The Christmas Catalogue – Who dreams these things up?

Ah, early November and already ’tis the season of good cheer, and to be merry, and … to part with money.

We’ve had a rash of unsolicited catalogues encouraging us to dispense Christmassy cheer via our pockets.  Given that it has been the warmest October since time immemorial, and now it’s all a bit wet and soggy, none of us really feels particularly Christmassy, but we know it’s on the way.

We received one catalogue in particular that warrants further mention.  I shall not name it, for that would be telling, and also I would not wish to inflict it upon you, should you be ignorant of its inner joys. Hopefully you will manage to avoid it.

As is normal for these things, there are the usual Christmas trinkets, toys and treats.  There are cards, advent calendars, chocolates and couple of nice bits (I particularly like the mercury glass and the giant Kilner jar drinks-dispenser with chrome tap).

But, dear god, are there some horrors!

What, I wonder, can have been going through the designer’s and buyers’ minds with the silver-plated champagne cork keeper (£29.99).  Yes, a silvery cork shaped, er, sarcophagus, in which to keep your special-event commemorative champagne cork.  What do you do if you have more than one special event, at that price?  Intriguingly, there is a bit of trend in this publication for champagne cork shaped items: a door-stop; iPhone holder, a wine bottle cooler.

There are more equally bizarre or disturbing ‘gifts’, the most alarming of which must surely be the ‘mud destroyer’, a dog-shaped bag to put your muddy dog in, as if she were a pair of wellies.  Apparently you stick the dog in, its tiny, worried head sticking out the top, zip it up and I don’t know, watch it flail around, falling about screaming while it breaks its legs?  (£50 for a size small, to add to the vet’s bills).

There is a cake tin, with what appears to be an extra, tiny, cake tin attached.  I have to admit to being a bit confused by this.  It resembles a silicone thimble inserted into a hole in the ‘handle’ of the normal cake tin.  This is to be used as a ‘treat for the chef’ or to sample the cake without cutting into it.  But surely this micro cake will cook in minutes, if not seconds? I doubt it will resemble the big cake much at all after half an hour.  Perhaps the laws of physics are different for tiny cakes?  And don’t say that you can take it out after five minutes; we all know what happens to your bottom when your cake sinks in the middle after you opened the door too soon.

There are some expensive, but very tacky looking wraps and scarves trimmed in ‘recycled’ fox fur.  Recycled from what, I wonder?  A fox?  Very nasty.

Then, some peculiar long, thin hot water bottles (think fat eels), in a wool-and-a-tiny-bit of-cashmere cover (think fat eels in sleeves).  Yours for seventy quid!  I seem to remember seeing these on Dragon’s Den.  The Dragons all passed on them, and I can see why.

The gifts for men seem to be almost entirely based on booze, guns, knives or sport. Sometimes they’re silver plated, sometimes they are in disguise.  Like the silver stirrup cups nested in an oversized shotgun cartridge.

Or like the Cricket stumps loo roll holder.  A complete wicket, which can hold up to 10 rolls.  Or Star Wars tongs.  A set of BBQ tongs which double up as a light sabre.  Not a real one.

More on the theme of barbecuing, a personalisable steak brand!  Metal letters slide into a metal holder, like a tiny printing press, and you can spell out things – ‘Simon’s Steak’ – by branding them into the meat!  Things like ‘burnt to a crisp’, ‘it’s all greasy and stuck’ and ‘I burnt my fingers changing the bloody letters’.  Somebody actually makes these things.

But by far the best men’s ‘gift’ is a pair of silver ‘secret aspirin cufflinks’, in which you can secrete … your secret aspirins!  Just the job for emptying your secret aspirins into one too many glasses of wine before bed.  Sadly, the aspirins are not included.  Or perhaps they are really for your secret Rohypnol.

The children’s things all look hopeless to me, but I thought that about loom bands, so admit I’m not the best authority on what they would be happy to receive under the tree on Christmas morning.  But the glowing rabbit night light looks terrifying, and the tank-shaped egg cup with helmet cosy makes me a bit squeamish.  Surely no child can be impressed by that?

It strikes me that if we are having to stoop to giving this kind of crap to each other for Christmas, then we really are pitiable.  There is nothing in this catalogue which anyone needs, and not much that anyone would want.

It reminds me those awful ‘Secret Santa’ arrangements in the workplace, where everyone buys some sort of rubbish for one other person, wraps it, and delivers it to the victim at the office Christmas party.  A waste of time and natural resources.

If we can’t do better than this, then we should not do it at all.  Give something meaningful or useful, even just beautiful; give time or skills or give to charity.   We seem to have got mixed up about gift-giving, as though giving tacky goods is a substitute for giving love.

We protest that it’s just a bit of fun, and we shouldn’t be mean spirited, but we are being manipulated.   The pressure is on to make us give something, for fear of being branded a Scrooge.  So we give this rubbish, then it goes straight to the charity shop or in the bin.

So think twice about buying your brother-in-law a motor-bike pizza cutter or a personalised soup-dish, and offer to paint the shed instead.  That’s a real gift, and one that would be far more appreciated, just so long as you get round to doing it.