Present buying is a divider. There are those who enjoy it and those who don't. December brings to light exactly which category you fall into. I perch comfortably in the former. Back in the hedonistic days of university (think Doc Martins, bushy eyebrows and trance music) I spent a year living in Clermont Ferrand, France with four other friends. We lived a very friendly and familial life together in our fourth floor appartment overlooking the city's magnificent, black cathedral. We pooled all our money, cooked and ate together every day, socialised together and for some within the group forged some fairly intimate relationships (all in the name of education you understand). For each of our birthdays we devised a highly successful formula. The others clubbed together to buy you a present, you could choose what we all ate for one meal that day and you could nominate your birthday entertainment. There being five of us the planning and executing of birthdays was an almost constant source of productivity. I think the reason why I remember it so fondly and clearly is that we were all the kind of people who got giddy at the thought of buying presents and planning birthday celebrations.
Damien was a huge James Bond fan so we bought him a Ronson lighter. Dominic was soaked in cricket and Ian Botham was his idol. For him a pair of Oakley sunglasses. We took enormous delight in deliberating over presents for each other and having illicit discussions about ideas for surprise parties. My present was a pair of skintight trousers covered in tiny blue and yellow flowers I had been drooling over for weeks. The night of my birthday I wanted to have dinner, just the five of us in a restaurant. We were all rather gauche in the dining out department. Our restaurant choice had bright overhead strip lights and a cheap set menu which suited our lack of sophistication as well as our budget. On the way back home the gang suggested we pop into Quai des Brumes, our local bar where we had befriended the owner (I think he had a huge crush on Tamasyn, one of the girls in our little troop). I peered inside as it was so dark it looked closed. I opened the door, the lights blazed and all our university chums cheered and sang happy birthday. A blow up doll with angry and strange looking genetalia presented me with a birthday cake and I'll remember the evening all my life.