My dear departed mother was fond of the proverb that tells us that “it is better to give than receive.” Dearest Mummy, she was so sweet and kind (after her sixth drink), but this did not extend to her last will and testament, composed after I had her banged up in St Mildew’s Home For The Crotchety.
She may be gone, but her thoughtful bequest in my name will never be forgotten – because she donated my inheritance to radical Islamists and I am reminded of her wishes any time I attempt to go through an airport without being given a cavity search.
I’ve never got the hang of giving anything away that I might want back later, whether you’re asking me for money for orphans or for any of my 600 pairs of shoes. I cheered when naked selfishness became fashionable during the 80s, but according to the judge “greed is good” is not a legitimate defence for stealing those Basil Brush coin collectors from the airport and blowing the money on gin. My best advice, if you’re ever required to convince the doctors that you’re not an “amoral sociopath” (just an example I made up), is to imagine a few schemes that might convince the public you’re kind and charitable. You may never need to actually do them (sorry, children of Romania) but talking about them to enough people may do the trick of making you seem more like Mother Teresa than the sort of person that would be arrested for stealing the battery out of a mobility scooter. Again, just an example that never actually happened. Read on for advice on every giving situation, unless you’re my probation officer.
STEP 1. GIVING TO PEOPLE CLOSE TO YOU
I spent some time weighing up the pros and cons of whether it is better to start the path of giving with those close to us (“friends”) or with total strangers. On the one hand, when you give a present to a friend they are expected to tell other people about your generosity, on the other if you give something to an unknown poor you won’t have to be upset by seeing them enjoy it. You should probably start with people close to you, because unlike the poor they might feel obliged to give you something back.
It’s appropriate to give something to a friend, relative or co-worker when something nice happens to them (birthdays, weddings) but confusingly also when something bad happens (funerals, road accidents). Be careful not to get the two mixed up, as no matter what you know about the groom a condolence card is as inappropriate for a wedding as a bunch of balloon animals is for a funeral. It’s good to give a gift that you think is something the other person would like, but a bottle of whiskey is not appropriate when they are unhappy because they ran over a pedestrian. If this happens, remember to look sad even if they avoid going to prison.
STEP 2. GIVING TO PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW THAT WELL
This is very hard, because you’re not allowed to ask people what they would like, and it’s risky to ask their partner if you should get cake for a present because they are already overweight. Don’t think you can get around this by listening in on their phone conversations, or by going through their handbag when they are in the toilet. People get upset when this happens and will not stop crying just because you tell them you feel obliged to buy them a birthday present and don’t want to waste money you could spend on yourself. Play it safe and get them a voucher, but make sure you first ask somebody in the shop if they have things that a Jewish / diabetic / disabled (delete as applicable) person would like. Weddings are less work, as people will try and trick you into buying things like iPads and motorbikes by putting them at the top of a list with spoons at the bottom. Ignore this and get them spoons (one each).
STEP 3. GIVING TO PEOPLE YOU HAVE TO PRETEND TO LIKE (CHILDREN)
Children are very hard to give to, because they haven’t learned to fake being grateful yet. You could give them something worthless or an object you’d like to see broken anyway, but you will look bad if a toddler gets tetanus from your bag of old lightbulbs or the rusty hacksaws that were cluttering up your garage. You also can’t give a child money, alcohol or slutty clothes, even if you suspect that’s what they’d really like after spying on their Facebook pictures. It’s probably best to try and remember that you’re giving the child something you think the parents would give it if they were you, and if you were the sort of person who liked giving things to children because you like children. Confused? Me too. Get them a voucher or some spoons.
STEP 4. GIVING TO PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW AT ALL, BUT WHO LIVE NEAR YOU
You can give many presents to people you know, but there’s a limit to how nice this will make you look to a panel of psychiatrists. If you get these people a present, it will usually be dismissed as a bribe, and they will only remember your birthday if it’s the anniversary of the day you allegedly killed somebody and buried them in the woods – don’t expect cake! What is good is to find a way of making sure that everybody knows how much you care about a specific group of people by constantly asking for money on their behalf. If you do this consistently enough, you won’t have to give up any of your own cash, although you might be expected to spend some time with them. It’s alright to take a cut of the money (“for administration purposes”) but don’t post poolside selfies from Spain if you begged thousands to buy the local OAPs a minibus and only got them a “second-hand” mobility scooter battery.
STEP 5. GIVING TO PEOPLE YOU’LL NEVER MEET
People from Africa are always super grateful if you give them things, even if they come from one of the parts of Africa that aren’t shown on Sky News because they’re not having a civil war. People from those parts are too polite to tell you they know perfectly well what Christmas is, or that they invented civilisation whilst European man was eating poisonous mushrooms and living under a pile of sticks. They’re definitely too polite to say anything if you pretend to be super-religious, so start by telling everybody on Facebook you’re giving up chocolate for lent, move onto piously rattling a bucket in King Street and eventually you’ll be fronting a mission to Timbuktu whilst putting down payments on a second yacht.
If you can’t stand the idea of helping either local or foreign poors, then there’s always the option of post-dating your generosity by telling everybody you’re an organ donor. You’ve only got two of most things though, so be careful to avoid the faux pas of triple-booking your lungs. Also, take it from me it’s incredibly awkward to realise you don’t actually have to be dead to give up a kidney. Sorry kids, but my spare is on hire-purchase from a Bangkok butcher until the market for Basil Brush statues picks up.