December 15th, 1998.

Plastic times.

Somewhere around here, I had made some notes about what I wanted to write about this week. However, this flat seems to be getting smaller and smaller every day, and the smaller it gets the more crowded it gets, meaning I can't seem to find a bloody thing! I swear I wrote it on this notepad here. Ah well, I guess I'll just have to wing it and hope I can remember at least some of what I was going to say.

So here we are in the grips of another festive season, the traffic to get into Birkenhell was backed up way past my front door today long before 9 AM! No doubt full of Christmas shoppers all waiting to depart with their hard-earned cash to buy the 'perfect gift' (which I seem to remember was a token to the Salem dollar theatre if I am to believe the ad I saw before a movie I watched there. What cheapskate gets someone a token to a dollar theatre?).

As yet I have not bought a thing, well I guess I did get my Dad a couple of things in Chelmsford Massachusetts, but that doesn't count as Christmas shopping because I got them ages ago. I intend to go over to Liverpool later today and do some 'shopping' in the dreaded seasonal scrum. I shall join the scally's, prams, stressed-out shoppers, and security guards wishing they had the brains to be Policemen. Oh, what fun!

I read a report last week that suggested men, on the whole, don't do any Christmas shopping until the last three days before Christmas! So hey, I guess I am getting it in early this year! Funny thing was that the report also said that the average British man experienced massive stress level increases while Christmas shopping. The report said and I quote "Men go through similar stress levels to those experienced by fighter pilots in engagement." Can you believe that? I can. The thought of engagement or marriage strikes a steak a fear right through my heart!

So what shall I get people this year? Hmm... I just don't know. That's about the long and the short of it. (Interesting phrase that one) I haven't a clue what to get anyone. My brother is doing very well and has everything bar Melinda Messenger in his bed at night. Louise, my sister, and her nearly new husband, Bryan, should be real easy to buy for. Being newly married this year (although poor old Bryan probably feels like he's been married for years!) they need 'housey stuff'. But my sister is really particular about what she gets so that makes buying for her precarious.

If I thought they were difficult to buy for I then have my parents and my Grandparents! What the hell do you get your conservative Mom? I spoke with Louise on the phone a while ago and we suggested some ideas to one another. But in true Louise fashion, she has claimed the copyright on all of those ideas claiming 'she thought of them first'.

My Grandparents are even more impossible. They are after all... Grandparents! Let's analyze the facts here to best assess what kind of gifts would be suitable. They are old, they are... old, and then of course they are, it has to be said, old!

As if this wasn't enough to give my already highly stressed inner pilot a heart attack, I then have the extended family and 'hangers-on' to think about. First out of that lot has to be my girlfriend Sarah and her family. To be honest these people aren't hard to buy for and I'll probably have their presents wrapped and under the tree before I get any inspiration with regards to my own family.

Then there is Will and Nicki's 2-year-old toy breaker, Tom. Along with Rick and Karen's little 1 year old, Grace, they are the easiest to buy for. After all, they are young kids who can't yet say 'Hey Uncle Simon this present is crap'. After all, at that age, they just love getting presents and the ones they don't like they simply forget about. Let's face it, they never remember who bought the present for them so you're in the clear! As for the hangers-on, well they can all bugger off! I mean, if I have to think of any more potential gifts I could go into pre-traumatic stress or something, then how would they feel?

Of course, it's this time of year we all get to appreciate one of man's finest inventions. Plastic! It seems the days of rustling scraggy old fivers are all but gone. These days it's all about MasterCard, Visa, Switch, Delta, Amex, and a whole collection of other trump cards in the pack.

This year will be my first 'credit Christmas' as The University of Liverpool has yet to show me any of the money it owes me for the website I have just finished designing for them. I prefer to use cash when I can, but hey, I suppose I should resign myself to the thought that this is going to be the first of many plastic-powered holiday seasons.

In truth though, I do enjoy Christmas, I like going back to see my family, argue with my sister, and meet up with old friends for a drink to chat about the year gone by. I love the big meal times and the laughs we all have and the memories that go with the whole event.

This year is a little historic for my family. For the first time ever we will be having Christmas dinner somewhere other than either my parent's house or my Grandparent's house. This year we are guests of my sister Louise and her husband Bryan at their home in Earls Colne in Essex. That will probably seem a little strange, but then I guess we are living in changing times aren't we, plastic times some might say.