Róisín Ingle on . . . birthday presents


I started dropping hints about my birthday present early this year. I began by musing out loud about how happy I was when Queenie gave me perfume last Christmas, the one that smells exactly like hope and history rhyming. She’s got a nose for a decent scent, I’ll give her that. I kept picking up the empty bottle and shaking it sadly, looking out into the red-brick north inner-city vista as though scanning some distant horizon and not my neighbour’s bins. I hoped the look in my eyes communicated something like: “My life would be infinitely better with a full-to-the-brim bottle of this in my life.”

“Are you okay? You’ve gone sort of cross-eyed,” said the person I was hoping would buy me the perfume.

Apart from the Heaneyesque perfume, you’ll usually find me hankering after more practical presents. Stuff I can actually use. Functional bits and bobs. I sat beside a woman at a fancy dinner once who, flashing her fingers, told me she had been given a different diamond ring by her husband every time she had a child, and all I could think was how much stuff she could have bought in the Ikea market (Silicone cake moulds! Photo frames! Kilner jars!) for that instead.

My yen for the practical was taken a bit far one memorable Christmas when I received an ironing board and a set of coat hooks from the same person who uttered the cross-eyed remark. I’ve written before about how he once bought an ex-girlfriend a Thigh Buster for Christmas. Remember Thigh Busters? A contraption to be put between the knees and squeezed repeatedly until your thighs melt away to nothingness. Let me just recap. He bought his GIRLFRIEND a THIGH BUSTER. For Christmas. Now you know the kind of monster I live with.

“She said she wanted smaller thighs,” is how he justified this to me at the time. I tried to explain that when somebody says they want smaller thighs what they actually want is for someone else to tell them their thighs are perfectly delightful exactly the way they are. What they do not want is for someone to confirm the existence of said thighs by presenting them with a Thigh Buster as a loving gift.

“But she said she didn’t like her thighs,” he tried again. After a bit more of this I realised he would never get it, that we would be having this conversation until the end of time. “But her thighs, she said she didn’t like them,” he’ll say when we are in our 80s and sitting with blankets across our knees sucking Werther’s Originals and watching a Prime Time special called “Seanad Reform: Now or Never?”.

With the perfume message not getting through I started dropping hints about a contraption that would allow me to strap my phone to my arm when I go running. And another hint about these earphones that curl around your ears so they don’t keep falling out when you’re trying to listen to Katy Perry’s Roar while shuffling through the park at the speed of a nippier-than-average tortoise.

When the day dawned there was breakfast in bed, those curly earphones (hurray!) and another present: a duvet cover, fitted sheet and four pillowcases (huh?). I took them out of the packages and started stroking them while the giver of Thigh Busters got sort of misty-eyed talking about thread count. One touch of the Egyptian cotton was all it took to realise this was possibly the best present ever.

After we’d walked the children to school we ran back to the house to try out the new bedding. That is we lay fully clothed, shoes off, in the newly covered bed and marvelled at how, despite the fact that the house is coming down with cobwebs and we need a new stair carpet and the fridge door has come off its hinges, we can go to bed and feel like we live in a five-star hotel.

I’ve never had proper sheets in my life. I highly recommend them. Even the disturbing fact that ironing is required for the full luxury effect couldn’t dampen my spirits (Thigh Buster giver is a semi-professional Ironman). Later, when my mother presented me with something I confess I didn’t immediately recognise as a hand-crafted wooden pot stand, I thought this birthday could not get any better – until I went to a friend’s house. She handed me an envelope. Inside was a voucher for several hours of professional house cleaning.

Posh sheets and a passport to a properly clean house. Stuff your diamonds. It does not get better than this.


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