I have been a life-long supporter of, and donor to, charity shops. Over the years, they have provided me with marvellous clothes, jewellery, bags, furniture, pictures, books, crockery, glassware and numerous gifts for family and friends. For a consumer society, they are about as good a model as we have: involving a donation and recycling system, using the profits to fund a range of charities, and thinking about consumption in a more frugal and thoughtful way.
So my challenge for this Christmas magazine is right up my boreen: go out armed with a budget of €50 courtesy of The Irish Times and buy gifts for four people I believe they would honestly like to receive. The idea is to remind people what treasures lie in the charity shops that are now present in pretty much every town in Ireland, and no matter how little you have to spend, it will go much further in a charity shop than anywhere else.
There is a line of charity shops that run like a seam of gold in a mine, all the way from the top of South Great George’s Street, along Aungier Street, Camden Street, over the bridge and up Rathmines Road into the village. There are some 16 shops along this route, and one morning, I start at the top of South Great George’s Street, in search of Christmas gifts.
My instructions are to buy gifts for a range of generations. One will be for my mother; one for the notoriously difficult person to buy for in every family, The Brother; one for a friend; and the last for a gorgeous little boy called Jude, who will be celebrating his first Christmas this year.
At the Enable Ireland shop, there is a special Christmas shelf. I spend a happy five minutes examining the finest of kitsch. There is a €2.50 tea-light holder in the shape of a Christmas pudding; a €1.50 brand-new squeaky dog toy in the shape of a snowman; and a Mr and Mrs Claus salt and pepper set for €3.50.
At the nearby Oxfam shop, I hit The Brother jackpot. The Brother is a big fan of Sudoku puzzles in the newspaper; a numbers puzzle that fries my own brain in under a minute. I spy a box marked Sudoku Deluxe, with a fancy wooden board, a grid and various other mysterious Sudokoese things. Now, I have no idea if The Brother will ever actually sit at home of an evening and open up the box and work on these Sudoku Deluxe puzzles, but at least it looks like I tried to match his gift to his interest. It is €9, and the assistant says as I am paying: “Oh, we wondered who would buy that.” I try to look brainy and numerically literate.
At the All Sorts shop further along the street, books, CDs and DVDs are €1 each. I had texted my friend Joyce to say she was part of my gift-buying mission. Joyce has lately been involved in a family house clearance, and sent a text in reply to tell me her house is full to the gills, and please buy her nothing; a request which of course I ignore, as any good friend would.
All Sorts yields up the perfect gift for Joyce, a former archaeology student, in the form of a €2 candle shaped like the 8th-century Gallarus Oratory on the Dingle peninsula. This is a gift that will literally vanish as it is used; thus eventually taking up no space in her temporarily stuffed-to-the-gills house.
At Enable Ireland on Camden Street there is a small Waterford Crystal bowl for €65; a nine-carat gold and pearl pin for €150; and an Italian leather handbag for €65. This is where I find Jude’s gift; an unworn Santa onesie complete with hat, for a child between nine and 12 months, still with its Mothercare tags on, for €6.90. It’s festive, and cute, and hilarious. Or so I think so. I hope Jude agrees.
At Age Action, there is an automatic card shuffler for the card-shark in your life, for €4. A mid-century phone table is €15; a cane armchair is €40; and old vinyl records of Shirley Bassey and Frank Patterson are €2 each.
At the Irish Cancer Society in Rathmines, there is a small Le Creuset jug for €3, and a striking set of four flower-patterned plates for €25.
In Vincent's in Rathmines, I find two gifts for my mother. One is a charming tin box, in the shape of a carousel, for 50c. Tins are always useful, and this one is so pretty. The other is a hardback copy of Nigella Lawson's How To Eat, for €5, even though my mother has stated no more books are to come over the threshold. Sorry, Mammy Boland. Make room for one more.
So I end up with five gifts for four people, and I haven’t even needed to spend half my budget. Christmas, courtesy of our charity shops, doesn’t have to be expensive.
Budget – €50
Spent – €23.40