Buying Christmas presents for men is a nightmare, isn’t it? With women, it’s easy – chocolates, bubble bath, random pink stuff – it’s not as though there’s any need to consider the individual. With men, though, there’s that need to treat the recipient as a person, someone with actual likes and dislikes. Hence you never know what to get them, spend ages thinking about it – all the while chucking more random pink stuff into your basket – before muttering “fuck it” and buying socks and beer. Mind you, it’s the thought that counts – and while your present might be rubbish, you’ve thought about it loads.
Each Christmas I always want to get something special for my brother, something that will genuinely make him happy. Alas, I never know what to choose. It’s not just because he’s male (he has been for forty years, so I’m used to that) but he’s also unwell (and has been for forty years, too). He has schizophrenia – i.e. the “scariest” of the mental illnesses – but as ever, this doesn’t say much. As with all schizophrenics, what he actually suffers from is a rag-bag of symptoms, which includes hearing voices but certainly isn’t limited to that. And unlike many schizophrenics, he isn’t, say, obsessed with one particular thing. On the contrary, he isn’t all that interested in anything. I often wish, for him, that he was.
My brother has never worked. I try to buy him things that will give him something to do with his time, but there’s little point. Books go unread, DVD boxes unopened. Cooking utensils remain in their packaging. Sometimes I offer little demos – “hey, let’s watch this together! Did you like it? Do you want to borrow the rest of the series?” – and he’s always terribly polite and appreciative. He promises me that as soon as I’ve gone he’ll follow up on this new-found interest and we both know he never will, so I end up feeling guilty for putting him under pressure. The closest I ever get is with 1980s retro stuff – rediscovered Dallas annuals, a long-forgotten copy of Now That’s What I Call Music Three, back when they still had a pig in sunglasses on the cover. He likes things from back in the days before things got really bad. In some ways, so do I, but twenty years of reminiscing about one decade can only get you so far.
This year I’ve bought his present already – some of that retro Pac Man tat that’s floating around in the “gifts” section of most supermarkets – but if I hadn’t, here’s what I’d consider: a gun. A real, live, murderous gun. Just in case the time ever does come when people like him are put on a database listing Those Who Should Never Be Armed, leaving the truly terrifying people – those who’ve never seen their own personal flaws, those who’ve never asked for help and those who, above all, actually want to own guns – free to arm themselves to the teeth. It’s what the NRA want and it’s what new-found anti-gun hero Piers Morgan wants. Hell, it’s what every “sane” person wants (incidentally, I don’t happen to want it, but then I’d be on The List, too). So anyhow, that’s what I’d do. I’d get him a gun while the world is still showing a shred of understanding. It just might make him feel a little safer when it turns out he’s not really paranoid and they really are all out to get him.
Do you know the best thing about all this? If he had a gun – if he had a whole arsenal – it’d be the safest place for these things. Because I know that he – of all the people in the world – would be the least likely to touch the trigger. He’d never use it. Unlike all the “sane” people, he’d never so much as open the box.