Katie Byrne: What presents NOT to buy - Seven gifts guaranteed to hit a bum note
While some Christmas presents are sure-fire successes, others are almost guaranteed to hit a bum note. Here's what you should avoid getting loved ones this year, writes Katie Byrne
What not to buy for your... mum
"Sure, don't be getting me anything," she says every time you bring up the subject of her gift. But be warned - that doesn't mean you can get away with buying her any old thing. It's important to remember that this woman started preparing a Christmas pudding back in November... and this is before we mention the pots she has scrubbed, the sprouts she has peeled and the birds she has stuffed. Considering the context, the last thing any mother - or indeed any woman - wants to unwrap on Christmas morning is a food appliance. Yes, even a KitchenAid.
What not to buy for your... dad
You'll notice that dads tend to be quite restrained in their reaction to Christmas gifts. Is this because they don't want to get swept away by the frippery and frivolity of ribbons and shiny wrapping paper? Or is it because they have just been handed three pairs of socks for the 12th year running and they're beginning to wonder if this is some sort of sick joke? Yes, everybody loves a new pair of socks, but nobody knows how exactly they came to be considered a catch-all Christmas gift for fathers. Socks - even the luxurious cashmere kind - are stocking fillers and, frankly, dads deserve more. The same goes for back scratchers, 'World's Best Dad' mugs and Terry's Chocolate Oranges.
What not to buy for your... mother-in-law
Chocolates are considered to be a universal, cover-all-the-bases gift, but there are, in fact, only a few scenarios in which a box of Milk Tray will suffice: to thank your next door neighbours for feeding your cat; to wish the person who sits beside you in work a happy birthday and to make a Debutante feel special.
In other words, a box of chocolates is a token, not a gift. And mothers-in-laws - as you may have noticed by now - don't appreciate tokenism (especially if it involves a last-minute dash to the only petrol station open on Christmas morning). This isn't to say she won't enjoy the chocolates. Au contraire, she'll dine out on them for the rest of your numbered days, chewing upon your inadequacies like the last Caramel Bite in a box of Roses, while allowing the complex flavours of your incompetency to suffuse around her wagging tongue. A dragon never forgets, so spare yourself the sewing circle ignominy and get thee to Jo Malone.
What not to buy for your... father-in-law
Ostensibly, you're walking around Marks & Spencer looking for a thoughtful gift for your father-in-law. Really, you're deep in the jungle, negotiating your place in the dominance hierarchy. You may not think of your father-in-law as a hair-bristling, chest-pounding patriarch - or even an alpha male for that matter - but that doesn't mean you can buy him a fluffy dressing gown, a pair of slippers or a nose-hair trimmer. Your father-in-law, like it or not, is the king of the swingers - the Jungle VIP - so don't make the mistake of subordinating his place in the tribe with a hat that looks like a tea cosy or anything that makes him feel old.
What not to buy for your... significant other
Those involved in relationships can easily forget that romantic partners don't actually have to do everything together. They can just as easily forget that their partner doesn't necessarily enjoy the same things they do. Sure, two tickets to Liverpool v Chelsea or Les Misérables are lovely ideas, in theory, but think how much more thoughtful your gift could be if you took yourself out of the equation.
What not to buy for your... girlfriend
There is lingerie and then there is lingerie. The kind that is worthy of being gifted is made in France and wrapped in layer upon layer of delicate crepe paper. The type to avoid is made in China and sold in Ann Summers. It's also advisable to steer clear of 'three pairs for a tenner' deals, basques with more straps than a Ryanair safety demonstration and French maid outfits.
What not to buy for your... boyfriend
Department store merchandisers have a knack for making wallets seem like the perfect gift for the man in your life. They're displayed in prime positions, they come stowed in tasteful gift boxes and the price point hits the sweet spot - expensive enough to be considered a special gift but not so expensive that your knuckles turn white when you're tapping in your pin number. It's a shame, then, that men don't especially care for 'leather goods' at Christmas, not least because they already own four wallets (two of them gifts from exes).
What not to buy for your... child's teacher
Every so often a parent will try to think outside the gift box when buying for their child's teacher. They decide that a bottle of wine and a tub of biscuits is too impersonal... but forget that that's precisely the point. It is this person's duty to tell you when your child "could try harder" so they don't want to feel beholden to a 24-piece cutlery set by Tipperary Crystal. Give personalised gifts a miss too: an engraved picture frame carrying a photograph of you and Mr Murphy on sports day might be misconstrued.