Christmas could be dangerous at our house. Your legs might have survived the crushing weight of the “this isn’t even the big present” pillow case, which in true Chez Lynch style would be stuffed with books, chocolate oranges, eyeshadow palettes, LPs, T-shirts, and placed on your bed by Dad Santa in the middle of the night as you were asleep.
I remember all of those perfectly-chosen “fillers” perché they were perfectly-chosen and not fillers at all. The proof? Bene, I still have the LPs for one thing. But there was never a guarantee that you would live through the bird in a bird in a bird AKA the combined turkey, chicken and duck roast at lunch.
One of my worst memories was the Christmas when the middle bird – that’s the chicken – was rotten and stank out the house and the festivities with it.
Dad was gutted. So upset. And now I understand why: Christmas was so important to him. Was it because he was a south London working-class bloke and wanted his seven kids to have more than he ever did? Was it because that generation (he was born in 1944) found it easier to show affection through gift-giving? Or because, after Mum died in 1988, Christmas was the only time our family got together? Chi lo sa. But he loved Christmas, he loved to buy us presents, and he was supremely talented at it – knowing the greatest gifts don’t have to cost the Earth to mean the world to someone.
When I was 17, Dad bought me a secondhand car for Christmas. It’s as if he knew how much help I would need to have any chance of passing my driving test – and what could be more helpful than an old banger that cost a few hundred quid? I was sulking in my bedroom about something and he kept calling my name; calling for me to come outside. “WHY?! WHAT DO YOU WANT?!” I shouted down the stairs.
Mario Andretti e AJ Foyt, I dragged my hormonal self down and then felt like such a cow when I saw his beaming face … and a car. An actual car. Per me. Oh my God, it was beautiful. Chocolate brown with a funky 1970s dealer feel about it. I loved her. And no, I didn’t name her, in case you were wondering.
I’d sit in my car to quietly read books for hours, and my best friend, Helen, would take me out in it to teach me to drive. But we gave up when I proved to be an actual danger on the roads. After three months of me not driving the car, Dad took it back. I was very upset, but I had to make my peace with it.
The story of my motoring history gets worse, in realtà. I didn’t try to drive again until I was 32 e, during a lesson, the driving instructor said: “Bibi, pull over. Bibi, you will never be able to drive.” So I rang his firm when I got home to complain. Reading me beautifully, the woman on the line said: “Clever people find it hard to learn.”
"Bene, io sono quite bright,” I replied.
New Woman magazine then commissioned me to write a piece titled “Can we teach Bibi to drive?” Two years and five tests later, I passed. I went to the mag office to tell them – but everyone involved with the commission had either left or died. Sono 55 now and haven’t driven since the day I passed.
But I digress, the year after having to give back the car, Dad’s Christmas present to me was a skiing outfit for my first ever ski trip. A school holiday to Italy, credo. I believe the salopettes were punishment for the lack of car gratitude. The outfit was electric green and I was easily the most visible person on the slopes. Perhaps even in that whole corner of Europe.
I ski how I drive: badly. And if you ski badly, you surely want to wear gear that doesn’t show you off in front of everyone. The entire resort witnessed this luminous pea snowploughing, falling, crying and repeating the same while they stylishly swished away in the snow. Despite the humiliation, I kept the suit for years. It was comfortable and cosy and I liked being the first one in my group to have a padded onesie. And it made Dad laugh to see me crash around the house in it.
The greatest Christmas gift Dad gave me, anche se, was a beautiful ring. He presented it to me the Christmas after Mum died. Ancora, the beaming face was back as he silently held a little velvet box out to me. I hope to God I made the right noises when I opened the box, because I never wore the ring in front of Dad and I hate that he never knew how much it meant to me. But it felt too much.
I was only 22 and the gesture was quite overwhelming. Could I wear something that glamorous? Mum could have. Could people try to take it from me? I did fear that. Could I handle seeing something that meaningful every day? I couldn’t. Even now I can’t wear it. If I lost it I would crumble. It connects me to Mum and Dad and it is precious to me.
It was hard buying for Dad. I definitely inherited his “love to give” gene. Even giving someone a giant bar of their favourite chocolate brings me giggly joy – and some envy. Don’t believe me? I once almost got in trouble for offering a young man who’d delivered a mattress to me a bottle of wine as a thank-you.
But thinking of gifts for Dad was a nightmare. He didn’t really like to read, and the music he played was the soul and Motown that Mum loved. So that felt too loaded. Despite agonising over what to buy him, his Christmas gifts from me always felt a bit “dad gift”. But I needn’t have worried. When I went through his stuff after he died in 2008, I found some of the presents I had given him. Stupid gifts. A Spanish recipe book (complete with a “Hola!” inscription inside the cover) because he was moving to Spain. A jokey photo of me in a wedding dress. A bottle of aftershave. He’d kept them. For ever. Along with precious photos and jewellery and other possessions he couldn’t let go of. It didn’t matter that the presents had been inexpensive or that they were silly, they were priceless to him because they were from me. With love.
How beautiful is that? That’s the real joy of giving. Happy Christmas.
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