On my left wrist is a watch my mother gave me for my 21st birthday. On my right wrist is a bracelet given to me for Christmas in 1996 from my (then) boyfriend’s mother. On the middle finger of my right hand is a ring given to me by a colleague in 2010. Around my neck hangs a silver necklace given to me as a Christmas present by my manager. My earrings were a Christmas gift from my mother in 2010 – she purchased them twice as the first pair were stolen from her in a Melbourne café. They were worth the double purchase as I’ve never received more comments on a piece of jewellery.
I look at the expensive bracelet and recall the meaningful look my ex-boyfriend’s mother gave me as I opened her gift all those years ago – she hoped I’d stay with her son, and knew he’d be giving me something trivial (I can’t remember what he gave me, whatever it was I know it would have been purchased with my money).
I look at the ring and remember my colleague’s words as she handed me the impromptu gift. She’d seen it in a sale and “had to purchase it for me straight away as it was so me”.
I remove the watch to look at the back; a battery change means the engraving’s long gone, but I remember opening the local jeweller’s box and seeing my mother’s words clearly etched with my name, date of birth and her love.
The common denominator with all these gifts is that the givers knew me. They knew me so well they chose gifts that I’d have purchased for myself. That’s a rare thing and it makes me smile when I look at these bits of silver decorating my body. And these particular items have seen me through monumental events spanning my sixteen adult years. The poor bracelet has seen some great lows, but it’s also witnessed some impressive highs. The watch has also beheld stories and secrets. I’m grateful neither of them can talk.
On my coffee table at home is my one present to open on Christmas day. The package is plastered with my friend’s wonderful term of affection for me … “Retardo”. It’s been her pet name for me for years, in recognition of my quirks and obsessions. She knows me well.
I rummage in my handbag for my iPhone and my hand finds an alien object; I didn’t put this Mars bar in my bag. I smile and look over at my colleague, sitting at another table across the room. I hold up the chocolate bar. Through the noise and merriment she locks eyes with me and grins widely in acknowledgment of this shared moment – this is her handiwork. At the same time my iPhone displays a message from the man responsible for the private Mars bar joke. Timing is everything.
I look down at my feet and admire my trainers. Last night I had dinner with a good friend. I unwrapped her gift to me and my jaw dropped in shock and delight, “Oh my god! Wonder Woman trainers!”
My friend: I’m so glad you like them!
Me: I’m stunned – two days ago a woman standing opposite me on the tube had been wearing them. I liked them so much that I asked her where she’d bought them! I’d intended to order a pair online. I can’t believe you got them for me.
My friend: That’s amazing, and I’m so pleased. As soon as I saw them I thought of you.
Me (shaking my head in disbelief): I’ve been astonished lately by the presents I’ve received. People have given me some incredibly spot-on gifts.
My friend: Well the thing is you kind of wear your personality on your sleeve. You don’t wear your heart on your sleeve – you keep that well hidden! (We both laugh). But your personality is right there; it’s in your words … and by that I mean the way you write as well as the distinctive, oh let’s be honest – slightly odd, way you talk! (We both laugh again). And it’s in the way you dress … god, it’s even the way you hold yourself and move! And your laugh is totally you.
Me (cringing): Ugh. I try to tone down my laugh, but I can’t. I know it’s too much, but it just comes out like that. It sounds like Edna Krabappel.
My friend: Don’t be ashamed of it! It’s a great laugh. It’s real, earthy and guttural. It’s a very honest, good-hearted sound and it’s you.
I look at her and smile. It’s comforting to be known and to be liked not in spite of that knowledge, but because of it.
With the warm memory of that conversation in my head, I allow my mind to stop reminiscing and return to the present; our department Christmas celebration. In the restaurant, St Paul’s Cathedral looms magnificently over us and the Christmas lights make the Thames look breathtakingly beautiful. London during the festive season is magical and never fails to mesmerise. This city’s history breathes tangibly through its imposing buildings, striking bridges and quaint cobbled pavements. London owns Christmas without even trying.
My colleague Toby has surprised us all by dressing as Santa. He’s distributing Secret Santa presents with his two helpers, Emma and Kirsty. The rules were that the item was to cost no more than £5 and had to be kept on the recipient’s desk for a year. I have no high hopes for the gift in front of me. I remove the wrapping and squawk with delight! It’s a snow globe … on one side is a photo of me … on the other it says “I love HR”. The blatant expression of sarcasm for how I dislike my field of work is hilarious. My department knows me.
I hope you have a great Christmas with people who know you and love you for it.
I maintain that it isn’t possible to love HR as a career and anyone who says they do is lying (or should take a good hard look at themselves!) It’s possible to not hate it. It’s possible to be proud of your achievements and ability within it, but not to love it. I definitely do not love it. But I do love my colleagues; we might be a bunch of odd-bods but we get along like a little family (complete with dysfunction, niggles, in-jokes and frequent feelings of exasperation!)
After the Afterword
In the minutes since I posted this I’ve discovered that my adorable and marvellous niece Eliza “made you a present today, wrapped it and put it under the tree”. That little girl is tremendous. It’s so touching to be thought of from across the ocean where the sun shines brightly over Christmas. It really is a wonderful life and I can’t wait to see my family again.