Monday, December 21, 2009

wrapping presents

Grandmother taught me lots of things. One was that after you used the sellotape you turned over the end to make a tab so you could find it next time without having to scrabble away at the roll. She called it "sealotape"; she also pronounced Marmite "Marmeat".

Grandmother didn't buy wrapping paper. But when we were all sitting around opening presents, a busy, dissonant voice constantly punctured the air with warnings about ripping the paper, which she would instantly whisk away from us and fold into slightly wrinkled quarters. She expressed greedy satisfaction with these recyclable wrappings. Of gifts addressed to her, however, she expressed only regret: how foolish, what nonsense, oh it's far too much etc.

There was, however, one exception. This was the brooch I got for her the first time I ever chose my own presents (I was not yet old enough to pay for them). It was a cornet made of gold and pearls, as I supposed, and we got it in Woolworths in Tunbridge Wells. I was really very good at choosing gifts in those days, I could do it in a trice. Grandmother was absolutely delighted, and she never came to visit or dressed for any special occasion without prominently sporting the flamboyant brooch on her cardigan. There was a loyalty between Grandmother and me. Accordingly I devoutly believed all the things she taught me, including the pronunciation of sealotape. Essentially they amounted to a fond but complete condemnation of our lives. Of course, my parents were terribly busy, they were so active, they had so many responsibilities, they had every excuse. Grandmother was very fond of my young parents, especially in view of how fiercely critical she was of everyone nearer her own age. But I thoroughly understood that it was only Grandmother who really knew, who really took the trouble to do things in the correct way.

Grandmother didn't even use sellotape herself. When she made a parcel (generally, of something she had knitted or found in a church sale), she nestled it in the already-crumpled wrapping paper of Christmas Past, and then tied it all up with bottle-green twine or wool or string. That way, there was a good chance of the wrapping-paper coming back to her without any additional rips. And she wrote the recipient's name on a scrap of white paper, which she slipped behind where the string crossed.

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