The Gift of Gratitude
There are some presents for which you continue to demonstrate your gratitude long after you have thanked the giver: my dear old (possibly a quarter of a century old) dressing gown, q.v., which is the first thing I’d reach for if we had to leave the house at five minutes’ notice; my music stand, which is a thing of beauty on the corner of the living room; and the bold African print bag the other dames gave me, that I carry my clarinet in.
But the act of thanking people for presents can be a fraught pastime, and I’m not yet sure whether Zoom helps or hinders: what it obscures in the way of body language may be revealed by micro-expressions if the camera is too narrowly focused on the face.
None of this was a concern, of course, during my lengthy education in the art of thanking present givers, based on the cast-iron principle of not hurting people’s feelings, with refresher courses given every Christmas and birthday for several years.
Thank-you letters were an important part of the thanking curriculum, given that I had a constellation of far-flung aunts and great-aunts. Simply saying thank you for the item in question was not an option. I doubt I’d have got away with Nigel Molesworth’s ‘delete as necessary’ letter in How To Be Topp, particularly if I’d gone for the combination that reads ‘Dear Aunt Irene, Thank you very much for the train. It is not bad and I have given it to the poor boys. I am feeling lousy. I hope you are too. My next present is due on 10 August.’
Our letters had to follow a rigid, almost sonata-like, format: thanks for the item and an explanation of why I liked it so much, this to be followed by reflections on the festive season and/or a commentary on the donor’s situation, culminating in a graceful return to the opening theme of gratitude for the present. I think I got a bit carried away with this one Christmas, when Dame L’s mother gave me a cheeseboard. I gather she was rather bemused by the strength of feeling expressed in my thank-you letter.
The danger of this hyper-courteous approach is that it may lock you into receipt, year after year, of something you never really liked in the first place. Thus it was that all through my late teens my grandmother invariably gave me (among other things) a pair of flesh-coloured tights – FLESH-COLOURED! I was a wannabe hippie and no way would I have been seen dead in anything but thick, dark tights – only straights wore flesh-coloured tights…the offending American Tans were regularly consigned to the charity shop.
But the Tony for best gratitude performance must go to Mr Verity. On the same Christmas Day on which I received my beloved dressing gown, we had some friends staying, and an eccentric old family friend visiting for the day. She was mad about vintage Burberries, of which she had several. In her magnanimity she had decided to confer one on Mr Verity. When he unwrapped it the ‘Method’ kicked in, and his face and voice expressed sincere joy. Then she urged him to try it on. It was in that moment that I realised what a loss to the stage Mr Verity had been.
As he stood there, in this highly-fitted late 60s women’s double-breasted trench coat, with egregious epaulettes and ludicrously wide lapels, our friends quaking with suppressed laughter and the donor basking happily in her own generosity, there was only festive appreciation to be seen in his demeanour – no hint that he knew he was channelling the late, great Peter Wyngarde.