Saturday, 10 January 2015

A Time of Gifts

In our family, it’s become a tradition to make presents for our parents. This ends up happening three times a year – Christmas, birthdays, and mother’s/ father’s day. In recent years, occasionally the realisation that one or the other of these dates is looming quicker than expected is met with a cry of “bugger” and some hiding away until I’ve finished scribbling a poem, or something similar. Unsurprisingly, lots of my offerings these days are rather wordy. I’ve done villanelles, short stories, essays and lots in between. The one thing I miss about uni is not being able to read them aloud myself – relying on email instead, as I’m never organised enough to pop them in the post.

My brother, however, is the visual one. He’s been doodling away for years, and is prodigiously good with a fine-line pen. His cartoons, often poking gentle fun at my dad (the usual status quo in our family), are a bit of a highlight. We’ve been telling him for ages that he should think about doing designs for mugs/ t-shirts/ cushions/ face tattoos (ahem, maybe not the last). So you can imagine the thrill when I unwrapped this at Christmas – his drawings transferred onto a fair-trade, organic cotton (!) tee, specially personalized for me.

And look, look! Not only does it have coffee and a pen and a snazzy high heel on it, but - my personal favourite - a little banner proclaiming ‘equal rights’. This is the cherry on an already beautiful cake – and almost definitely testament to the number of times I’ve ended up talking with/ at him about feminism. He’s a much better informed fourteen year old than I was… (and occasionally comes out with an absolute gem of a sentence about gender, that just makes me want to hug him and say “my work here is done!”)

It’s incredibly special to receive a gift where the giver has truly thought about it – whether that means it’s been custom-made, or bought on whim because it was so perfectly apt. One of my friends at sixth form made me several mix-tapes (ok, playlists, but ‘mix-tapes’ sounds better), interspersing the songs with commentary. Amusingly, as I still have these on my iPod, occasionally the shuffle mode yields a little snippet of him cracking jokes or giving somewhat imaginative summaries of particular bands – his (then) seventeen year old voice spilling out into the kitchen as I cook. It’s either that, or Alan Bennett reading Alice in Wonderland. I’m not sure which I prefer, especially when sandwiched in between The Kinks and Goldfrapp.

In fact, I seem to have a bit of a track record (ha, ha) with music now – especially, in recent years, with records themselves. Whether it’s a re-issue of Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left (one of my favourite albums ever – and it’s so pretty!) or James Brown being all sexy and brilliant on Live at the Apollo, it’s more than gratifying that my friends know me well enough to buy me vinyl I’ll truly value.

One of the other particularly extraordinary things I received at the end of last year was a record of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love. I’d idly mentioned to a friend that I only had a CD version, and, lo and behold, several months later I was ripping off the paper and screeching (in a rather quiet coffee shop) at the special edition, with marbled pink vinyl. As well my appreciation for the item itself, it was also the way in which a comment I’d made in passing, without thought, had spooled back again, been picked up on, led to action. It was utterly and unexpectedly lovely.

It’s such fun giving these kinds of presents too, whether they’re an in-joke that only a particular friend would understand, something carefully put together with a specific individual in mind, or (another favourite recourse) giving books that you love so much yourself, you want to share them with others who you know will similarly ‘get’ them. 

I’m back in Oxford now, and the t-shirt my brother made for me took pride of place in my suitcase. It’s a little like walking around with a resume or summary of myself on my chest, but maybe that’s no bad thing… At least people will know I’m bloody keen on equal rights.

The fabulous t-shirt was here worn with a polo-neck (theme of 2015 it seems), a second hand maxi-skirt I was given for Christmas, and accessories from a charity shop. I tried to match my shoes as closely as possible to the one drawn on the tee.

I also recently wrote a little piece for Guardian students talking about status games, popularity and concepts of 'cool' at university. You can read it here


Kailey said...

This post is so, so beautiful and perfectly captures how I've been feeling regarding how amazing gifts can be when paired with the meaning or person behind it.

I turned 21 on the 25th of last month, and to mark the occasion my older sister bought candy from our childhood, mermaid dolls, and more - and then arranged them into a basket, covered it in cellophane and stuck a huge, pink bow on it! It was something only a person incredibly close to me could have thought of - after as a child I would always say I wanted one of those big easter baskets but we could never afford them - and I will cherish it.

I love the examples you have set out too - the mixtapes your friend gave you that still pop up on your iTunes, a marbled (!) pink vinyl, and of course, the shirt! That is so darling! I have a 14 year old brother too, and it amazes me how smart and big he's gotten :') <3

Hannah McManus said...

This is lovely, your brother is very talented and I think it's a great family tradition of yours to give handmade gifts, they definitely have a lot more sentimental value and seem far more special!
Hannah x


The tradition in your family is lovely. I think your creative brother has illustrated and highlighted you quite well with the organic cotton Tee. I love making gifts--it's always the best when someone really puts much thought into it. We occasionally make music compilations for each other in our family, and then my parents do the same, my father has an epic vinyl collection that I just love! Congratulations on owning the Kate Bush album, I'm sure it's magical.

I also like your maxi skirt and jewellery, this elongated silhouette is just beautiful!

Melanie said...

This is a brilliant T-shirt. Your brother is a winner indeed to give you such a thoughtful, delightful gift. I love the way you've up-styled it here. If you're not completely comfortable wearing a summary of who you are on your chest, ha, maybe you could think of it as a summary of who your brother is? Or perhaps a combo.

Juliet Polilova said...

So in love with your skirt!
Very nice blog by the way :)

Kisses from Russia,

Ivana Split said...

what a lovely tradition! I always say that hand made presents are the best ones.

A drawing of me, work of my 4 year old nephew, is the only thing that hangs on my fridge (not really customarily for us to hang things there) and it get shown to every person who visits my home- I really must publish it on my blog's bloody brilliant.

And speaking of my nephew, he wrote me a poem yesterday that goes like this " my she-thief, rabbits jumps, elephants run, snakes crawl, I love you very much"---isn't it just adorable? It kind of remind me of that roses are blue, I love you...but I don't think he heard that one, so it's pretty original.

Anyway, the tee that your brother made for you is fantastic! I instantly knew it was about you, but naturally I had to read the text to know whom it was from. A friend recently told me how proud is she of her baby brother...It must be a lovely feeling! Only 14 year old and already knowledgeable about equal rights...that's great!

I'm getting over a rather nasty virus but still I went to vote today. Despite the fact I hardly ever vote, as a feminist I couldn't miss the opportunity to vote for possibly the first ever woman president in Croatian history.

This virus was really awful...I came to visit my family and all of us got it except my father so I joked I must try his red meat diet (he eats a lot of meat, especially red meat) because obviously he is the most healthy one and with the strongest immune system.

Closet Fashionista said...

Our family should start doing made gifts. It's always so hard to think of what to buy for my mom and dad because they have everything they need.
That top he made is so fun! :D

Julie McQueen said...

Great photo♥

My Blog:

Helen Veyna said...

Your younger brother really did come up with a very thoughtful gift. His illustration is very cute, and I really love that he incorporated all these elements into the drawing that represent your interests. Plus, the shirt just looks amazing paired with that skirt. My brother is 11 and I'm always preaching to him about feminism, so I really hope it sinks in.


Sweet Helen Grace

Lola Byatt said...

This is a very thoughtful gift and it does summarise your main interests perfectly :) This post seems quite timely as it was just the other day I was listening to a very interesting podcast on radio 4 titled "can choosing to live with less make you happy", many listeners called in and the majority of them only bought life essentials. when the topic of present giving for xmas/birthdays came up a lot of them said that they would either give nothing and contribute the saved money to charities or give something hand made. I then realised that I had somehow (without really thinking about it) had given presents that were all handmade. I made homemade jam/onion chutney, baked gingerbread/truffles/ felt so much more satisfying and did feel better received than something generic like a scented candle.

Vix said...

What a wonderful present! Your brother is a clever lad with a wicked sense of humour and a keen eye (something I'm pretty sure is genetic!)
That tee looks incredibly stylish with the tube skirt. xxx

Linda said...

Wonderful post and lovely photos.