Tuesday 20 December 2011

Of unwanted gifts and Booker prizes

One of my fondest (and earliest) memories of my childhood Christmases was my mother opening presents addressed to herself as soon as they'd arrived, and re-wrapping them as presents for other people. We were very short of money, and so this must have seemed a good solution (although my mum would have given you the coat off her back if you'd admired it).

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago, when I ran out of reading material and the library was closed. We'd been given a book-shaped present, so I thought I'd probably be able to read that.

Except that I couldn't, because it was the Coronation Street Quiz Book. Hmmm. We are Corrie fans, but we are also grown-ups, so some lucky customer of the Oxfam shop will get it instead (I took it straight there). A lot of my Christmas presents end up in the Oxfam shop, so maybe it would be better to open them all so that they can be bought before Christmas while people still have enough money. (I'm not hard to please; I just don't need too many smelly candles, diaries and strange dangly pendants.)

But the second book-shaped parcel I opened was Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending (Booker prize winner) which I'd asked for, so I'm reading that. It's very slim, beautifully written, and quite good, but I never cease to be amazed at the Booker Prize. While lesser mortals like me are told they must write at least 70,000 words, and preferably quite a lot more, literary prize winners get away with far less. Think John Banville's The Sea. And Chesil Beach.

Perhaps I shall write a very short, brilliant book in 2012, and then you'll all be proud to know me (well, a woman can dream...). And - who knows? - I might even get up to 60 followers.


  1. I enjoyed The Sense Of An Ending, but wished I could get away with writing something so short.

    I remember being overjoyed at the age of six to receive a Woolworth's doll for Christmas that actually 'walked'. She was very plain and primitive. Her mechanism involved lots of protruding metal parts all over her body, which were 'disguised' with dozens of plasters. She wore huge pink metal shoes for shuffling along with an eerie grinding sound. She moved at a snail's pace, and then only on the kitchen floor. Carpets made her topple.
    I still loved her and considered her beautiful, but spent half the day in tears because my big brother, much to my mother's amusement, immediately christened her Tin-Boots.
    Every Christmas, my mother, now eighty-five, fondly remembers my late brother and his merciless teasing. And it makes me smile now too.
    By Boxing Day, being a typical boy, he could no longer resist taking her apart with a screwdriver when I wasn't looking to see how she worked. She never recovered.

  2. The "strange dangly pendants" made me laugh out loud, Frances!
    This year, I have explicitly told people I do not want THINGS. I have enough THINGS. In fact, I have thrown out or sold so many THINGS my flat is considered almost sterile by some visitors. But there is an exception: I need a new toiletries bag for travelling. My old one is at least 10 years old and has many tears in the small compartments inside. I am quite sure someone will give me a new one for Christmas. I just hope I will like it :-)
    RJ, for instance, is giving me a fancy dinner on New Year's Eve in a posh restaurant for Christmas. It is so expensive I would never go there without being treated to it by someone else, so that is a great gift for me - it will be consumed instead of stand around, collecting dust, and will probably create a lasting, rather romantic memory.

  3. Some of us are already proud to know you, Frances... I wonder if the slim volume concept only works for people who are already well known? The Uncommon Reader was another case in point which I really enjoyed but did rather resent paying eight quid for!

  4. I think I might be number 60!

  5. My fondest Christmas presents were always my baby dolls. One a year and nothing else in my memory.
    Funny you mention The Sense of An Ending. I just heard a review of it on NPR. The power of memory and imagination and how the two can become intertwined is a fascinating subject. And how many people do we really love in this life . . . One? Two?

    I gave up on worrying about followers some time ago. That'll take care of itself. Once we're famous, we'll have plenty.

  6. Joanna, I remember my daughter being givena revolting doll that ate and s**t. Who needs an imagination when they have one of those?

    Librarian, you're right. No more things. I must remember that for next year!

    Alis, aren't you kind! Reciprocated, of course.

    Thank you, Maggie May. I'm now going off to be your no.2!

    Yvonne, I loved baby dolls too. As for followers, I'm not that bothered, either, but I do get bored when the numbers end in 9. It somehow looks unfinished!

  7. If people can't think of a suitable gift why don't they just get something useful - like chocolate?

    btw I'm already proud to 'know' you, Frances.

  8. Patsy, you're so right about chocolate. Ubiquitous, cheap (can be) delicious (usually). What's not to like? And I'm proud to know you, too!

    (Thornton's Special Toffee is wonderful, too. And if anyone from Thornton's happens to see this, I'll happily advertise it weekly on my blog if you keep me supplied.)