Present Tension


I’ve got PMS again. No – Pre Merrymaking Syndrome.  You get it at the time of year when you have to sit down with a coffee, pen poised, to compile the family’s Christmas present list.

I already have a few bits and pieces hidden away which I kid myself no-one’s discovered, but there remains much to buy. Dad – slippers (by order of Mum).  Mum – embroidery kit (also by order of Mum).  Kids – well, their desires have been trumpeted forth at frequent intervals since last Christmas, the only problem being how to whittle the inventory down to reasonable (and affordable) proportions.  Joe – I have a few ideas. 

But what about Great Aunt Ruby?


Great Aunt Ruby possesses dodgy pins, first-rate marbles and is the life and soul of the Abide-a-Wee Twilight Home. She’s also impossible to buy for.  Well, if by the time you’re 92 you don’t already own everything you’re ever likely to need, you clearly haven’t been putting in sufficient effort.

In the past, offerings of chocolate have languished, neglected, in her wardrobe or been passed on to Matron (who has a sumo-like physique and a filing cabinet full of Milk Tray).  Flowers merge anonymously into a background décor reminiscent of Kew, and clothing or jewellery will be filed under “For Best” and henceforth ignored.

You decide!  She’s your great-aunt!” I valiantly attempt to fob responsibility onto Joe, who immediately assumes an intent expression.

“Well?” I demand five minutes later.

“What? Oh – I was just thinking about Arsenal’s chances in Saturday’s fixture,” he admits.

We try again. After some time grappling with the problem, Joe reports that’s he’s just had a Brilliant Idea.  Hooray!  Whatever can it be?

“Let’s ask her what she’d like for Christmas!” he declares triumphantly.

“What would you like for Christmas?” we duly enquire.

“Ah!” smiles Ruby conspiratorially. We smile back, unsuspecting.  She leans towards us a fraction and lowers her voice.

“Celanese directoire knickers! Pink ones!”

A stupefied pause ensues. We look blank.


“Directoire knickers!  You know!”  We didn’t.  The GA glances furtively right and left and raises a coy hem.  We get the picture.

Now, celanese directoire knickers as a species are hovering uneasily somewhere between “endangered” and “extinct”, and don’t appear to have been sighted in their former natural habitat – the lingerie department – for many years now. This I discover quite quickly, because buying online isn’t an option.  We’d left things too late.

Frustratingly, tracking down celanese directoire knickers in town turns out to be one serious challenge. Shop assistants collapse, weak with giggles, at the very idea.

After a fraught couple of hours clocking up many fruitless attempts and much footsoreness, I vow that if I manage to bag any – even if they’re puce with day-glo green stripes, the GA will wear them and be grateful. Then a lady in M&S suggests Madame Zara’s.


Now, Madame Zara’s is an establishment I usually hurry past, blushing.  In a window-display that looks as if it hasn’t been touched since 1972 is an astonishing line in red and back (and highly impractical) foundation wear (sizes up to OS and SOS).  Perplexingly, it also turns out to be the regional dispenser of NHS surgical trusses.  However, Madame is unfazed by our request, and after a rummage in the depths of the stockroom, unearths a dusty box of celanese directoire knickers. Result!

We smirk as we give the GA her Christmas present.  This year – we’ve cracked it.  Definitely.

“Ooh, how lovely!” Ruby enthuses, mistily, holding them up for inspection. “Exactly what I wanted!  And in my colour, too!”  Joe and I relax, elbowing the children (who seem to find the whole thing unaccountably amusing).  The GA refolds her knickers with exaggerated care.

“I shall keep these,” she pronounces, “for if I ever have a traffic accident.”

What does she expect?  To be mown down by a No 47 bus in the television lounge?  Joe and I exchange despairing glances.

Next year – Milk Tray.

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