This Christmas week, Bernard Darnton ventures into a fancy department store, wondering what to buy for the Duke who has everything.
Yesterday I got my first ever Santa photo. The children were also there, reeling off a list of requests for iPads, Lego, Ninja Turtles, and everything else except bikes, which is what we’ve bought them.
They probably thought they could go overboard because we went to see the rich Santa at the fancy-pants central-city department store and not one of his less kempt counterparts at a suburban mall. Rubbing shoulders with a better class of tyke comes at a price. Getting an email with your Santa photo costs an extra seven dollars, which makes Spark roaming data charges on a raft up the Congo look like good value.
We chose the fancy-pants central-city department store because it has a famous window display. This year the children were diverted for several seconds by the glittery unicorns and the Cinderella-does-Venetian-Masquerade diorama before resuming their stampede for the grotto. The masquerade motif was repeated throughout the store, with sparkly masks decorating garlands and trees. The theme represents Christchurch masquerading as the sort of place where one might want to do Christmas shopping.
Not that I want to do Christmas shopping anywhere, with its futile staring at shelves full of generic “giftware” for people I don’t know very well, and the sharper dread of misjudging things for someone I should know better, but they’re small details compared to the major problem of shopping in Christchurch which is that there aren’t any shops.
Except for the fancy-pants central-city department store, which is chock full of all sorts of things I don’t want to buy. There, resurging to the top of the ‘most fashionable toys’ list this year, is the golliwog. These are priced exhorbitantly, presumably in order to prevent riff-raff from buying them non-ironically. If you live in a more progressive centre, the rehabilitation of the golliwog may not yet be apparent. You can draw your own conclusions about why all the golliwogs listed on Trade Me are shipped from either Christchurch or Australia.
However much angst I am driven to by Christmas shopping, I can always calm my mind with the knowledge that others have it much worse.
Imagine what it must be like for Mr and Mrs Middleton. You’re ambitious social climbers and you’ve managed to scrape together enough cash to send your daughter off to an upmarket university where she can rub shoulders with royalty. And then you get the awful news: it was more than just shoulders and now you have to buy Christmas presents for your in-laws, Queen Elizabeth the Second and Prince Philip.
How do you find a gift fit for a Queen? Try and get India back? Even if you own a party planning business worth fifty million pounds, it must be intimidating to know you’re being compared with someone who owns realms and dominions and stuff.
They seem to have over-reacted. Mrs Darnton, who reads the Pointless Bollocks section of the New Zealand Herald, tells me that they’re giving Prince George a ten-thousand-dollar rocking horse for Christmas. Well, rocking zebra. Because everyone from riff-raff to royals has rocking horses but rocking zebras are exotic as fuck*.
If the Middletons also read the Pointless Bollocks section of the New Zealand Herald, or worse, the Daily Mail, they would know that the Queen doesn’t approve of expensive Christmas presents because Christmas is a religious festival. She’s not just Head of the Commonwealth, she’s Defender of the Faith.
The Duchess of Cambridge must be trolling Mummy and Daddy because we know that she knows the rules. At her first Christmas at Sandringham, she bought Prince Harry a two-dollar-shop Grow Your Own Girlfriend kit. In turn, Harry bought the Queen an ‘Ain’t Life a Bitch’ hat. I’m not some fancy archbishop, but I assume this is because amusing rubber sexual aids and nihilistic profanity defend the faith more devoutly than cashmere scarves and Rolexes.
Trudging the retailless streets of Christchurch, I console myself with the knowledge that no one I’m buying for is either rich or religious, as I would then have even less clue what to buy.
Unless I wanted something for Prince Philip. He’d probably appreciate a golliwog.
Bernard Darnton is NOT PJ O’Rourke. But some Wednesdays he would like to be.