I was at a birthday party last night. The invitation said no presents, just your presence. But people still brought gifts. Me included. There’s a whole culture around gift-giving that probably says more about ourselves than the person we’re giving to. Friends I’ve known for years, and know well, have yet to get it right with me while more recent friends get it right all the time.
There’s an old Indian thing (I think it’s a Cherokee belief) that when giving a gift, you should give something you value, not something you think the other person needs or wants. And the more you value what you part with, the more they say you value that friendship. I think that has legs.
The older we get, the fewer things we need, the less clutter we want in our lives. Okay – it is nice to wear a piece of jewellery that is a daily reminder of the person who gave it to you. Or to spray some perfume and have the scent evoke nice thoughts. But for me, experiential presents are the way to go. Give me something from which memories are made.
I got an early birthday present last week. A weekend in St Ives in Cornwall. Visiting St Ives has been on my list since I learned the nursery rhyme:
As I was going to St. Ives,I met a man with seven wives,Each wife had seven sacks,Each sack had seven cats,Each cat had seven kits:Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,How many were there going to St. Ives?
But I got it wrong. That particular St Ives is in Cambridgeshire. The one in Cornwall is famous for its light. For about 200 years, the area has attracted famous painters like Turner, potters like Bernard Leach, sculptors like Barbara Hepworth and her artist husband, Picasso’s mate Ben Nicholson. Admittedly, I’d had my doubts about the whole light thing. But I’m now convinced. It’s somehow purer, clearer, crisper than usual. And it’s not difficult to imagine why artists would find it appealing.
We took the train from Bath- it’s about a five-hour trip with stops along the way, changing to a local coastline hopper in St Erth. We ate Cornish pasties. We had cream tea (scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream) while sitting on the beach. We discovered the delights of Cornish gin. We cooked local lamb for dinner one night. And we ate out at the fabulous Portgwidden Beach Café another night, a dinner which is now on my top ten list of most memorable meals I’ve had so far in my life. We wandered through the art galleries, hunted through the charity shops, dodged the tourists as they navigated the cobblestone streets. It was lovely. Really lovely.
I was there with one of my besties, the lovely MC. We hadn’t spent any time of note together in a while so it was a much overdue catch-up. Between us, we clocked up a fair few hours talking through the whys and wherefores of relationships, politics, religion, kids, careers, life in general. We parsed and analysed our independent lives, our sense of self, the challenges we face in compromise. And we concluded, that having had no kids ourselves, our friends have become our extended family.
This time last week, I was being attacked by a seagull who stole the chocolate out of my 99 and then had the nerve to stand in front of me and wolf it down. I should have believed the signs. Today, I’m in a blessedly cooler flat (a massive storm last night with another on the way by the sounds of it), with a long to-do list in front of me, hoping to make inroads into the work that has accumulated while I was gone. But before I get to it, I’m reliving my weekend in St Ives and giving thanks for the joys of lasting friendship – the gift that keeps on giving. And for experiential presents that can be relived over and over and over again.