Wednesday, 6 April 2011


Birthdays are generally acknowledged to be joyful occasions; they are annual celebrations where you can either indulge in making someone else feel special or enjoy being spoilt yourself. For some reason though, year after year, my family displays an inability to get it right.

You may wonder how any occasion involving presents could be so problematic but it is precisely this exchange – the giving/receiving synonymous with birthdays – that has in my family, become an act tempered with the dreaded inevitability of faking gratitude.

Away from the expectant gaze of my relatives, I enjoyed a quiet birthday away from home last week allowing me the liberty to fling an offensive diamante encrusted bracelet over my head, out of my sight, and into the bin without being wracked with guilt at the sight of my auntie’s disappointed expression.

I imagine this careless act of disposal may prompt the reader to think me a brat, spoilt and ungrateful. Reading this in isolation, I cannot blame you for reaching such conclusions but let me offer some background to understand the curious workings of my family.

While most people’s childhood memories consist of parks, playgrounds and paddle pools, mine take place standing in line at the Marks & Spencer’s returns kiosk. Anyone who knows my parents, knows them as compulsive returners. Mum would buy a pack of plain black knickers for £5.00, only to return them unopened the following week having decided she preferred them in white.

You see, this kind of behaviour is considered not just normal but clever and has become a part of our identity; returning is just how we roll. We’ve even been known to return items we love.

Returning the odd pack of knickers may not rouse suspicions of a lack of sanity but worryingly, this vein in our collective compulsion stretches much further than underwear.

To date, the big ticket items we have returned are:

2 x dogs

1 x car

1 x house

The dogs went on account of their erratic puppy behaviour. Within minutes of arrival, Max the Border Collie, excitedly knocked my toddler brother over; Ruby the Labrador showed admirable determination by chewing through a laptop cable.

The car was returned after my dad – the self-appointed mechanic – diagnosed a possible problem with the gearbox.

The house was exchanged. Our buyers – having sold their house – moved into rented accommodation, waiting for us to leave. We never did leave: the flooding risk of the flat land around the new house was too much for my dad to bear.

Our expectations may be unreachably high, and though this strange and unorthodox behaviour may lead people to suggest a much-needed family visit to the psychiatrist, a few things have withstood the test of returns: my parents are yet to return their children, or indeed, each other.

Here’s to 2011. Watch this space.

Rose Brownlow

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