Someone very kind has sent me a pair of remarkable headphones. A message reached me a few days ago that they were gathering dust at the HQ of Harry Rosen Inc. and would I be around to pick them up soon. I obliged immediately for I dearly love a present. I am, in fact, famously appreciative of any gift. It’s not a trait I have ever sought to conceal. Perhaps an ancestor was the grand vizier of some Levantine court or an early Tudor privy councillor or a Canadian mayor. But no, I can’t be bought. There’s nothing of the quid pro quo to my cupidity. Just that I take a keen delight in being given things.
Only once in living memory have I been quaint and surly when the ribbons have been untied and the paper ripped away. It was Christmas Eve, just before the children’s bedtime, and everyone was allowed to open ONE present. I chose one of the several inscribed to me by my mother.
“It had better not be socks,” I joked.
But of course it was socks.
My children gazed, appalled, as I rudely demanded another prezzy. My family has never forgotten – or, I suspect, forgiven – the moment. The tale is retold every Christmas.
So, am I acquisitive? Alas that it should be so. Is that a sin? Probably – because receiving gives me so much pleasure, and pleasure is the calling card of sin. And if anyone presumes to divert a gift intended for me, I find it hard to pretend any sort of smiling, merry nonchalance, with indignation roiling up inside me like the acid reflux of avarice. I do not forget.
July 22, 1998. A PR event at an Irish pub in Toronto. Good canapés. A tap on my shoulder…
Man at Party (icily): “So. Did you enjoy the bottle of Krug?”
MaP: “I sent a bottle of Krug to your office at the magazine. A year ago.”
Me: “But but but I work from home… Krug!?”
Crashing into the office next morning, demanding answers, I was met by silence and big round eyes and mouths that looked as though they were sucking lollipops.
Anyway these headphones – Sennheiser Momentum, made in Germany – sleek and black with a bold red cable – have reached me today and I am in awe. They are beautiful and they exclude all ambient noise. The earpieces cup and couch my oreilles with the most tender but most complete embrace. The sound quality is superb. Hitherto, I have relied on a set of ’phones pilfered from the first class cabin of a British Airways transAtlantic flight, fragile things that have required a deal of duct tape and fiddling over the years to maintain their integrity. From this moment on, I discard them. They will go into the wicker hamper where I keep all the redundant possessions that I cannot bear to throw away.
So… What to listen to with these marvellously intimate new headspeakers? My song du jour, Bowie’s mesmerizing, mysterious palimpsest, The Bewlay Brothers? My favourite episode of QI on YouTube? Or the most enchanting piece of music I can think of, just now, off the top of my head, the Nocturne near the end of Act One of Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict, the Deutsche Grammophon recording, with Ileana Cotrubas singing Héro and Nadine Denize as Ursule. The duet is ripe with rapturous expectation but at the same time indescribably poignant as the maidens walk slowly in the moonlit garden beneath the fragrant jasmine arbors.
To the anonymous Sennheiser benefactor: thank you for this delightful surprise – a gift that is all the more charming for being totally unexpected and completely undeserved.