last wave of buying has to begin if I want to be truly assured that all of those internet orders will arrive in time. Accordingly, the biggest annual assault on my bank balance then takes place during those twilight hours of an all too manic Monday.

But that’s okay.

It’s okay because, other than one slightly dubious call for a brother unwilling to drop a single hint, I think – I think – I’ve nailed it.

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A Christmas Day in the Life

IMG_177208:00 – My alarm. Pavlovian instinct dictates that if I hear the Marimba tone in any other context, it induces violent rage. I’m so angry at Marimba. The worst thing is I can’t change it because I once set my alarm to my favourite song for about a week and then realised that it was the quickest way to turn love to hate, so changed it back to Marimba. I will live the rest of my mornings in this Marimba hell.

08:06 – Oh, actually… is it Christmas? I could be into that.

08:10 – My dad knocks to check for signs of life. “On for Parkrun?” he asks. I say yes but it goes against every instinct. (It was my idea but 9.2k two days earlier had unexpectedly done me in a bit.)

08:30 – My mum persuades me to wear a Santa hat. I’m skeptical. Festive cheer still buffering.

08:50 – My dad, who is usually unable to do Parkruns due to coaching commitments, has arrived at Poole Park and runs away from my mum, my brother and I. He proceeds to skip and jog and do other charmingly bizarre warm-up exercises. He’s making no bones about how seriously this is being taken. The three of us watch, a little entertained and a little embarrassed. Bless.

09:00 – WHY AM I DOING THIS?

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09:10 – (Louder this time.) WHY AM I DOING THIS?

09:20 – I feel very aware of every ache and pain in my body. The sensation runs head-to-toe. Particularly toe. However, it also makes me feel like a brilliant, powerful musk ox.

09:24 – Nearly over. Nearly over. Nearly over.

09:27 – Over.

10:30 – Back at home, I’m feeling too lazy to shower. It’s just so much effort. It’s 15 minutes of heaven followed by an hour of pulling my hair out. I begin to wonder if I should cut my long hair off and return to the unflattering bob that carried me through high school. Maybe it would do for me what it’s done for Taylor Swift. No, I decide. I have to be game ready if ever HAIM need a stand-in.

10:40 – I should move.

11:00 – I am overwhelmed with the biggest wave of cba and look for ways to stall drying my very wet hair and putting my makeup on and, you know, generally turning myself into a human.

12:00 – My self-esteem has sky-rocketed since I last checked in. It’s at least 47% because of the fact that I’m wearing red lipstick.

12:03 – No one, other than my immediate family, will get to appreciate the effort I just went to. The only pictures taken of me today will be makeup-less, running shots. I open Photobooth with shameless urgency. THIS EFFORT MUST BE DOCUMENTED.

Documentation of effort.

Documentation of effort.

12:04 – I post my Photobooth picture. I have now balanced out the makeup-less pictures of me running. The internet has found equilibrium once again. Praise you, Photobooth.

12:10 – I go downstairs to show off the masterpiece I just painted onto my face. My dad doesn’t look up from his guitar as I pass him in the living room. My mum turns around, amidst her deluge of roasting and boiling and chopping, to comment, “Oh, you look lovely.”

12:15 – I’m beginning to wonder if the time I spent perfecting my red lipstick was worth it for, “Oh, you look lovely.” I’m forced to face the harsh reality that Christmas dinner will undoubtedly ruin the aesthetic. I should care about something more important.

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13:00 – The dinner isn’t ready but no one told my stomach. I am now loitering with intent. I sense my mother wants more space than I’m giving.

13:25 – There’s no sign of dinner yet but I’m sat at the table in a hope that this will adequately convey my eagerness and hurry things up. My stomach is making noises.

13:30 – I gobble up the starter like I just came off a detox or something. Prawn cocktail hits the very 70s spot. 10/10, would recommend to friend. Solid start.

13:45 – There is a painful wait between courses but I try to keep my urgent appetite under wraps. My brother and I end up in a discussion about the family hierarchy, in which my brother gets placed fifth. He questions why he is fifth in a family of four, to which I reply, “You’re fifth, Dad’s fourth, Mum’s third and the hypothetical family dog is second. The dog loses first place on the basis that it’s only a potentiality. If the dog was real it would be first, second, third and fourth.” He accepts this.

14:00 – We begin our main.

14:15 – Mum, Dad and I finish our Christmas dinner. Callum soldiers on.

14:20 – Callum’s still eating. We wait patiently, all stuffed.

14:35 – He’s still chewing on his beef. (We don’t eat turkey.)

14:40 – I suggest that when my brother eventually finishes eating, we relocate to the lounge to let our main course go down before dessert. My body does not respond well to being tested. Even the most delicious dessert fails to appeal when you’re full to capacity. I think any further information on this topic might be considered, in some cultures, “too much information”. You can expect many essays on this subject in my upcoming non-fiction book, ‘I Wish I Hadn’t Said Anything’.

14:53 – Nearly three o’clock. We begin unwrapping presents. I think we all feel a little bit smug about our restraint. I certainly feel smug. That’s not unusual.

14:55 – My dad selects my first present as I say, “Make it a good’un!” He goes for the one that is most obviously a box of chocolates. I must remind myself of the true meaning of Christmas, which, as an atheist, ambiguously resembles the American’s Thanksgiving tradition from what I can tell (turkey, more people than the dinner table can fit, etc.). I am feeling particularly guilty about my atheism during the Christmas period, not least because I ate a month’s worth of advent chocolate from a ‘Real Advent’ advent calendar detailing the ‘Story of Christmas’. (If I’m honest, the story hasn’t been updated since last year so it wasn’t really a page-turner. If you’re looking for twists, stick to Gone Girl.)

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My brother chose this necklace for me because “it looks like Twitter and you’re obsessed with Twitter.”

15:05 – My brother surprises everybody with the unprecedented amount of effort gone into his presents (though, not his wrapping). My mum, dad and I are all as much shocked as grateful. Probably more shocked. Callum really stepped up his Christmas game this year. Such moments in my younger brother’s life tend to live on forever, so we will probably still be talking about Callum’s Big Christmas in the year 2053. I’m okay with that, though. So long as we also remember how bloody slowly he ate his dinner. I mean, really! (When reached for comment, Callum had this to say: “The beef was chewy.”)

15:12 – I unwrap BJ Novak’s One More Thing. Everybody asks me who BJ Novak is.

15:23 – My mum unwraps the new Take That album – a gift from me. She remarks on the backwards nature of the exchange given the many Christmases that I had Take That albums and concert tickets bestowed on me. “How the turntables…” I say in response. It falls flat. After a pause, my dad quietly tells me, “It’s, ‘How the tables have turned’, Jess.” I may have over-Gilmored.

15:35 – I unwrap a Parks and Recreation boxset, The Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy and gladly thank my mother for generously giving me all of Chris Pratt’s 2014 filmography. Sorry Jesus, it was Pratt who put the Chris into Christmas this year, buddy.

15:50 – We bask in the glow of Christmas lights and unwrapped presents.

16:10 – Dessert. My mum asks if I want my chocolate brownie gateaux heated up a little. I say yes. Heated up is always better.

16:12 – No, it’s not. The cake seems to have shrunk and liquified. We’ve made a strategic error.

16:13 – Tastes okay, though.

16:14 – My brother smugly savours his chocolate cheesecake, undamaged from microwave misadventures, as he looks on from the other end of the dinner table. Damn you, demon boy.

16:20 – We watch The Lego Movie together, at my suggestion. Even my brother is in for a viewing party. My dad is confused within about 20 seconds. No one attempts to help him. We all know it’d be fruitless.

16:25 – EVERYTHING IS AWESOME. EVERYTHING IS COOL WHEN YOU’RE PART OF A TEAM.

18:15 – I go next door to visit my nan, who is particularly taken with my nail polish. This has long been my biggest talking point with family members outside of the Kennedy core four. It’s a relief. It’s infinitely preferable to university- or career-related questions. Yes, let’s talk about the manicure I gave myself. My granddad is forcibly pulled into the conversation and nods his befuddled approval.

19:15 – I head back to the house for the Miranda Christmas special, ready to curl up with comedy. Soon, I realise that it’s rather light on the funnies but stick with it out of curiosity.

19:45 – They’re crying and I’m confused about it.

19:50Call The Midwife comes on as I attempt to piece together what just happened on Miranda. Given that I rather enjoyed the last Call The Midwife Christmas episode, I indulge myself. Also, I once met the nun-cum-not-a-nun-anymore on a tube so I feel some degree of loyalty towards this show.

20:00Call The Midwife is tedious so I opt to look over my presents more thoroughly. Picking up Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, I begin to thumb through it, eventually reading the preface casually and then all of a sudden it’s…

22:37 – …and I’m 150 pages in. Downton is on in the background (equally tedious, even longer running time). Amy’s so hilarious, I think to myself with a sigh of admiration. Oh, Amy, you poetic, noble land mermaid.

22:40 – My mum tells me she loves me and remarks upon what a nice day it’s been. We are all impressed by my brother’s sunny disposition.

22:42 – My mum repeats that she loves us. I think my dad is asleep. Either that or there’s a pneumatic drill nearby.

22:43 – Gushing continues. My mum notices the chapter title, “Humping Justin Timberlake” but says nothing.

22:48 – Poehler’s still hilarious. It feels ever so slightly weird to be reading her sex advice chapter while sat next to my mother while she watches Downton Abbey, but I work through it.

22:51 – I momentarily stop reading because Carson proposes to Mrs Hughes. I don’t care about Downton, but I think everyone can agree they were the real love story of that show. Maybe it’ll be like Moonlighting, I muse; now they’re together, the show will lose all its appeal. Then I remember it’s been terrible for years.

22:52 – Maybe it was never good.

23:45 – It has come time for bed. I attempt to gather my presents but, delightfully, there are too many to take in one load. My dad helps out and I’m soon arranging my newly unwrapped presents on my bedroom floor like I’m keeping them there on display. I am like a six-year-old child, standing over my haul of gifts. I feel mighty.

00:00 – I think it might have been my favourite Christmas yet. Casual and quiet with the core four. In the words of Amy Poehler, YES PLEASE THANK YOU.

Things To Do For Christmas

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Holidays are coming. Holidays are coming. Holidays are coming…

  1. Wear as many festive jumpers as you possibly can. I’m talking fairisle, reindeers, snowmen, snowflakes. This is one the time of year when garish is good. Capitalise on that. Keep warm and carry on.
  2. For all those people who hate festive jumpers, buy them one for Christmas. If they want to Scrooge it up, throw some tinsel around their necks and blast Michael Buble’s Christmas album at them. No time for grumps. You don’t want to be friends with someone who won’t go festive.
  3. Instagram every fucking Starbucks you buy in December. Not that you needed my encouragement. Go on, you bunch of sheep. Seriously, I had so many pictures of their festive cup when they brought it back that it was my entire Instagram timeline. I almost forgot the true purpose of Instagram: pictures of sunsets.
  4. WRITE CARDS PROPERLY. Don’t half-ass Christmas. This holiday season is a time for whole-assing. If you’re like me and you have under 30ish cards to write, write a damn card. I’m not talking about “Hi Beyonce, Merry Christmas, Love Jess xoxo”. Write some feelings down. Tell people they’re great (they really like it). Tell people you miss them. Tell people the same joke you’ve been telling when you see them every single day (no, but Heather, what have you done today to make you feel proud? …Sorry Heather). I think cards can mean a lot and how often do you write to someone by hand? Take this opportunity.
  5. Rest your writing hand, because of all the carpal tunnel you got from following suggestion #4, by using your other hand to change the channel from Christmas special to Christmas special. There’s so much bloomin’ telly on the box in December, your hands will be equally tired by the grueling Christmas schedule by C-Day dinner.
  6. Avoid buying anything bath-related items for people you don’t really know that well but still have to buy a gift for. They’ve never used the set of bath salts you got them in 2006, nor the bath bomb of ’08, nor the body lotion of 2010. They use the products that they buy for themselves every week at Tesco. At least if it’s chocolate, they’ll actually get eaten. But do try to be creative and fun in your gifting. It always shows. Also, getting smellies always reads as, “I know I don’t see you that often but when I do, you bloody stink.”
  7. Deck the halls with tacky baubles, tra-la-la-la-laa la-la-la-la. In all seriousness, I do expect 3,000 fairy lights and a giant inflatable Santa to decorate the front of your house. Don’t let me down. If people aren’t confusing your home for Santa’s grotto, you haven’t tried hard enough.
  8. Put your gifts ON the tree. Cliff said so.
  9. Leave a mince pie out for Santa (with Rudolph’s carrot). Dude’s come a long way to give you your presents. It’s the least you could do.
  10. Show gratitude. Both when you get that perfect present and when someone’s missed the mark (but tried!). If you, like me, get to sit around the tree with family opening presents before a three course festive feast, you’ve got nothing to complain about. Let those thank yous spill out faster than the mulled wine.

Merry Christmas! And to all those who don’t celebrate Christmas… Happy Holidays!

The 10 Best Websites for Creative Gift-Giving

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I’m obsessed with gifts! And while I might be a materialistic brat from time to time, in this case I’m referring to the giving  of ’em (a halo appears). A lot of my friends have fangirl indulgences, so I have that advantage, but it’s important to me that I give presents that are thoughtful and personal. I thought I’d share a few of the websites that I use when it comes to the big search, before the lead-up to Christmas properly kicks in.

And yes, I have already purchased present number one. The dam broke.

1. Etsy

We’ll get this one out of the way first. Etsy is my most-used website when it comes to gift-giving. Not only does it have an incredible range of unique, handmade products, but they are made to a really high standard. Whether it’s for my parents’ silver wedding anniversary, a nerdy birthday gift or a yearning for some really exceptional typography design, Etsy never lets me down. It’s also a really easy-to-search site and you can set it to only show items that ship to the UK. Take it from me, you shouldn’t go getting attached to things you can’t have.

Rec: PopArtPress (use the coupon code SAVETWO to get $2 off!)

Pros: Biggest range and best quality.

Cons: US-based so shipping can often be a little startling. Always look into shipping when purchasing – often ‘buy extra item’ deals can help. Also: you may fall into a never-ending search spiral, not unlike when you’re “just going to watch ONE Youtube clip”. Sure, sure.

2. Folksy

Folksy is kind of the UK equivalent to Etsy. While its range is somewhat more limited, and if you’re looking for nerdy gifts (as I so often am) it’s not quite so good, Folksy shipping prices are low for UK residents and there’s still a really nice range of goodies. One of my favourite stores on Folksy, which I first found at a market, is ‘Framedup’. They sell lego versions of a number of iconic film and TV characters in frames. If that does not sound excellent to you then maybe we can’t be friends. A LEGO WOODY AND BUZZ. THAT IS FRIENDSHIP, OKAY.

Rec: Framedup.

Pros: Low-price shipping.

Cons: Limited choice, when compared to Etsy.

 3. YourDesign.co.uk

This is a photo-printing website, where you can personalise items including mugs, hoodies, shirts, phone cases, bags and more. I’ve only got experience buying a few of their products, but it’s the most reasonable price/quality ratio that I’ve found. This is where I would recommend you look if you want to create personalised items for friends.

Similar: Zazzle, Vistaprint, Printster, Snapfish.

Pros: Reasonable prices, decent quality, nice selection of personalisation options.

Cons: You’ll get a higher quality product at VistaPrint, but the prices there become unreasonable when postage and packaging is added in.

 4. Society6

Society 6 is great. They have free shipping deals about once a month, and the designs are works of art. A lot of the presents I buy are nerdy gifts, and Society6 is a great place for that – Firefly, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, The West Wing, The Office. It’s fun to give my friends presents that are covered in pop culture references relevant to their interests. Society6 is perfect for all of that, but it also has more abstract designs if you just want to give someone a distinctive print – for t-shirts, vests, iPhone covers, wall art, tote bags etc.

Pros: Shipping to the UK isn’t too bad, but wait until they have free shipping deals if you can. They’re relatively frequent.

Cons: It doesn’t have a perfect search system. I’m pretty sure it only picks up title words. Keywords, people. Tags? Even instagram has hashtags. Step it up!

 5. Red Bubble

This is a more comprehensive collection than any other print t-shirt design site online. It’s not ridiculously pricey, but it works out a little more than Society6. As well as t-shirts, you can also get stickers, iPhone cases, posters, cards and hoodies. The designs on this website are really impressive, and make a lot of official merchandise look amateur. Again, this is best-suited to nerdy gifting. Whether you want a Pikachu Potter, Joss jokes or just have a penchant for all things Parks, there’s a wide range of cool designs for all.

Pros: I GET LOST IN ALL THE DESIGNS.

Cons: I GET LOST IN ALL THE DESIGNS. So much choice has become too much choice.

 6. Wicked Clothes

The designs are simple but the slogans are gr9. I really love this website. I’m lucky enough to have lovely friends who do lovely things which include buying me lovely sweatshirts from WickedClothes, so I review this particular site as a gift receiver, not giver. Definitely check out the collection though, if not just to admire the pretty.

Pros: Great quality and fun, cool designs. I mean, cool to me. Probably not cool by the most traditional definition.

Cons: Pricey.

 7. Black Milk

They sell Harry Potter leggings. LEGGINGS. They sell Harry Potter swimming cozzies. SWIMMING COZZIES. Guys. I’m not even into Harry Potter enough to buy any of their Hogwarts collection, but damn it’s cool. This website is also damn pricey, but the designs are not just fangirl fine – they’re fashionable. You have to have far more swagger than I will ever have to carry a lot of them off, but if I ever spot a person in a Marauders Map dress, they get an auto high-five.

Pros: The designs are fashionable????

Cons: You still probably aren’t cool enough to pull them off, and you’ve paid over £50+ for the pleasure. Nevertheless, if I am ever wealthy enough, everyone goes home with a shooter of their Hogwarts house that Christmas.

 8. Firebox

Firebox has a real variety of gift ideas, and is at the very least a good start to the brainstorm. I also think this is one of the better sources of inspiration for bloke presents. I take great pleasure in hunting for gifts for my female friends (especially the fangirls), but the men in my life are a mystery come Christmas. Check out the Top 50 as a place to start. Also: if you don’t have a friend who would rock those unicorn slippers, get new friends.

Pros: Ideas for everyone, and some that are out of left field.

Cons: Not the widest selection ever, and some stuff is expensive so keep an eye on the prices while you’re looking.

 9. Lovely Jojos

This is a really small website, that I found after seeing them at a market stall. A friend and I fell in love with their ‘We Love You London’ print, which is simply magnificent. We had the brilliant opportunity to examine all the detail of it in person. Had I the money, I’d have hastily snapped it up for said friend. There are some other really nice items available, and if you’re looking for something unique for a friend it might be a nice place to start. Their card designs are priced at £2.75.

Pros: Unique and fun designs! It’s nice to know that no one will be giving the same gift as you.

Cons: HELP ME I’M POOR.

 10. Custom Made

They have a really pretty website to go with their really pretty designs. The necklaces are where it’s at. They’re as cute as anything you’ll find on Etsy, and UK-based. A particular favourite of mine is the lightning bolt, but everything that they sell has a real charm about it.

Pros: If you have a friend obsessed with owls (and doesn’t everybody?) then this is your moment.

Cons: Only a limited range of products.

If you have any similar great gifting websites or have any further tips on the subject, then leave a comment because I’m always on the lookout for more. Thank you, and happy shopping! Sorry for being that person, bringing up Christmas in September. It’s just really cold in my house. I’m wearing fleece!