Rowan with (lots of) popsicle sticks. Photos supplied.
When I was a child, we had no fridge, no telly and no
car. This was neither here nor there; we had our health. We
were not like the people in Monty Python who lived in a bag on
I was reminded of this on Christmas Day when I surveyed the
eight million (yes, I counted them) presents spread around
the tree, across the floor, up and over chairs and couches,
and dribbling down the drive to the street.
Excess! The Japanese word, I believe, for middle-class
materialism, even in savage fiscal times, the sort of times
most of us are living in right now.
Eight million presents! Think about this. Sure, most of them
were for the children. But do children need this many?
As a child, I used to get three or four, and the so-defined
Big Present was usually something I couldn't remember one
week later, except for the Gradidge Len Hutton cricket bat I
got in 1960. What a thing that was! I can still smell the
linseed oil. I fed it daily.
Various apocryphal Christmas present stories surfaced in the
days leading up to Christmas that illustrated my point -
children do not need 20 Big Presents and four million smaller
ones. The child in America who was asked what he wanted and
said an iPad or a whistle was the best. Probably a whistle,
he said. Brilliant. All children need is a whistle. They turn
their toys into whatever they want them to be. At 6, their
imaginations are finer than Clive Sinclair's. When our son
turned 5, we bought him a bike, and covered it with cardboard
boxes in the lounge to make it a surprise. Instead he saw the
old tattered cardboard boxes and immediately burst into
tears. Turns out the boxes formed an elaborate spaceship he
had been working on for hours the day before. The grandson,
Jude (3), was asked by Santa at Pixie Town what he wanted for
''Ten marbles,'' he replied. So he got 10 marbles. And
because we are materialistic and middle-class, we told Santa
about the lovely big retro boxes of marbles you can buy for
only $6 at Kmart, 150 marbles inside including some really
big ones, and Santa came through with those as well.
The other grandchild, Rowan (6), wanted some popsicle
sticks. He uses these to build weapons and battle craft, taping
the sticks together with my expensive gaffer tape, which I
learned about watching speaker stacks being stuck to rock 'n'
roll stages. Popsicle sticks are one of the few real bargains
out there; you can buy 100 for $3.
But there are no flies on Santa; he shops around. On
Christmas Day, Rowan received 2000 popsicle sticks. Only they
were called coffee stirrers. I didn't ask Santa the price,
but given the extent of cafe culture now, you can probably
get 2000 for around $20. Rowan and Jude got other magnificent
stuff too. They both got a bike, no cardboard boxes in sight.
But the power of the cheap present was inescapable.
When a relatively famous friend of ours turned 60 - let's
just call him Sam Neill so that all 60-year-olds will be
considered likely subjects of this story - we gave him a $25
goat. You fill in an online form and a village somewhere in
Africa or Iceland gets a goat, which will feed them for a
year. Other classless friends gave Sam Gibson electric
guitars and La-Z-Boy recliners made from Belgian silver. We
gave him a $25 goat.
''I will visit it,'' said Sam. And this man travels widely.
I got a teddy. Honest, I truly did. We saw one in an op shop
that almost called out to me, like an abandoned SPCA kitten,
and I mentioned to my wife I had never had a teddy. Ever. She
must have gone back and bought it, for $4. I love it so much
and, yes, I sleep with it. You know, it's time we cut those
Christmas presents DOWN.