The Greatest Gift

Last week, I got a text from my cousin. Let’s call him Ethelred. I may have given him a name before on this blog, but I’m buggered if I’m going to read back over 126 entries to find it. The text asked me for my postal address. Not thinking that much of it, I texted him my address. 

An hour later, my mother rang. Ethelred’s mother had rung her, asking for my address. Ethelred was obviously doing more than updating his address book. 

My mind spun with possibilities. First I thought that maybe it was a belated birthday card. It was his thirtieth birthday last weekend, and maybe his celebration was bringing mine to mind. 

Then, as always, my imagination ran riot. 

Maybe he’d won the lotto. Surely, if Ethelred had won €6 million, then he would send me €500,000. 

€500,000 is a lot of money. I’d be able to pay off my debts. I could give some money to my family. I could buy a car – a small one of course – me driving a big car would be a danger to the public at large. I could get a decent house. I went online to see what kind of houses were on the market for around €200,000. There were some good options out there, even one with three bedrooms relatively close to town.  

I could get hypnosis and acupuncture to help me stop smoking. I could hire a personal trainer. I could get my teeth lasered white. I could get laser eye surgery to eliminate the need for contact lenses. I could get the blotches lasered off my face, the stretchmarks lasered off my belly and the hair lasered off my back and shoulders. My body would be riddled by lasers. How wonderful! 

Or maybe the news wasn’t that good. Maybe Ethelred had fallen on hard times. Maybe he needed me to look after his children while he and his wife emigrated in search of work. Could I do that? Could I give up my life to look after two small children? I thought about it, and concluded I probably could. I’m relatively familiar with Peppa Pig and her friends of many species, and with Dora the Explorer and her improbably large head. I can change a nappy at a push and I can talk nonsense with the best of them. 

These thoughts and many more ran through my mind. I wish I could say I was a reasonable, practical person, who didn’t fantasise so disproportionately but I’m not. I lived these fantasies in detail for days on end.

The weekend came and nothing had arrived from Ethelred. It was his birthday. Could I ring him and spoil the surprise of his great gift or his great misery, just to wish him a happy birthday? I decided I couldn’t. I’d ring him when whatever it was arrived in the post. 

Nine full days had passed when, this morning, a parcel came through the letter-box. I opened it, filled with trepidation and excitement. 

It wasn’t a card, or a cheque, or a woe-filled letter. 

It was a book, a small book called “Pooh and the Philosophers”. The book explains how the entirety of Western philosophy was a preparation for Winnie-the-Pooh. It goes through each major movement in philosophy, showing how Winnie and his friends expounded each of the theories presented, largely through Winnie’s quests for hunny. 

There was no letter with the book, but a post-it note attached to it said, “I saw this and I thought of you.”

I can see why he thought of me. The book caters both to my academic pretensions and to my love of cuteness, adorableness and nonsense. He really had thought of me. 

So it doesn’t matter that he hadn’t come to my birthday, or that I hadn’t to his, that I rarely make the effort to call out to his house (which is ludicrously far away), that we often let a month go by without a phonecall. He thought of me and it matters an awful lot. 

I hasten to add that I’m not usually this schmaltzy, but a special moment warrants recording. 

I should also put on the record that Ethelred has far too much sense to give me half a million euros and far too much love for his children to abandon them, but I can’t make excuses for my imagination.   


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