There’s someone outside.
Um. Run? Fight? Fight. FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT –
Oh. Oh, wait. It’s you.
From a distance, toiletries gift sets look like a totally logical gift choice. They’re about the right price. They come in pretty colours. They’re easy to wrap and when you’ve wrapped them, they look pleasing and substantial. Every Christmas you can guarantee at least one will pass through your household. Then you get a bit closer, and it all turns weird.
Take the box off the last toiletries gift set you got. (Go on. I’ll wait.) Now look at what you have. Some sort of soap. Some sort of soap application device, which takes up an unfeasible amount of room and doubles as a great place to culture spores, moulds and fungus. Some sort of cream to smear on yourself afterwards. A scent that may or may not suit you. A toiletries gift set is one of your relatives saying to you, with great conviction and sincerity, “YOU SHOULD SMELL LIKE THIS.”
To be clear, I don’t think it’s always wrong to tell someone how they ought to smell. When my husband buys me perfume (“YOU SHOULD SMELL LIKE MARC JACOBS DAISY”), I find it delightfully masterful. The implication that he will be sniffing my skin later and liking it is pretty damn sexy. I feel the same when I buy him aftershave (“YOU SHOULD SMELL LIKE HUGO BOSS”). It’s grooming and possessiveness and intimacy and nice expensive things, all topped off with a ribbon.
It’s just that it seems…kind of intimate. I’m not comfortable with the idea of dictating the fragrance of someone I wouldn’t get naked with. How have toiletries gift sets become the safe and socially-acceptable way to let relatives we see six times in a decade know that we’re thinking about them? And what does FCUK smell like anyway?
Oh, I know; I’m missing the point. The point is not the cream, the soap, the soap application device. The point is how these three things look when put together in their luxurious oversized carton, and the brief but beautiful thrill of the Christmas Shiny Thing. They’re about the beautiful fonts and the extravagant cut-outs and the gold embossing, and the way everything glitters under the Christmas lights when you unwrap them. They’re not meant to be examined at close quarters. I bet there were a lot of toiletries gift sets on the shelves of the Looking Glass shop.
Maybe this is why toiletries gift sets lend themselves so well to recycling. A few months ago, I won a toiletries gift set (“YOU SHOULD SMELL LIKE GRAPESEEDS AND POMEGRANATES”) at a Church tombola. When I got it home, I discovered it had not one, not two, but three scraps of sellotape, all complete with a residual coating of raffle-ticket, stuck at various spots on the box. I was clearly not the first person to win this toiletries gift set. It had spent time adorning many bathroom shelves, safe in its beautiful box, untouched and glittery and glorious. It was a gift set with history. And now that history included me. I liked that. I kept it for a while, then sent it on to the school fete to continue its journey.
Every year, I buy a toiletries gift set for my mother in law (“YOU SHOULD SMELL LIKE ROSES”), and every year, I feel guilty for not being more imaginative. My mother-in-law – who has already given me half of my husband and a quarter of my children – also buys me gifts that are genuinely awesome. She often buys me the second book in an ongoing series, because she sincerely believes I have read almost everything, and therefore must have read the first one. She buys me things with pictures of cats on, because I love cats. One year, she found a present she knew would be right in my gift-receiving sweet spot; an encyclopaedia of cat breeds. She is a gift-giver who really studies her audience and is not afraid to take risks.
And in return, I bottle out and buy her toiletries gift sets. She always seems pleased, but I always look at them and think, Could do better.
The week before Christmas 2015 found me at a garden centre with my two best friends and a killer hangover. Our office Christmas party had left me so uncoordinated that when I dropped my gloves on the floor, I burst into tears and begged my friend to pick them up for me. When I recovered from this, I found I was staring at a display of scented drawer liners.
My mother-in-law had recently bought herself a new chest of drawers. This was a gift item designed to go inside chests of drawers. They were in a pretty box. They were not a toiletries gift set. I didn’t even need to bend down to get hold of them. It was clearly meant to be.
When I came to wrap them, I was no longer hungover, and it occurred to me that scented drawer liners were potentially even more oddly intimate than the toiletries gift set that I had – of course – also bought for her. But by then it was Christmas Eve, and it was too late to change my mind. I watched as she unwrapped them. Were the scented drawer liners (“YOUR PANTS SHOULD SMELL LIKE THIS”) a step too far?
“These are wonderful!” she declared. “I didn’t even know you could still get them! Thank you so much! And they match my toiletries as well! Oh, how lovely! I am spoiled.”
Rose-scented toiletries gift set; £18.99. Rose-scented drawer-liners: £9.99. Getting my mother-in-law something that makes her feel spoiled at Christmas; priceless.
Of course, it’s possible she is just very good at faking happiness, and the drawer liners and the toiletries set will shortly become regulars on the Church Bazaar circuit. But when I hugged her, she smelled all warm and floral and delicious. It was the rose-scented toiletries I’d bought her last year.
Posted in Beautiful New Railway Bridge, The Part You Throw Away | Tagged a haiku about tuesday, beautiful new railway bridge, cassandra parkin, haiku, occasional terrible poetry, the part you throw away | 1 Comment »
This is the most poncey, self-indulgent, fuck-your-Noguchi-coffee-table hipster-crap thing I have ever done. AND YET I DO NOT CARE, because it makes me happy, damn it, and it was my birthday yesterday and I felt like I was allowed.
My favourite bit of my birthday was the books I got (Crafting With Cat Hair by Kaori Tsutaya from my husband, and The Wastewater Plant by Dodge Winston from my brother). My second favourite bit of my birthday was installing our new bookshelf / tchotchke-display area, and filling the best, most visible shelf with the following items:
To the left, books representing the writers and artists whose work has influenced me the most, plus a little model of a beach hut from my mum.
To the right, my author copies of my books, plus a seashell and an antique perfume bottle.
And in the centre, my beautiful retro typewriter (which, come to think of it, I still need to pay my friend for). This beautiful retro typewriter closely resembles the typewriter (at the time not beautiful and retro, but simply what there was) that I wrote my first novel on, when I was fifteen. The text on the paper is the first sentence of my first published novel, The Summer We All Ran Away.
No, I didn’t actually write “The Summer We All Ran Away” on a beautiful retro typewriter. I used a laptop like everyone else. Yes, I am aware this makes the whole thing even more pretentious than it was before. And I am not in the least little bit sorry. In fact I am rather proud of myself.
Furthermore, in a few weeks I will compound my ponceyness by adding my author copies of The Beach Hut, and switching up the first sentence on the typewriter. I can’t be 100% sure, but I don’t think I’ll be sorry then either.
What can I say? Sometimes you just have to do this stuff, in the full knowledge that you’re being ridiculous. But then you blog about it in a vaguely self-deprecating manner that you imagine gets you off the hook for doing these things. So that makes it okay. Maybe.
Also a teacake
AND YET WE ALL ACCEPT THIS AS REASONABLE
NO WONDER THE FRENCH HAVE NO RESPECT FOR US
HOW WAS THIS ALLOWED TO HAPPEN
THIS IS HOW SOCIETY ENDS. I’M NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT BUT THAT’S WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN
OH, AND HAPPY NEW YEAR AND THANKS TO ALL MY LOVELY FOLLOWERS. I PROMISE TO BLOG MORE THIS YEAR AND BE FUNNY AND STUFF.
My son takes an interest in Bear Grylls. Partly because he himself was almost called “Bear”; partly because Bear Grylls climbs big mountains and eats gross stuff on TV. But these days, it’s mostly because it has recently come to his attention that Bear Grylls proposed to his wife by pulling her engagement ring out from between his bum-cheeks while skinny-dipping.
My son thought this was awesome, because he is eight and it involves extensive discussion of the bum-cheeks of someone he admires, so of course he did. So awesome, in fact, that he decided to draw a picture of it.
He drew this at bedtime, while allegedly listening to me reading The Famous Five. I’m not sure why it’s meant to be read right to left, but maybe he was channeling his inner Manga artist.
As you can see, it comes in three distinct parts. The first part is the moment of the proposal:
There’s clearly some thought gone into this. It contains all the essential elements of a really good marriage proposal, as understood by an eight-year-old boy. Bear is down on one knee, because that’s the proper way to propose to someone. There’s some sort of disturbing phallic symbolism going on with Bear’s arms. The ring is gigantic (I bet Bear was glad to get that bad boy out from storage, Christ). His future wife is smiling, because she’s so happy to be proposed to. Naturally, she’s asking the question all newly-engaged women ask at such a moment: “Where did you get it!” And Bear, also smiling, proudly replies, “From my butt”.
I will admit that’s a much more memorable answer than “Beaverbrooks”.
By the way, my son and I are both painfully aware that he has spelt “Where” wrong. Sometimes in the white heat of artistic creation, these things slip through the net.
The next piece of the picture is a bit more mysterious:
My son’s best explanation of this is that it was “some of my homework that I had to cross out”, accompanied by the mysterious smile that means he doesn’t want to discuss it any further. As far as I can tell, it’s a picture of a pyramid with an eye on the top, and the inscription “50 gerfit” scrawled across the bottom. Maybe they were studying Masonic initiation rituals.
And now the final piece of the triptych, which shows Bear happily contemplating what he’s just achieved:
“I got my ring from my butt.” Well, yes you did, Bear. Yes you did.