It’s nothing to do with being a tightwad, but Hazel Davis explains why you’ll be waiting a long time for a birthday present from her.
Illustration by Louise Boulter
This is sort of an apology. Mainly to my friend Carrie, who I know loves birthdays so much and whose birthday I routinely “forget”. Or do I?
In fact, here’s what usually happens in the run-up to a friend’s birthday. Me: “It’s Carrie’s/Fiona’s/Abi’s birthday on February 13 (oh how I wish they WERE all on the same day). I really mustn’t forget this. Now, what can I get her? I won’t buy something in haste, I’ll think about this for a very long time.” I even go out one day SPECIFICALLY to get her a present. I find nothing because presents are so specific and general at the same time and where do you start? If she said, “Hey. You. Buy me this,” it would be fine. I can do that, in the words of Mindy Lahiri, I can do it if it’s just paying for stuff.
I so need to be clear about this. My birthday present problems are nothing to do with being tight. In fact last time one of the friends above visited I treated us to a £84 meal out (yes you heard) without a second thought (well, apart from the fact I am still sort of remembering it in my bank account). But it’s definitely not about the cash. I think most of my friends would attest to me being really quite generous. I can accept I have a lot of faults but tightness definitely isn’t one of them.
So instead I worry for days and fail to get anything inspiring and then think, “Well it will have to be Amazon vouchers then”, “or flowers.” So then I worry about when you should send Amazon vouchers. The same day? The day before? That looks like you’ve got the day wrong and shouldn’t we be boycotting them anyway? Flowers then. That’s great. One of my dearest friends Fiona, herself the queen of brilliant presents, is highly allergic to all forms of flower and once had to go to A&E during a friend’s wedding ceremony where she was bridesmaid. Flowers are totally out for her. And also I have never seen her read a book, ever. Flowers for Carrie though. That works. Right. What’s her address? It’s London. I could walk you there now. But WHERE did I write it down? And hang on, IS it 13 February? It’s near Valentine’s Day. I know that much. So is it the day after or the day before? Or is it the Saturday AFTER? Now where are my credit card details? Fuck it, I’ll do it later. Oh god.
One of the most awful things about this is that now and again, through sheer luck, my friends hit the jackpot. The day is sunny, the wind is blowing right and I get a brilliant present (like the time I bought a book for a friend and it actually inspired her to write her own updated and relevant version of it which went on to gather critical acclaim and lots of work).
But then these friends expect the same thing the next year/get me an equivalently brilliant gift out of guilt. And then – BAM! – nothing, ever again. One time, many years ago, I panicked so hard I got Fiona a £25 Topshop voucher, spending way more than I meant to out of guilt and because, well really what can you get for less than that in Topshop? She declared it the “most thoughtful present EVER”, when of course it was absolutely nothing of the sort.
If I am being completely honest, I think the problem is that I am terrified of obligation, of occasion. It’s one of the (many) reasons I have never and will never have “a wedding”. In fact the very thought makes me panic. I dislike a date hanging over me, forcing me to be somewhere, someone – a better version of myself, usually. Come to think of it, I spurn Pancake Day, Easter, Valentine’s Day. I freaking hate bank holidays. Hell, I’d forego Christmas entirely if it weren’t for all the food and singing. And I am also the sort of person that, the more someone goes on about something, the less likely I am to engage. This is why I have only seen three episodes of Breaking Bad – out of sheer spite – and failed my maths GCSE (that was only partly idiocy). And a teeny – just teeny (ok, bit more than that) – bit of me thinks, “You’re an adult woman/man. HOW many birthdays have you had? Get over it.”
But ultimately, I suspect I fear rejection. What if my present is shit? What if my friend can’t BELIEVE I would think they liked Alice Munro? What if I should know they have already got the Arrested Development boxset? I’d rather get them nothing at all than something shit/not the best present ever.
I realise the self-centred idiocy of all of this but if it’s any consolation, I genuinely couldn’t give a flying fuck if anyone remembers my birthday (May 31 – same day as my friend Charlie. Have either of us ever sent a card? NO).
Hazel Davis is a freelance writer from West Yorkshire. She has two tiny children but the majority of her hours are taken up with thinking about Alec Baldwin singing sea shanties and the time someone once called her "moreishly interesting".