Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Brave men trembled as horrific gifts went off the scale

Excess baggage: luggage scales

Who could do something like that? What twisted mind? Some evil genius who knew the effect such a thing would have on that day of all days.

Buy someone a car coat-hanger for Christmas, I mean. One that fits in a car on the back of the driver's head-rest, so that the aforementioned coat drapes down the back of the seat.

I know this to be true, because I met the hollow-eyed man who was visited by such a horror on Christmas day. Worse was that the mother-in-law who bought it for him was there when he had to open it.

His ability to resist a primeval howl of anguish must be one of the greatest displays of restraint since the Syrian saint Simeon stood for five years on a pillar in the desert to find spiritual purification.

The man, hands trembling, told this story to a gathering of others in the bar after our annual Boxing Day footie match. And, instead of talk of great matches of yesteryear, the long afternoon became a group therapy session. Men, it seems, are on the receiving end of presents the equivalent of which would almost certainly lead to divorce were they given to women. The drinks and the scarring stories flowed.

I went early. This year, I received portable luggage scales from a dotty/evil aunt. "Avoid excess baggage charges." "Weighs up to 32kgs." Why?

What reaction did she think there would be? Did she imagine cartwheels of joy from me on Christmas morn that never again would I have to pay an airline £30 for a book too many in my bag?

Mind you, she has form. Three years ago, she bought me England's Greatest 100 Goals. On VHS. With the goal fun ending in 1984 for contractual reasons. Kevin Keegan, bubble perm and all, was still notching.

But I was not the most traumatised that afternoon, dear reader. There were terrors we heard about that day which I do not know if I can pass on.

One poor unfortunate finally gathered courage to tell the hushed gathering that he had received Touchscreen Gloves. What in the name of Beezlebub are those, we demanded.

Appears they have a dual use of keeping your hands warm, while using your smartscreen in winter.

He told us the package boasted the gloves were made "of supersensitive conductive fibres, so you can type with any finger!" He insisted the exclamation mark was genuinely there.

Another man (I have to protect their indentities for obvious reasons) confessed that his wife (!!!) had bought him a USB drink-warmer that kept the tea hot while sitting at the computer.

Now stories were flowing. We heard of Blackberry cufflinks, magnetic wristbands for the DIYer worried about losing his nails, and musical bottle-openers.

One spoke of a book from a sister-in-law called 100 Things To Do In A Shed. Did it include inventing ways to exact revenge on cruel sisters-in-law, we wondered.

When another mentioned he once received a shoe-stretcher (offers relief for bunions, hammer toes, or corns) from his mother, who for years after would inquire of its whereabouts, we could take no more.

Finally, we said our goodbyes, disappearing into the gathering gloom, agreeing never to talk of these things again.

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