I'm reading my mother's Christmas present at the moment. I often read Christmas presents for other people; it's a sensible method of testing the present, and eminently reversible. The same thing can't be said for eating the Christmas presents for other people. I can't tell you how many times I've eaten a box of chocolates for one of my brothers only to find, halfway through, that it's not a suitable Christmas present for them at all.
On the whole, I suppose that reading is the best method of testing a Christmas present, but then again, it just doesn't work for some of them. The box of fruit mince pies you were going to buy for your uncle may look to be a promising read at the outset, but it simply has no narrative arc; and the metaphors are hoary and cliched. There's always the table of ingredients, of course, and the cholesterol index, which display some authorial verve and wit, but it's always supremely depressing, and a little hard to understand if you don't have a degree in advanced chemical bulimia. So when buying food as a present for others, I often find myself in something of a dilemma. Does this box of chocolates taste good enough for my great-great-great-great-Aunt, seven times removed? One is tempted to taste it to find out; but then you'll end up having to buy another box of chocolates as a replacement; and even then, you can't be one hundred per cent certain that the second box of chocolates taste the same, meaning you'll have to give them the taste test...
Once I tried eating a box set of Alexander McCall Smith books that was to be given as a present to relatives. I think I can safely say that this method of testing should be ruled right out; not only does it completely ruin the plot, but it tastes disgusting. Those printers should really consider adding a little sugar to their ink. (On the bright side, though, if the gift is a book of poetry by John Laws or Michael Leunig, then it may in fact be returned in a slightly more well written form than it went in).
It certainly is fraught, the process of buying presents. For instance, there may be some besotted young males out there right at the moment who are thinking of buying a puppy for their girlfriends, but agonising over whether it is the right puppy. Men, there's really only one way to find out: sneak into your girlfriend's house while she's away and give the puppy a spin in her washing machine and see how it comes out. No one likes a dirty dog.*
What presents will you be buying, dear reader, and why?
* I knew one guy who did this several times and actually managed to wash all the spots off a Dalmatian puppy he was going to get for his girlfriend. He threw the puppy out instantly; even worse than a dirty dog is a Dalmatian that doesn't stand up to spot checks.