I suffer from present pressure. Do you?


There are two types of people in the world: those who have present drawers and those who don’t. I wish I were a present-drawer kind of person. I wish I had a smug stash of thoughtful, useful, delightful gifts simply waiting for the appropriate recipient.

But I’m not that person and ain’t it a damn shame.

Frankly, I’m a birthday disaster and I’m not even referring to my own (which would require another column and half a dozen therapy sessions to unpack). I’m lousy at other people’s birthdays; I can’t remember them and I can never find the right gift. Possibly because I’m searching for said gift in a non-existent drawer five minutes before I’m due to go to a birthday dinner. Even if, by some miracle, I do have a suitable present, I never have anything to wrap it in. Often, I’ve given birthday gifts to adults hastily wrapped in paper with Barbie on it. Or reindeer. More than once, I’ve been known to wrap presents in foil. Classy.

What is this mental block with birthdays? I can’t even tell you when my friends’ birthdays are. None of them. It took me years to learn my husband’s and when someone asks me for my children’s birth dates, I stammer while madly trying to retrieve the right combination of numbers from my head. The only birthdays I’m certain of are my parents’, my brother’s and my own. After that, the birth-date part of my brain decided it was better deployed elsewhere and applied itself to retaining the names of Masterchef contestants from series one and two.

Still, I try. The day before my husband’s birthday last month, I high-tailed it to Westfield to find him a gift. I had my credit card and many good intentions. And yet somehow I ended up in a fitting room at Sass & Bide. What a crafty and original place to find a present for a man, you say? Well, yes. Yes, it was, thanks for noticing. It’s good to look outside the square and buy something really original for the man you love. Like an asymmetrical blood orange Sass & Bide jacket. He might not be able to wear it but gosh balls he’s going to get oodles of joy from seeing me in it, am I right?


An hour or so later, I had a whole new look, right down to the nail polish colour I noticed on the sales girl. But alas, the shops were closing and I still hadn’t found a man-present. Wracked with guilt and short of cash, I lovingly chose him some birthday cupcakes before bolting to the newsagent to try and find that elusive card that was funny and yet deeply significant. I ended up buying one with glittery peas on the front with smiley faces saying “Ha-pea Birthday”. Yes, I know. In my defence, he had insisted ‘no presents’ so anything I found was going to be a bonus.

Thinking about it, I realised I’ve almost negotiated gift-giving out of my life. Years ago my extended family reached a Christmas Present Amnesty whereby only the little kids received them. The pressure was too intense at the most stressful time of the year. I mean there are only so many scented candles you can buy your sisters-in-law. As for adult males, I am forever stumped (as my husband can confirm) because there is no scented-candle-default equivalent.

Next, my girlfriends and I decided we wouldn’t buy each other presents on our actual birthdays unless we happened to find something perfect at the right time. Otherwise, we have the full year to find a gift. This works better. It’s a bit like receiving flowers from your partner on any day that’s not February 14. It means more. With birthday presents, sprinkling them unexpectedly throughout the year is a nice way of prolonging the festivities. That’s what I’ve convinced them, anyway. The truth is, besides being disorganised, I react badly to present pressure. I can never find the right thing at the right time.


Present finding is an art. A talent of sorts. It’s not about having the most money or even your level of generosity. It’s about time, thought and creativity and I seem to lack all of those things.

And then you have children and suddenly, the birthday pressure becomes unrelenting. A week after my fruitless attempt to find a man-present, I found myself dropping my daughter at yet another birthday party without a gift. This happens shamefully often and has done for a decade. But why? It’s not like these parties are spontaneous flash mobs of little people scoffing fairy bread in parks. You always get plenty of notice. And yet I still can’t manage to make it to a toy store to buy a gift in time.

My children have spent a lifetime sheepishly giving gifts to their friends on Mondays at school. Or * cough * Tuesdays and beyond. “Oh well!” I chirp brightly when they complain. “Your friend will be stoked! Just when he thinks his birthday is over, bam! Another present!”

They’re not convinced. Neither am I. Present-drawer, I’m coming for you.

Do you suffer from present pressure? Are you an organised present giver?