It’s The Thought That Counts

All I Don’t Want For Christmas: a snapshot of a woeful student stocking.

Cambridge Cambridge University Christmas High School Musical Persil Scotland Student Zac Efron

My mother has always taught me to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, not to put my elbows on the table and not to use my mobile phone for longer than thirty seconds in case it, ‘fries my brain and I turn into a vegetable’. Quote unquote. Well, I have no problem with common courtesy, I usually remember the elbows issue (and if I don’t she’ll prod me with a fork – hard – and deliver the most withering of withering glares to remind me) and quite frankly, the thirty-seconds-before-apparent-braindeath is an easy way to get out of a phone call with her.

Christmas is – among other soundbytes – a time of giving and receiving. Which in actuality often means ‘giving’ your sister the last, cheapest eyeshadow in Superdrug in the brashest, cheapest colour because you missed her off your shopping list, and ‘receiving’ a High School Musical polo-shirt (size XXS and emblazoned with Zac Efron’s gurning face) because Great Aunt Jennifer hasn’t seen you in a decade and can’t actually remember what age or sex you are.

Due to my mother being a stickler for manners (it’s the Scot in her), regardless of the gift, I shall respond with a thank you card – ‘no, you can’t TEXT Uncle Kenneth, Phoebe – thank you cards are TRADITIONAL!’ – signed by myself and my menagerie of siblings. I am not disputing that such gifts are purchased with the requisite ‘thought that counts’ (well, that eyeshadow not so much) but it has to be said that students receive some lousy presents. And, before the ‘spoilt brat’ accusations come rolling in – oh, go on – it is the thought that counts, and I am grateful of the thought. We’re a difficult age group, particularly for the extended family, who hear about our exploits second hand through proud/exasperated parents and have little idea what we – or anyone our age – are ‘into’. But a few recent conversations with friends revealed a startling similarity in what the nation’s relatives decide we are into:

‘Phoebe goes to university now! That must mean that she has to wash her clothes from time to time! I know, let’s buy her some Persil Non-Bio so that she can continue her journey towards becoming a fully-fledged, laundry-literate and ultimately complete adult human being.’ Surprisingly, quite a common feature in student stockings across the country.

Perhaps it’s the culture of hygiene-fascists (one thing I will say for my mother, she always encouraged us just ‘catch as many germs as you can – what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger’: again, possibly the Scot in her) but I seem to get a lot of soap. Now, of course I use soap. But I am not a lavender soap – plus crumbly bath bomb – set sort of girl. To be a lavender soap – plus crumbly bath bomb – set kind of girl, I’d have to be a fifty year old member of the W.I. who invites the girls round on a Sunday to compare Tupperware sets. I want soap that makes my hands clean. And who has time for baths in this day and age?

A common gift from Mummy and Daddy (sorry, ‘Santa’) who want to make sure that you are eating properly whilst at university. If my parents saw how much time I spent hovering around other people who are cooking looking hopeful and hungry they’d be ashamed. If they knew how much money I spent on M&S wraps instead of cooking they’d grumble about ‘student loans’ and ‘more money than sense‘. If they knew that I had ever eaten anywhere called the ‘Van of Death’ they’d probably insist on sending me frozen portions from home (dietary-wise, ideal; socially, death itself).

Maybe just the curse of the English student (one of many curses) but every year I get a dictionary. Now, I know everyone got very excited because quidditch recently made it into the dictionary, but really, how many new words can there be every year? And I already know what quidditch is, thank you very much. My dictionary count now stands at four. I never have the heart to admit I use the OED online anyway.

Or something to that effect, perhaps a copy of the game ‘Risk’ (possibly the most soul-destroyingly boring game ever invented, ever) or a that Texas Hold ‘Em poker set in the green tin that everyone seems to have. The latter is theoretically quite a cool present, until you realise that you can’t be bothered to fiddle about with all the accessories and you can play poker with a pack of cards anyway. As for the jigsaw/Risk, I again, suspect parental intervention, even if it doesn’t come directly from them (‘Maybe if he/she has a nice jigsaw of Big Ben/game of Risk with which to entertain themselves of an evening, they won’t go out and drink themselves into a stupor and I can sleep easy at night’).