Sabotage Writers' Best (and worst) Christmas Presents

Ah, christmas morning when you're a kid. Waking up at 5am, running downstairs, ignoring your Dad in a santa outfit and opening... someone else's bike? WTF? The Saboteurs share their memories...
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Ah, christmas morning when you're a kid. Waking up at 5am, running downstairs, ignoring your Dad in a santa outfit and opening... someone else's bike? WTF? The Saboteurs share their memories...

This could go either way

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Tim Thornton

Best

As a embryonic drummer, until 1986 I'd been playing on an armchair and a dishwasher powder carton (with surprisingly effective Depeche Mode-like results) - then that Christmas I was presented with a large package, inside which was a snare drum. That's it. A snare drum. Not much bloody use without the rest of the kit. While my parents were watching the Queen's speech I actually snuck up to my bedroom to see if I could integrate it into my armchair system - alas not. I spent the rest of the afternoon worrying how I was going to explain to my folks that I'd actually prefer to continue with my current setup... until, at around 6pm, they took my into the garage to reveal the rest of the drum kit... aaaahhhh...

Worst

At Christmas 1983 when I was 10 I was given a Bigtrak - which would have been great, had my parents not a) neglected to remember to buy any batteries for it, and b) missed the fact that all my other friends had been given a Bigtrak the previous Christmas and had now moved swiftly off to Sinclair ZX Spectrum land.

Guy Bird

Best

Action Man Scorpion tank (shared present with my older brother) - mid to late 1970s Bonus fact: Still in use at my parents house when their grandchildren turn up, minus the driver’s hatch that broke off a few decades ago

Worst

Single blue glass tumbler from my sister worth approx £0-£2. By way of some sort of justification she said the decision had been made at the insistence of her then toddler daughter pointing at it in a shop. Lame as can be.

Tom Greaney

Worst

I’d asked for a bike. We both had, my brother and I. News had been leaked of two bikes in the garage. Woke up on Christmas morning, confident and expectant, this was it. First up, small presents upstairs, Satsuma’s, parker pen cartridges, chocolate coins. Our parents led us downstairs to the lounge. The home of Christmas. The main event.

Door opens. Two bikes leaning against the telly. Two bikes. One each. Hang on…is that?

“Is that Nick’s bike?”

I’d been given my friends bike for Christmas.

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is. It’s Nick’s bike. See, there is the hole in the handlebar. I put the hole there.”

“No, it’s not.”

They were drowning in a sea of lies. Father Christmas, Baby Jesus and now my “new” bike.

Meanwhile, my brother sits atop a brand new Raleigh Mantis.  18 speed Shimano gears, the lot.

Needless to say, Nick got a new bike that year.

Owen Blackhurst

Best

Apparently, when my younger brother came home from hospital on Christmas Eve in 1981 I told my parents that it was my best ever Christmas present. I don’t believe it, and apparently went right off him when they wouldn’t let me name him Sammy Shark. No, the best was definitely 1984, when we got an Atari to share. He was too young to play it so I had Pitfall, Pong and Pacman all to myself.

Worst

Any of the heavy cotton YSL shirts that I paid for myself between 1995-97. The lime green one, a snip at £100, still weighs heavily on my mind.

Si Hawkins

Best

The Kenny Dalglish Football Book, back in the early 80s. I had no idea what was going on but the pictures were nice, and it turned me into a diehard Liverpool fan before I realised that Leyton Orient was a lot nearer. I distinctly remember there being shots of Kenny in Celtic kit, and shots of Kenny in Liverpool kit, and me wondering why he was allowed to play for two different teams at the same time. Conclusion: it must be something to do with the word ‘Hitachi’, which was written across his Liverpool shirt in several pics. That must mean he’s special, and can play for who he wants. I recall being pretty gutted when I worked out what Hitachi actually was.

Worst

It wasn’t actually the present, just my reaction to it that still sends a shudder down the spine. I’d made a textbook schoolboy error (I was still a schoolboy, in fairness) of not stating clearly enough that when I’d asked for an alarm clock for Christmas, I meant as a stocking filler, not as my main, expensive present. I should have seen it coming when no clock appeared in said stocking – alarm bells failed to go off, ironically – so when I opened the big prize later on expecting some fabulous, probably Star Wars-related toy, this slightly dull white Sony device sent me into an almighty sulk for the rest of Jesus’ Special Day. I really was an irrascible bastard at that age (13-23).

Caroline Brett

I would write an article about this if I had time or skills, but just to share, one year my brother got a whole entire stereo, and I got an umbrella - pretty much sums it up in our family

Tom Law

Best

Year: 1988

Present: Pair of ACS Z-Rim

The ACS Z-Rim: sounds like a perverted sexual service from the distant future - but no. These were legendary in the BMX world of the late 80’s. They were basically the Stretch Armstrong of bike wheels – a type of plastic wheel rim which was “virtually indestructible”.

The advert showed a lad on a BMX slamming down so hard on the wheels that they buckled into a grotesque banana shape. But instead of snapping they would magically ping back.

I was genuinely chuffed to find a hula-hoop shaped package on Christmas morning. I still don’t know how my parents managed to find them – and I think they cost about £60.

But this was an early lesson in being careful what you wish for. Because the problem with owning indestructible wheels is that the whole world wants to break them.

Dickheads from throughout North East Wales were queuing up to try and defeat my magic wheels.

“Give us a go, mate. I’ll break ‘em for you.”

Oh, Jesus. Here we go.

Then I’d have to watch stoically as another heroic challenger battered fuck out of my wheels – riding into a wall/off a wall, chucking my bike off the top of a garage or just simply giving it a good kicking.

It was horrible.

The rims never broke. Unfortunately the rest of my bike wasn’t made of magic plastic and gradually fell to bits.

Worst

Year: 1992

Item: A set of four plastic sand dolphins

I’m sat on a windy beach? It’s blowing up quite a storm, and all around me there are idiots trying to control their flapping beach towels.

But I’m not. No, sir.

I gaze towards the corner of my beach towel and I see the reassuring face of a pink plastic dolphin. There’s a slight smirk on his face as he grips my towel securely in his upturned mouth - holding it down against the cruel lashings of the wind.

And I look up into the grey, overcast sky and I think to myself – thank you. God bless my relatives from Derby for bestowing upon me this wonderful Christmas gift.

Who would have thought that a tent peg in the form of an ornamental dolphin could prove so liberating?

Nick Griffiths

Best

One Chrimbo morning, after I'd opened all the goodies in Santa's sack, I was escorted to the dining room - we had a dining room - and promised one final gift, though to be honest I already felt sated. In there was a snooker table, already set up. I remember the vivid colours of the balls on the vibrant green baize and thinking all my Christmases had come at once. (Sadly the table was too big for the room and Dad had to saw the cues down so far, trying to take a shot felt like stubbing a ball with Tiny Tim's crutch while auditioning to play Quasimodo.)

Worst

I have been plagued by girlfriends, and lately a wife, who are convinced I love gadgets. (I don't.) Two years ago, I was bought Musical Fingers for Christmas. A sort of Stylophone glove, if you will. Less fashionable than Partridge's driving gloves, less fun than chewing poo. I've never even removed it from the box. (50 quid!

Helen Croydon

Best

My best present was a hard-back day-to-a-page diary in 1985. From that day on, I have always kept a diary in some format or other. Becoming a diarist as a dreamy 8-year-old is undoubtedly what steered me towards becoming a writer and - this year - led to a book deal!

Worst

The worst tend to involve items of clothing from men. Note to male - stay away from fabrics and stick to precious stones. Once, I got a lingerie set which included very thin denier, white, seamed stockings. They were about three sizes too big so they gaped at the thighs and looked like crinkled old grandma bloomers and kept slipping off the suspender hook and sliding down to my ankles. Mind you, it was better than an ex who bought me magic mushrooms on Valentine’s Day because he said they were better value than roses.

Charlotte O’Conor

Best

Was probably my first car - it was my mum's ancient Honda civic, second gear didn't work and it looked like a van from the back.... but hey, it was a car.

Worst

Has to be when an ex boyfriend who shall remain nameless bought me a hoover.

Joshua Burt

Best

Weirdly, the best wasn't actually mine. My big brother got a BMX, which meant that I inherited his old bike - so, in a way, I got given a BMX. Only, my BMX didn't have those zany plastic spoke things that were so cool back in the early 80s, and it wasn't remotely like a BMX in any other way. It was a bike which my dad have given my brother, which my dad had probably been given by his dad, which his dad probably got from his mum, which his mum had probably nicked during the great war etc etc. for ever. One day I hope to give it to a child of my own.

Worst
Two years ago my Nan gave me a briefcase. I don't even own a suit.

Russ Litten

The worst Christmas present I ever gave anyone was the pair of electric blue stiletto heel shoes I gave my Mam when I was twelve.

Olivia Foster

Best

I don't know actually, I'm an ungrateful little bitch I only remember the bad stuff.

Worst

Was when my parents gave me a Chess board and some material for making curtains, I don't even know how to make curtains, it might not have even been Christmas it could have been my Birthday (which incidentally is near to Christmas - January 6th if you want to send me a present) I was so angry all the details blurred out. Who buys someone material for a Christmas present? Materiallllllllll. God.

Matt Harvey

Worst

My least favourite Christmas present of all time was when I was 9 and my aunt bought me a Sylvanian Families mouse. Sylvanian Families toys are pretty obviously not meant for boys, it says on the box very clearly that they're a girl's toy. Either she was aware of this and was trying to make some kind of sarcastic point, or was oblivious to it and just grabbed the first thing she could find on the shelf at Toys r Us. Either way, insulting.

Needless to say, said mouse had a pretty torrid time of it over the next few years and was subjected to a sustained campaign of abuse at the hands of all the other toys in my collection (spearheaded by Panthro from Thundercats). It's basically what I imagine it would be like to be a paedophile in prison..

Best

My best ever present was the year after, when I woke up to find, at the foot of my bed, the first clue in a treasure hunt that eventually led to a new football goal set up in our back garden. I think my dad got a bit carried away when setting the clues though, some of which contained fairly esoteric references to Manchester City's 1969 FA Cup campaign.

Martin Deeson

Best: air rifle

Worst: Hand held vacuum cleaner

Chris Collier

In the mid 80’s my brother emigrated to the American mid-west. When his first Christmas out there came round, his new mother-in-law took it upon herself to send presents over to her recently extended English family. She knew little about us other than our vague interests.

Christmas day came and the airmail box was opened. We felt like a wartime blitz-ravaged family receiving a lavish parcel from our American cousins overseas. The presents were dished out with trepidation and we all fumbled and picked at the yards of sellotape and bubble-wrap. I could tell mine was an item of clothing as I ripped at the layers of paper.

I’d never sworn in front of my parents before, let alone on Jesus’ birthday. ‘What-the-fuck?’ I gasped in single syllables. I held up my prize. Knowing my love of football she’d gone with that theme. I turned it round to show the rest of the room – a pure white XXL sweatshirt emblazoned with a drawing of a footballer attempting an overhead kick and above it in large letters, my name (including surname). Class. ‘That’ll get some wear’, I mumbled, tossing the garment to one side.

Looking around the living room, my parents and sister were all in similar states of bemusement. It appeared that our in-law had picked up on snippets gleaned from my brother and sent what she thought to be appropriate gifts. Hence my hippyish/studenty/liberal thinking elder sister might appreciate the Indian peace pipe she was now holding in her hand. ‘It’s a hash pipe’, she said, ‘very festive’. My dad meanwhile, big fan as he is of westerns sat resplendent in some sort of Indian headgear, not the full Sitting Bull regalia but the kind of thing you might construct for a school play i.e. a couple of feathers sticking out of a faux leather headband. He patted his open mouth and ‘woo-woo-wooed’.

Knowing my mum had a twenty minute walk to work and of course it always rains in England, she unfurled her new plastic see-through rain cap with an ‘Oh…well that’ll be handy…err…if it rains like’.

So, all that remained was to pose as one for our obligatory thank you photo and ‘look at us enjoying the kind gifts you sent us’ expressions. I still have the picture somewhere. No one is smiling. It’s the sort of image that you might receive, as an email from a mate entitled ‘No explanation needed’

We’re all on the sofa. I’m at one end in my oversized Persil white sweatshirt that I’d have been delighted to receive when I was say four. Next to me is my dad looking like Tonto’s understudy but with a Christmas jumper replacing the leather tassels. Then comes my sister with her Class B smoking paraphernalia, obligatory pipe in mouth pose. Finally it’s my mum; the camera catches her whilst still tying the strings of her rain bonnet under her chin. ‘I wasn’t ready’ she protested. ‘Mum, it really doesn’t matter’, I replied.

Snap taken, we gathered our thoughts. My dad finally broke the silence, ‘Ooh look, Two Ronnies is on in a minute, pass the remote can you’. Our American presents were never mentioned again.

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