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I'm ashamed to admit I once bought my wife a last-minute present from a petrol station. But at least it wasn't a windscreen wiper
23:54 GMT, 20 December 2012
This is the first festive season of my adult life when I can peer down my nose at most of my fellow men with a deliciously smug feeling of superiority. For with four whole days still to go until the 25th, I’ve already done all my Christmas shopping.
Well, when I say all of it, I should perhaps make it clear that for the past 32 years, I’ve had to buy presents for only one person.
It’s that person, whom I married in 1980, who has bought all the rest — for my parents, grandmother and aunt, when they were alive, for her mother (still happily with us), my three siblings, our four sons, her four sisters, our 15 nephews and nieces, friends, colleagues and neighbours and our ever-expanding regiment of great-nephews and great-nieces.
Panic buy: 47 per cent of men will finally get round to buying gifts on Christmas Eve – with almost a third buying presents at all-night petrol stations
Don’t ask me precisely how large my extended family is at the moment, because I’m bound to get it wrong. But the great thing is, I know somebody who knows —and if the carrier bags piling up in our bedroom for the past month are any guide, everyone will get something on the day.
So, as usual, I’ll be basking in the gratitude of a small army, overwhelmed by my generosity and thoughtfulness.
Me: ‘Wow! What a great present, Johnny. Who gave you that’
J: ‘You did, Dad. It’s fantastic.’
Me: ‘Did I Oh yes, of course. Well, um, I knew you’d like it.’
Now, before you tell me I have nothing to boast about, and much to be ashamed of, I’d like to point out that even my apparently modest achievement of buying one present, with four days to spare, sets me apart from half the male population of this country. For as of yesterday morning, these slackers hadn’t so much as begun their Christmas shopping.
A survey of 2,000 adults by Hertz, the car rental firm, finds that 47 per cent of men will finally get round to it on Christmas Eve — with almost a third buying presents at all-night petrol stations, when Father Christmas is already halfway through his rounds.
I must say it came as a relief to discover that I’m not the only one. For until this year, I left it until the very last moment to buy that single present on my list.
I’m ashamed to admit that one memorable year, I, too, sneaked off in desperation to the 24-hour garage on December 24 to buy an 11th-hour box of chocolates, just so that my poor wife would have something to open on the day.
Organised: Men are ingrained procrastinators, while women can be much more relied upon to plan and prepare for Christmas weeks ahead
At least I wasn’t one of the two per cent of fearless men who say they’ve bought windscreen wipers for their loved ones at Christmas. But, believe me, I wasn’t popular that year.
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It’s not that I didn’t care, really it wasn’t. Indeed, every year I’ve wanted to buy my wife something special that she’ll love. It’s just that I suffered a psychological block about getting down to the task — perhaps something to do with being a journalist, I told myself, since so many of us find it impossible to deliver a word until the deadline has passed and the sub-editors are threatening to smear our entrails across the newsroom.
So what a joy it is to discover that I’m not such a freak, after all, and that gift-buying patterns may just be another of those fundamental differences between the male and female of the human species, with roots buried deep in our caveman past.
Now that I look into the matter, I see there’s plenty more evidence to support Hertz’s finding that men are ingrained procrastinators, while women can be much more relied upon to plan and prepare for Christmas weeks ahead.
Year after year, department stores report that sales of menswear — particularly sweaters — increase sharply in the second week of December, while womenswear doesn’t start to pick up until towards the end of the third. I may be wrong, of course, but in my experience people tend to buy clothing for members of the opposite sex. So the sales patterns strongly suggest that women get cracking earlier.
Another difference, which we’ve all surely noticed, is that women tend to be more imaginative present-buyers than their other halves.
What does it say about my sex that, every December, the biggest sellers in the women’s fashion and accessories departments are handbags and perfumery I hang my head when I remember how many handbags and bottles of scent I’ve bought for my wife, when all inspiration has failed me.
In defence of men, however, I reckon we fall back on old reliables because women are so hard to please.
Give me a sweater for Christmas and, no matter how ill-fitting or hideous it is, I’ll wear it until it disintegrates. But give my wife any item of clothing she’s not quite sure about — wrong colour, too old for her, too young, a millimetre too tight or too loose — and she’ll take it straight back to the shop. Either that, or the next time I see it, it’ll be adorning a sister or a niece. One year, in an attempt to be original, I bought my wife an aromatherapy kit, with an electric fan and bottles of exotic oils. A bit different, I thought, and a nice little luxury for her. Not particularly cheap, either.
All done… and a whole half an hour before everyone wakes up to open them
But I’ll never forget her look of anger and hurt when she opened it — though I still can’t fathom what was so wrong with it. All I know is that a pair of windscreen wipers would have gone down better.
What I can say with absolute certainty is that if men were left in charge of the preparations, there would be a great many households in the UK where Christmas simply wouldn’t happen in any recognisable form. In my family, the presents would be unbought, the cards unwritten, the turkey unordered, the cake unbaked . . .
I know I’ll get into terrible trouble for saying all this. Indeed, earlier this month the Advertising Standards Authority received more than 150 complaints about a Morrisons’ commercial, depicting a harassed mum doing all the work at Christmas. The charge against the supermarket was that it was ‘reinforcing outdated gender stereotypes’.
But are they really outdated I reckon Morrisons’ advertisers have a cast-iron defence that their portrayal of the average family Christmas is 100 per cent true.
If men were left in charge of the preparations, there would be a great many households in the UK where Christmas simply wouldn't happen
Wildly unfashionable though it may be to point this out, it’s a fact of life that men and women are just different, in countless ways — and this is one of them. To me, it seems wholly unrealistic of our legislators devote so much of their energy to pretending that differences between the sexes don’t exist.
I’m not thinking only of the attempt to redefine marriage as an institution in which the participants’ gender is irrelevant. Nor of the law which bans us from raising our eyebrows when Mr Upton returns to his teaching job in a primary school as Miss Meadows (though, goodness, how confusing for the children).
At midnight last night, we saw the ultimate retreat from reality when the insurance industry was banned by the EU from differentiating between men and women.
You can argue with my belief that women are congenitally better adapted than men to preparing for Christmas. But what nobody can deny is the actuarial fact that women, on average, live longer than men and have fewer car accidents.
Yet because of this new law from la-la-land, many women will have to pay about 300 a year more for their car insurance, while men’s annuities will yield up to 10,000 less over the lifetime of a policy. In theory, each sex will gain on the swings what it loses on the roundabouts. In fact, of course, insurers will seize on the law as another excuse to rip everybody off, as they always have.
Oh, well. After conquering my masculine side over the shopping, at least I’m readier than I’ve ever been for Christmas — although, knowing my luck, those Mayans will prove right about the world ending today, and my heroic effort will have been in vain.
If they’re wrong, I wish you all a happy one.