Recording a festive episode of our new podcast this week, Martin is telling me that he finds it hard to give gifts without worrying he will disappoint the recipient.
I tell him it’s a reflection of his doubt about himself and that sometimes, being aware of a vulnerability, helps us to cope better with it. But later it strikes me that we’re also good at focusing on what’s wrong instead of what’s right.
Making a short list of Christmas present ideas for my family I am stuck because there isn’t really anything I want. I know I’m really struggling when I write, “shower caps” (for covering proving dough if you’re wondering)
At the end I add;
“I don’t really want you to spend money on me, I’d rather just have a little of your time.”
I recognise how lucky I am to be in a position where I want for nothing but, aside from good fortune, it’s also because I have learned to become better at noticing all that I already have instead of what’s missing.
In the park, early on Saturday my sister and I are remarking about the noticeable lack of people.
“I expect everyone is Christmas shopping,” she says as we pick our way gingerly up the muddiest of slopes while the dogs unhelpfully run between our legs.
“What, at 8.30 in the morning?” I ask.
She’s probably right of course. There are only four weekends left and nobody wants to appear as if they haven’t put the effort in.
Many years ago when I had recently moved into my first house only to have interest rates go through the roof almost as soon as I’d collected the keys, I was so poor I had to go back to my mums to eat. The little gas fire downstairs, my only source of heat, had been capped off by the gas company due to a leak and we used to go to bed in jumpers and hats.
When Christmas came I had no money to shop. That year I made everyone gifts. Chocolates for my sister and parents and a box of biscuits for my brother, the only gift I can ever remember being exchanged between us in all of my life.
I don’t remember any other gifts I ever gave to my family, but I remember those rather rustic offerings which had emerged from my kitchen, just grateful to be working around the stove during a particularly cold December.
The other thing I remember is how grateful everyone was that I’d made the effort.
Sometimes I have had an uncanny ability to imagine the worst. Like the time recently I was waiting to see my consultant post retinal reattachment surgery and my attention was caught by a sign to the “Replacement Eye Service”.
I’m at my happiest when I am counting the blessings I already have. We all are.
Later on Saturday, I am walking Daisy alone on the heath and, as I pass a row of shrubs, I notice that somebody has painted the leaves, and if that isn’t a depressing example of gilding the lily I really don’t know what is.