'I think this belonged to your ex...'

I went on a few dates with a Norwegian which happened to fall over the Christmas period. On the night before returning to his homeland, he called at my flat with red glitter all over his pale, chiselled, Scandinavian face.

On my doorstep in the cold and dark he presented a gift wrapped in red glittery wrapping paper. It was a very sweet scene. I welcomed him into my living room where my two flatmates sat, eager to find out what was in the package.

I was reluctant to open the gift with an audience, but he told me to open it, so I did. It was a copy of the collected plays of Henrik Ibsen.


What’s wrong with that? I hear you ask. Nothing. But when I flicked through the book, there was something tucked between the pages: a photograph of the Norwegian. And his ex-girlfriend.

I thumbed further through the book, it felt as though there was something else. Yes, yes there was! The stub of a plane ticket which belonged to her.

It had once been her book.

My two flatmates and I looked down at the floor. The Norwegian looked away. I must say that he recovered it well. Early the next morning, he posted an Moleskine notepad through my letter box, with a card which read: “No nasty surprises in this book. Fill it with your poems.”

The Norwegian was a recycler of gifts sure, but he was also a good guy with a sense of humour. It wasn't meant to be between us but he wins the award for the best recovery.

The riddle of the mug

I went out with a really strange person, just as I was finishing my degree.

He was good-looking, charming. Not my usual type. We went on a few walks, went to the cinema, held hands. I went to watch him perform as an extra in a play. I heard some stories which made me suspect that he wasn't being entirely honourable but he was just good looking enough that it was possible to ignore them.

He turned up at my birthday party, a beach party, with a gift. A mug wrapped in a plastic bag.


It was a porcelain mug with a table of imperial to metric conversions printed on it.

Because I had no confidence at the time, I was polite and grateful when it was presented, but I thought privately: ‘Why did he give me such a rubbish, thoughtless gift?’ After all, we talked about the arts!

On serious reflection, maybe it was I who talked about the arts. He just swung his head melodramatically from looking brooding and quizzical to looking pensively into middle distance. Maybe I'd misinterpreted him.

Back to the mug.

Giving me the gift of a mug was puzzling, but giving me a mug with a numerical table on it was completely inappropriate.

He left the party early. My friends and I huddled around the mug, passing it between us, trying to work out what it meant.

It was £7.99 the label told us - he could have bought a book for less. Or a beaded necklace. Or a pretty notebook. We knew that he'd bought it from a shop in the middle of town, and, from later investigations, I learnt that this range of mugs was displayed on the top shelf of a dusty cabinet at the back of the store. He must have searched for a while. He must have passed all of the other slightly more interesting gifts en route.

But then, in the spark of imagination which is only experienced by an English literature student looking for meaning in the apparently meaningless, I realised he'd given me this gift because I was the mug.

The mug was his way of saying that the relationship was over.

Perhaps a doormat would have been more appropriate.