I am fairly sure I was eight. The Retired Children’s Librarian had sent me another carefully chosen book for my birthday. But I just didn’t fancy The Count of Monte Cristo. I really really wanted The Three Musketeers. I also knew that the edition of Monte Cristo was a fairly expensive one.
So I made plans, and walked into town, one day soon after my birthday. One did things like that in those days. Another thing one did, at least in Sweden, was freely exchange books in bookshops. No need for a receipt, nor that the book had been bought from that shop. A book is a book, and can be resold if it is unread and undamaged.
I was very lucky. My unwanted Monte Cristo covered both the cheaper Three Musketeers plus an additional smaller book. Maybe Enid Blyton or Nancy Drew or some such volume.
Then I walked home again.
Was it right, though? Should I have taken the giver’s choice of book?
(I have to add here, that I obviously got round to the dashing Count later, and loved him. I just wanted my musketeers right then. And making the exchange was my only means of getting myself a musketeer.)
I was reminded of this determined eight-year-old, when an author mentioned an event she had done at a school recently. She did it for free for personal reasons, and was duly thanked with a lovely big bunch of flowers. And all she could think of was that those flowers would have paid for a pair of jeans, or something else useful.
If a school can run to flowers, they could run to a small gift voucher at M&S instead. We can’t always make the best use of flowers, whether or not we are in need of new jeans.
So who decides? Giver, or receiver? Is there a right way?
Children like writing wish lists, and we all know that mine would have had musketeers on it. Although these days children ask for increasingly expensive things, so we’ve come some way from simple books. But I often think of my elderly friend here in the Manchester Swedish group who got fed up with her grandchildren’s lists. ‘I decide what you get, and you will be grateful!’ is what she told them.
Quite right. But then they weren’t penniless adults. Nor were their parents.