“What did you get for Christmas?”
“Umm . . . there were some books and . . . some handkerchiefs and . . .”
Most years it’s hard to remember what came the previous Christmas. There is the odd revisionism at times; selectively remembering what was given and what was received in order to win an argument. And sometimes there has been something that could be remembered, by one person at least. Reflecting on Christmas 2009, I asserted with confidence that I had no memory whatsoever of ever having received anything and crumbled before the evidence of the black ski helmet lying in the wardrobe. Ski helmets are not so commonplace in Ireland; their purchase is more easily recalled than piles of books or CDs or jewellery bought under specific instructions of what to buy (and what not to buy).
One Christmas gift remains clear in the memory, forty-two years later. For my eight birthday in October 1968, I had received a bicycle – an RSW 14. The small wheeled bicycles were the rage at the time, and were ideal for country lanes and tracks and the odd field and rough ground. But the problem was that the winter days were so short, there was hardly time to ride it around. Getting out of school at 3.30, by the time we got home there was not much daylight left. For Christmas 1968, I was promised lights for the bicycle. It was a great gift, it meant that hours of time that were otherwise lost – even children’s television in those days lasted just one hour – could be spent out on the bicycle.
To suggest that getting lights for your bicycle was a brilliant gift would sound odd to people now. Do kids even ride around on bicycles for no reason other than just riding around? Maybe it would not even be safe now to allow an eight year old to go off riding country lanes – 1968 was still an age of innocence in rural Somerset.
Maybe though, joined up thinking might prompt very different choices for Christmas presents. Instead of responding to demands of children created chiefly by slick marketing campaigns, thinking what might really make a difference might create very different shopping lists.
Of course, the creating of capacity, the allowing of people to freely make their own choices applies to much more than Christmas presents. Looking at the billions poured into aid programmes without any noticeable improvement, you would wonder if my Dad had more idea about how to do something that might make a real difference than legions of aid agency staffs.