As readers may have noticed, Christmas is just around the corner. The festive lights in the Town Centre in Andover have been secured to the top floor of the shops, without anyone being jailed for breaching health and safety requirements. Stamps with a Christmas theme are on sale in those Post Offices which the Government has not so far closed. My Christmas cards – or rather, your Christmas cards - lie in a large pile, awaiting signature ; and an invitation to visit Andover Sorting Office at 5 in the morning, to admire the logistics of Royal Mail, is in the intray. Negotiations with brothers and sisters as to who will have our 90 year old aunt on Christmas Day are well under way.
A pressing problem, and one which grows each year due to the fertility of our children, is what to give the grandchildren for Christmas. This year’s answer to that problem has been to delegate it to the recipients, and to invite those capable of rational choice to Hamleys. This was done earlier in the month. Their instructions were to go round the shop, notepad in hand, and draw up a prioritised list of what they would be pleased to unwrap on Christmas Day. As befits a former Financial Secretary to the Treasury, I imposed cash limits on this exercise. The logic was to avoid giving the dear ones something they already had or something they didn’t want, as well as extending to country children an uplifting metropolitan retail experience.
Hamleys is a perfectly safe place for children, but dangerous for anyone over six foot. This is because this is the cruising level for the model aircraft that are being demonstrated. Within seconds of arriving at the ground floor, I was removing a rocket from my hair and returning it to mission control.
The first part of the exercise was a success. They spent an hour in the store without getting lost or arrested; but getting them out of Hamleys empty-handed on the day proved impossible – anyone with some insight into child psychology could have told me that. Some November stocking fillers had to be acquired and distributed for immediate consumption.
The lists then had to be run through the relevant parents. After all, they would have to read instructions; buy batteries; assemble and help operate; dispose of boxes; carry out repairs and then deliver consolation when the gift expired.
This is where there is an unresolved issue. The present of choice of grandson No 1 has significant space requirements. It looked compact enough in a box but, when assembled, it needs what the Germans call Lebensraum. It is turning out to be more expensive than I thought. He only gets his present, if I buy his parents a larger house.