What on earth do I give my grandad for Christmas?
December 4, 2011 7:36 PM   Subscribe

What should I give my grandad for Christmas?

The annual quandary of what to give my grandad for Christmas has arrived. He's 81 and can't really see. My mother gave my brother her one idea: a talking watch. But, as she said, he doesn't need two talking watches. He lives in Yorkshire, but will be visiting us in the US for Christmas, so his presents have to be able to fit in his suitcase (and not weigh much).

I suppose our great fear is that he'll sort of give up on living because many of the things he likes to do have become difficult as his vision has gotten worse. Part of me wants to come up with some amazing present that will make him more excited about life, but what that is, I have no idea.

He used to read a lot (lots of mysteries and thrillers--Dick Francis, Clive Cussler, Inspector Morse, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, etc.) and still does, but at a much slower pace. (A year ago, he could read large print without additional magnification, but he can't get large print books at home--the library's rubbish and they're expensive to buy.)

He's into opera and would go to London several times a year for the opera, but again that's gotten difficult. We seem to have exhausted the opera-related presents, though. He's got a recording or DVD of every opera he likes, it seems, and what seems like all the opera books in existence.

At one point, he was into cooking and would make all sorts of elaborate thing. He stopped, though, as he'd invite his friends round and use that as reason for making elaborate desserts or whatever. But they weren't the sort of people to be impressed by his creations, so he stopped. (I think those friends have either died or moved away now, as well.) I don't think he really cooks for himself much, anymore.

Long, long ago (like before I was born and before I can remember) he was into travel and photography. When my mother was a kid, they'd go on walking holidays. He likes going new places and trying new things. (At the age of 76 or so, he had Thai food for the first time in Berkeley. He still goes on about it and made my mom and cousin go to a Thai restaurant when they were in London. I have no idea how many times I've been told it wasn't as good as the one we went to in Berkeley.) He used to knit and do needlepoint, but stopped when I was little. (I don't know why he stopped, but he can't see to do it in any case. He 'taught' me to knit by simultaneously kibitzing and saying 'Don't ask me, I can't see it.')

Oh, he's got a computer with broadband. He uses it for email, looking the occasional thing up/planning trips and watching the soap operas he misses when my uncle phones him on Tuesday evenings. He had an iPod at one point. It may have died, I'm not sure. Trying to get him a Kindle is a thought. A US one would certainly be cheaper, but would it be able to buy books in Britain? Of course, then the cost of books adds up.
posted by hoyland to Shopping (25 answers total)
Do you live near him? It sounds like more than anything, he could use some companionship to help him do all these things he once really enjoyed.
posted by Miko at 7:38 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, wait, you specified that he doesn't - sorry. Still, I think the best thing would be to find some ways to access these interests that he has a harder time pursuing today.
posted by Miko at 7:38 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm thinking an ipod loaded with books. And maybe find someone close to him that would update it after he's listened to them.
posted by raisingsand at 7:47 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think a Kindle is a good idea (maybe you could coordinate and family members could get him gift certificates to go with the Kindle?) but I wanted to suggest a "DIY Autobiography."

I gave my grandfather one about 10 years ago for Christmas and told him I wanted it back from him the next Christmas as my gift. He spent the year going through each question, digging through old memories and old letters, his wife said he had a wonderful time doing it and was really excited about it, and he gave it back to me the next year.

We lost him just last month, and the stories of his life -- especially his childhood -- have been a treasure and a comfort.

Vision might be a limiting factor on the books, but there must be audio and computer versions.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:52 PM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

I gave my grandmother an ipad after her vision deteriorated so far she couldn't read anymore. She has had a good year or reading with the ipad - using the Kindle app you can make the text really big and I think the backlighting helps - YMMV.
posted by yogalemon at 7:57 PM on December 4, 2011

The Kindle has a text-to-voice option, so he can listen to the books or set the type size pretty big. It's a little less gadget-y than an iPad or an iPod with audiobooks (I know my grandmother still refuses to even use the electric typewriter because it's "too hard"). Also the Kindle can hold a bazillion books, so the updating time would be fairly long. And yes, you can download books from anywhere and they are delivered via the interwebs. I bought books all summer in Korea for my American Kindle. You could either have him tell you books he wants, download Project Gutenberg books for free, or give him some gift certificates to choose new ones.

The other thing my dad did with his elderly relatives is give them a small voice recorder so they could tell all their stories. Maybe he'd do that?

If you are far away and he has a computer, you could set up a Skype account for him, get him a webcam, etc.
posted by mrfuga0 at 8:09 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

If the ipod or kindle or ipad are too technological for him, what about books on regular old CDs/tapes? I know nothing about this service but it appears to be netflix for books on tape. I do think an ipad that would let him increase the size of type might help - just load it with only that app and make it easy to use.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:14 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I concur with audiobooks! For someone who loved to read, they might be a great way to regain some autonomy and enjoyment.
posted by hepta at 8:20 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are libraries which offer both paid memberships (usually for people outside their regular constituency) and books-by-mail services. It would probably be a bit of a pain to set up, but it might be a way to get large-prints in his hands regularly.
posted by box at 8:21 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Said libraries might also offer downloadable books via Overdrive or whatnot, for a tie-in to the Kindle thing.)
posted by box at 8:22 PM on December 4, 2011

It sort of seems like the Kindle idea has legs (Amazon has actually thought out the fact people switch countries), except that, as far as I know, there's no wireless, anywhere, which means he'd have to load books from the computer (that works right?) which could be enough to put him off, but perhaps not. (Or my uncle or one of my cousins could find him a wireless router and set it up, though his internet connection isn't on permanently in the way everyone I know's is.)
posted by hoyland at 8:40 PM on December 4, 2011

"except that, as far as I know, there's no wireless, anywhere"

It looks like you can get Kindles in the UK with 3G, which might add a little complication to ordering one, but if it has 3G, it's "free" (built into the original purchase price) internet over the cell phone network -- no wifi needed.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:45 PM on December 4, 2011

A Kindle or a Nook would be my suggestion. I am sending a Nook to my legally blind mother in Australia, they don't have them there yet and she finds the small buttons on the standard Kindle too hard to use with her eye sight. The Nook is an arbitrary choice of course now with the New Kindle touches I just went Nook because I knew how to use it.

She is a rampant technophobe but when she last came to visit she loved being able to read new releases in whatever size print she wanted. If your grandfather uses a computer then so much the better for him. He could also use the various eReader aps on his computer to read the files and the monitors make the font much larger than you could get on an ereader, I just can't talk my mother into using a computer and am hoping the ereader will be a gateway drug.

Not sure about getting books for the Kindle in the UK, but B&N said as long as there was an account in the US (ie my account) and she used that for book purchases she could buy books anywhere she is in the world. So you might be able to wangle the Kindle that way, though Amazon has a UK site so that might be a non issue for you.

Suggestions of audiobooks are great for some people too, my Mum hates them because they go too slow so they are not everyones cup of tea.

There are a lot of great devices,
not just talking watches, out there to help people with impaired vision. My Mother is 72 years old and has very limited vision but manages to travel around the world to visit friends and family and leads a very active life helped by a lot of these sorts of devices.
posted by wwax at 8:50 PM on December 4, 2011

I know you said he doesn't have wifi, but I'm going to suggest an iPad. I just bought one this month for my Dad, who is 80, lives in the UK, and I live in the US. His sight is fine, but we use it to do videochats, and he can read books on it, he listens to his favourite radio stations on it, and plays with the crossword and FlightAware apps I downloaded for him. If you think family near him could set up wifi, then it could be pretty awesome for him. The Kindle Fire fulfills most of this, but for us the big reason to choose the iPad was that it allows him to do video chats. I think that is a really important feature when you are on the other side of the world from him.
posted by Joh at 10:05 PM on December 4, 2011

How about a bunch of Audio book for him to listen to
posted by gt2 at 10:30 PM on December 4, 2011

Could you get him some audio books on CD through Amazon UK? Then you wouldn't have to worry about the weight--you could have them sent directly to his house there. It takes away the excitement of opening presents, but, eh, I'm guessing that at age 81, he could handle that.

It sounds like the Kindle might work out, but, if not, this might be another option.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:31 PM on December 4, 2011

Amazon say that the Kindle 3G can download books anywhere in the world. I'd recommend you e-mail Amazon to clarify this, they're pretty good normally.

So you could buy one in the US, setup an Amazon account for him, download a few books to it, increase the font size and wrap it up all ready to go.

He then takes it home to England, and then when he's finished reading what's on there, you can log onto his account from his computer, buy him another books (perhaps with his credit card details?) and then it'll be sent straight to his Kindle over the mobile phone network.

You should also mention the browsing feature to him; you can read the first chapter of most books Amazon sell in Kindle format for free. It's brilliant!
posted by chrispy108 at 1:11 AM on December 5, 2011

The downside to audiobooks is that he finds them kind of boring and he'd probably see switching as giving up on reading.

I talked to my brother and it sounds like our mother has maybe been thinking of the Kindle idea, as she's been emailing him a zillion questions. If she is, hopefully we can go in together and get him properly kitted out, as a 3G Kindle is out of my budget, but really what'd be best.

I like the recording stories idea, too. It's hard to know if he'd go for it--my brother wants to hear these stories, but my grandad won't tell them. But maybe he'd do it if he didn't have to actually tell someone sitting there. (In the last few years, he's started alluding to what it was like during the war, but always talks about it as if it was a game or an adventure, when air raids must have been pretty terrifying for a kid. So maybe he's ready to talk.) If my mother's doing the Kindle idea, maybe my brother and I can do some Kindle stuff and put an autobiography kit together.
posted by hoyland at 4:41 AM on December 5, 2011

If audiobooks are boring, I wonder if he'd like podcasts, then? I actually find audiobooks sort of a drag, but I love podcasts. It sounds like he might really like RadioLab, Studio360, To The Best of Our Knowledge, Fresh Air, and On Being. Podcasts are so much livelier than books. I like the idea of pre-loading a few months' worth of shows to get him started
posted by Miko at 5:14 AM on December 5, 2011

Don't undersell the Nook, even if he is in the UK. Especially if the many freely available EPUB and PDF books are to be part of the picture and he isn't into extra fiddling about. (And frankly, Amazon needs competition.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:26 AM on December 5, 2011

Argh... just had an email from my mother saying my grandad quite emphatically doesn't want a Kindle. He's of the (probably false, if you're cunning) opinion that the books are too expensive and he doesn't want to pay for books he already owns or can get for cheap. (He buys used books for a penny plus shipping off Amazon and then sells them when he's done.) So I guess that idea is shelved until he really needs the magnification.

She rubbished the autobiography idea too, but then followed up with another email suggesting it maybe wasn't half bad.
posted by hoyland at 5:58 AM on December 5, 2011

To clarify what his sight's like, he reads normal print paperbacks with a magnifying glass, but that's of course really slow going because it's awkward. He'd probably be thrilled with a Kindle if he had one, but I think he wants to hold out.
posted by hoyland at 6:00 AM on December 5, 2011

Maybe what he really needs, then, is a better way to magnify the pages. There are magnifiers that will cover a full sheet; there are ones that go around your neck; there are machines that sit on a desktop. They might make things work better.

Also, tell him that with a nook or a kindle he could borrow books for free! from libraries (I assume that works in the UK).
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:40 AM on December 5, 2011

Besides books, it sounds like he really enjoys food. Since his eyesight is going, it might be nice to give him something that uses one of his other senses. Can you put together a package of fancy foods? You might be able to find a market that's close to him that could put together a basket of perishable treats (pate, fancy cheese, olives -- whatever he likes) that don't need much in the way of preparation. Or, a food-of-the-month club of some kind.
posted by chowflap at 7:35 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some sort of food is a good idea. Pong Cheese (worth it for the name alone) seem to do a subscription service where you can buy, say, three months, but specify you want it delivered every four months over the year. I'm worried if I assemble something here, it'll be tricky for him to get home, but he could have surprise cheese every few months (and he likes cheese). That said, my mother's partner gives him boxes of smoked salmon every year and he gets that home just fine. (I think he got some one year and my grandad kept going on about how nice it was, so it's kept coming.)

I guess I should get on the phone to my brother and we should figure out how much money we have, so we can try and pull off multiple of your good ideas.
posted by hoyland at 2:31 PM on December 5, 2011

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