Wednesday 22 July 2009

The unsuitability of paintbrushes

It is my father's birthday shortly, and I have no idea what to buy him.
In truth, I have had no real idea what to get him for his birthday for about a decade now. It was so much easier when I was a child, and all the money I had was the pocket money he gave me in the first place: expectations were lower. I could get away with buying him a family sized tub of salted peanuts three times a year (Birthday, Christmas, Father's day) and he could get on with the business of eating handfuls of them in front of the TV: a simple harmonic relationship that suited us both. But now I am all grown up, with a job and a house and wife and everything, the pocket money sadly dried up years ago, and I now feel I have to put a great deal more thought and effort into birthday presents. Unfortunately, he has never really seemed to care much about birthdays, and as he gets older he is getting increasingly harder to buy for - which leads us, inevitably, to The Annual Birthday Present conversation:
"Dad, it's me."
"Hello there. How are you?"
"Good. I'm ringing to have The Birthday Present conversation."
"Oh, already? Must we?"
"We must. What do you want this year?"
"I really don't know."
"No, nor do I. Think, please."
There is a short pause. I am much like my father in many ways, and I can tell he finds this question - one which most other people would welcome, what with it eventually leading to the receiving of a gift - as faintly irritating. I can understand that; I don't really know what I want either, both at the micro level of birthday presents and often in the wider 'life in general' context as well. As a result, I find being asked to think about what I want is always faintly tiresome.
"Well, I do know one thing I want - a nice set of decorators brushes."
"A set of what?"
"Decorators brushes. Some good ones."
There is a pause while I mull this over. "When you say 'decorators brushes', am I to assume you mean 'paintbrushes'?" I ask.
"Yes. A good set."
Two things strike me about this request. Firstly, I know with absolute certainty that he deliberately chose to say the far more specific 'decorators brushes' to avoid any confusion with artists paintbrushes, and I am quietly appreciative of this - I am the pedant son of a pedant father, so I mentally give him a 'high five' for linguistic accuracy, though part of me is aware that stuff like this is why our wives sometimes hate us. And secondly, as suggestions go, that is a truly awful present to buy someone.
"No. I'm not buying you paintbrushes."
"Decorators brushes..."
"Yes. I'm not buying you any."
"I've got lots already, but they are all rubbish. I've always wanted a top quality set."
"Really? Always? Because I've got to say, as 'lifelong dreams' go, owning a good set of paintbrushes seems eminently achievable. I think you could have probably sorted it out before now if it mattered that much to you...are you going to be doing any painting soon?"
"Maybe. I don't know. But you always need paintbrushes."
I close my eyes, and grimly imagine a world where I have bought him some 'quality decorators brushes' for his birthday. I can see it all too clearly: as a result, he will feel compelled to paint something - anything - to test them out, and then equally compelled to show me the resulting finish that is achievable with said brushes. I can easily foresee a time where I am staring in front of a blank wall, which he didn't really want to repaint and I don't really want to look at, and nodding mutely in agreement at how smooth it looks.
"Let's try and get a longer list." I say. "What else would you like?"
There is another, lengthier pause. "I don't know," he says finally.
This is not a surprise: if a man has so little idea what he might want for his birthday that he suggest 'paintbrushes', he is not likely to have a second or third choice handy. 'Paintbrushes' is a barrel-scraping choice as it is.
"How about some music?" I ask.
"Yes..." he says, managing to make it sound like 'no'.
"Mind you, I don't know what you'd want. I can't imagine what kind of music a man who wants something as asinine as 'paintbrushes' for his birthday might like..."
"Coldplay?" he suggests drolly.
We both chuckle halfheartedly, painfully aware that multimillionaire Chris Martin is unlikely to be crying on his beautiful superstar wife's shoulder just because we think his band are boring.
"Did you actually want the latest Coldplay album?"
"No, I've got one of the old ones. I can just play that again."
"What about books?" I ask.
"I'm not reading books much at the moment - I have great stack of them waiting to read already."
"What about magazines? A magazine subscription."
"Ah yes, that's a good idea. What do you think I'd like?"
"How would I know? 'Paintbrush Fancier Monthly'? What magazines do you read at the moment?"
"None, really."
"So you'd like a magazine subscription, but you don't know which magazine?"
"Not really..."
"Something serious? Something funny?
"Funny, maybe? I don't know."
"Well, what criteria am I meant to use to choose it, then, Dad?"
He thinks for a second, then says. "I don't like magazines lying around that only I get to read. So something that Ann can read as well."
"Seriously? Are you for real? The first thing that comes into your mind when I ask what kind of magazine you'd like is one that other people can read too?"
"Yes, I guess so."
I sigh audibly. "What about some wine?" I ask
He perks up at this, "Oh yes, some good wine. That would be excellent."
"OK, wine sound promising..."
"But not too good, or it's a waste."
"I can't really appreciate expensive wine. I mean, I like it, obviously, but to be honest I can't always really see why a twenty quid bottle of wine is meant to taste so much better than a ten quid bottle, for example. Often I think cheaper wines are better. So if you buy something too expensive, I probably won't enjoy it as much as I feel I should."
(I should point out, just in case you were wondering, that my Dad is still mentally sound. I know it may read like it, but he is not addled in any way - quite the opposite, in fact: he's very sharp. I just want to be crystal clear that he's not confused - he's just awkward...)
I grind my teeth gently. "So, Dad, just to recap, your wishlist for a birthday present is as follows: paintbrushes that you are not sure you need, but claim you've always wanted (though not enough to actually buy for yourself), a subscription to some kind of unspecified magazine where the most important factor is that your wife can enjoy it, and some wine that is 'good' - but not so good that you feel its wasteful?"
"Sounds about right."
There is a lengthy pause.
"Can't you take up golf?" I whine. "You're always threatening to. There's no end of golf-related crap I can buy then, it'll make birthdays so much easier..."
"When I retire. Few years to go yet..."
"I have no idea what to buy you for Christmas either, by the way."
"Oh, Christmas is different. You can relax, everybody gives you rubbish at Christmas, so I don't mind so much what you buy me then..."
That does it, I think. Peanuts it is...

1 comment:

Misterimpatient said...

I own 2 truly excellent paintbrushes. One is four inches the other two. I am remarkably careful about cleaning and storage. I would show you the brushwork but it's so smooth, you'd miss it. Hey! Maybe a case of Two Buck Chuck