I battled bravely through the mental trials and tribulations and managed to take home the box without opening it and revealing its contents. I didn't even, as Rikaz had suggested, bung the barcode numbers into Amazon's website and deviously find out the answer. Nor did I go down the DQ route and open it using the old "this is all for the greater good, be a man" excuse.
Also, while we're on the subject, I'm not lying to you, I'm not using the widely utilised "write a post pretending I hadn't opened it" tactic when in actual fact I had. The truth is out there and it's in here, truth be told.
I found out the answer on Christmas day. I did a bit of unwrapping, something I'm fairly good at, and discovered one of the best presents I've ever received; an Amazon Kindle, one of these rather fantastical book reader things.
In case you don't know or haven't figured it out a book reader is not a bloke who follows you around reading books out aloud, or even silently. No, it's an electronic device that enables a fellow to buy and store up to about a thousand books or so. Then, that same fellow can read them on a screen, a clever and pin sharp screen that kind of has the solidity to it that the printed word does.
The screen's not like any screen I've viewed before. It's a tough thing to explain, what with my lack of descriptive powers, but it's got a total lack of flicker and movement to it. You know as you read this on a monitor there's a brightness and sense of animation and illumination to it, well the image on the Kindle screen justs sits there in a kind of high definition greyness. I mean that in a good way, it's really rather amazing.
You view a page, press a button to go to the next one and the image changes in an instant, to another page that stays totally and utterly still, stiller than a barman in a Colombo 5 star hotel tomorrow night.
This device has got its own wireless built in somehow, I'll be buggered if I know how it works. What I do know is that I buy a book from Amazon then it gets sent through the airwaves directly to my Kindle. There's no syncing with a computer like with iPods and iTunes and the like. According to the blurb the global wireless thing operates all over the world, probably why they call it "global wireless", so in theory I can even do it in Colombo.
I have to go to the Amazon.com site rather than the UK one, a bit of a bummer I must admit. These American readers lean towards self help, motivational how to beat everyone around you books and novels by chaps called Jack or Chuck. It's only a minor negative and I assume that, in time, Kindle books will be available on the UK Amazon site too. The price of books is about the same or less than the real thing, so I'm not forced into a situation where I have to pay through the nose for the things.
All in all it means I can take a shed load of books around with me in a smallish package wherever I go. This is exciting, good and fun. Of course coffee table books are nigh on impossible to reproduce in this format. Even if the scientists could make a screen that would be colourful and high enough in definition the smell, the feel and the sound of a real book would be missing. Not all books are currently available and most of my shelves full of books on or about Sri Lanka only exist on paper in ink.
At first I thought that reading text on a screen, pressing buttons to turn a page and generally moving around the Kindle would be a big change, perhaps too drastic a one, from reading paper books. I was wrong. After about a day of reading and feeling very conscious of the new medium I realised that I'd begun to do ita naturally and was as engrossed in my e book as I would have been if it were a book book. I've still got some things to get used to but I know that they'll follow.
For example there's no such thing as page numbers as we know them. Why would there be? I can change the size of the text to suit my liking and therefore the number of pages in any given book is a moveable feast. Instead of page numbers there are locations to each point in the book, like Stardates as used by the Captain of the USS Enterprise.
I've been buying books just for the fun of it, the need to chuck them on the Kindle will die I hope, though my bank manager and Mr Amazon are both quite happy about it. I've bought, for next to nothing I might add, the complete adventures of Sherlock Holmes and all the Jeeves and Wooster stories ever written. I'll probably never read the Holmes stuff and I more or less know all the Jeeves stories backwards anyway, but they seemed like good things to have.
Well there you have it, a truly stunning present. You know me, I love a good gadget.
See you in the next decade. May your celebrations be banging and your year be a fine one.