These last minute Christmas gift ideas could also work for the New Year’s sales (let’s see if the price goes down) or birthdays. As a side note, I’m expanding my blog from primarily food and travel into other areas that inspire: interiors, craft, politics, design, fashion and history.
Blood Legacy by Alex Renton £12.76 hardback (Canongate books)
A few years ago I was invited to the Fortnum & Mason food writing awards and I took my upstairs neighbour Karen Campbell with me. She got chatting to writer Alex Renton, down from Edinburgh, about her Scottish Jamaican (and Chinese)ancestry. In the ensuing years, Alex wrote this book about his family’s connections to the slave trade in the Caribbean. He admits that, as an old Etonian, as the son of a Baron and MP, he comes from privilege, but he doesn’t flinch from looking at the question of his family’s responsibility for the slave trade and the resultant wealth. Renton spends time in the Caribbean, visiting an abandoned familial plantation on Tobago and the profitable ‘Rozelle’ on Jamaica where his ancestors cashed in. During the Caribbean sugar boom, every adventurous young man of means had a go at making a fortune and the inhumanity of the slave trade was largely ignored. This part of British history (and let’s be specific, Scottish history) has been buried. It wasn’t just the English who were the baddies.
You might feel, as a white person, that this book would be grim reading, but it’s not. It’s well written, intricately researched, flowing and readable as a good yarn, but is suffused with a humble honesty from Alex. Right now, with the terrifying costs of the pandemic looming over us, this is probably the last thing we want to think about, but Renton makes a reasonable case for reparations.
Alex Renton also wrote a great book on vegetarianism Planet Carnivore which I recommend. While he chooses painful intense subject matter, he writes so well that it’s a surprisingly easy read.
Pretty Little London by Sara Santini and Andrea Di Filippo £12.55 (Frances Lincoln)
This is a book stemming from a successful instagram account . Amidst the grime, the pollution, the poverty, the stress, the crime statistics, London is pretty, there are hidden corners of beauty everywhere. Even though I’m a Londoner, I learnt about many new places and locations. The authors are Italian, and perhaps you have to be a foreigner to appreciate this city with new eyes. This is a great gift for those who like to walk, to shop, to nose around. If we cannot travel, explore your home town.
Edwardian scrapbook £14.95 Museum of Brands shop
I love this museum in London: they have scrapbooks for every era which is a great research source for fonts, packaging and style. I love packaging, especially food tins and boxes and I love a museum gift shop.
For food themed books and cookbooks see my previous post.
Aarke water sparkler £200
We need to use less plastic don’t we? I carry around a water bottle and a collapsible coffee cup. But what about sparkling water? While I love my Soda Stream – design-wise, the Aarke water carbonator beats them hands down. Gorgeous colours, which fit in with today’s interiors, and a slimline minimalist aesthetic influenced by Italian espresso machines, I highly recommend this. It’s worth the price.
Monastery gifts, basil vinegar £4.20 by Buckfast Abbey
I like perusing this niche site for monastery-made goods. A German monastery (Beuron Erzabtei St. Martin) made this basil-flavoured vinegar. I’m assuming the sales also benefit these religious communities.
Mr Moris bottarga £16.99
Have you tried bottarga? Addictive and delicious, it’s compressed grey mullet roe that you can grate on pasta or thinly slice onto toast. This version is beautifully packaged and would make a good foodie gift.
Sheepskin slippers £24 from Notonthehighstreet.com
I was bought these pretty and cosy moccasin slippers for my birthday way back in January. I’ve wood floors in my flat so I need a bit of comfort for the feet. The stitching has come out of the toes which I’ve repaired with embroidery thread.
Red checked puff sleeve blouse £16.94 from Cider.
Soo cute. Unfortunately they’ve run out of XL sizes. I don’t know if Cider clothes (an instagram shop) are of good quality but I love this style. I’ve also been using Mimi’s Edit to buy some clothes. She’s a normal-sized woman with good taste so check it out.
Ceramic splatterware plates (4) £115 from Petersham Nurseries.
God I love Petersham Nurseries style. I’ve never eaten there, too expensive for me, but their homeware and garden stuff is sublime. Go onto the site and drown in an orgy of interiors and exteriors.
Enamelware salad bowls from Turkey, £20 from Kapka.com
I’ve been collecting enamelware for over a decade. It’s great for catering pop ups, being unbreakable, lightweight, easy to clean, and improving with the chips and dents of age. This Turkish company is exploring modern designs for a vintage material.
Splatterware enamel light shades, £15 plus shipping from the USA, from Crow Canyon Home
Bornn large deep rectangle dish (baking tray) £20 plus shipping
I discovered Crow Canyon spatterware at one of those posh organic petrol stations, while driving to Scotland. I bought the only pieces they had, a grey splattered bread tin, and a couple of serving spoons. ADORE. They aren’t expensive but I’ve sent an email to enquire about shipping. This is a woman owned business.
Twisted lacquered green picture frame, £80, hosthome.co.uk
Charming artisanal picture frame that comes in several on-trend colours (millennial pink, buttercup yellow, a subtle turquoise). This is a collaboration with art dealer Domenica Marland.
Step Up Stool in forest green £74 Selfridges
If you are a short-arse you need one of these. The world is built according to a man’s average height. Even the areas that are not their usual domain such as the kitchen. Reach the top with this stool on casters that fixes itself to the floor as soon as you stand on it.
Linen ruffled sheets, turmeric £149 Folkinteriors.co.uk
Admittedly not cheap. Sometimes you can find cheaper linen sets in Homesense. You can also find ruffled linen on Etsy. My style is fundamentally romantic, so I love a ruffle but I do try to keep it within the boundaries of good taste. (I’m old enough to remember the swagged, ruffled Austrian blind fad in the 1980s. It wasn’t a good time for interiors.)
I have also started to opt for coloured bed linen after a couple of decades of only white. It is amazing how bed linen can really date your era. In my smaller bedroom everything is dark teal and mustard so this colour hit the spot.
Black and White Cake Stand £70, Finnish Design Shop
Stylish, graphic, modern.
Rattan fruit shaped baskets (large £95.90 and small £48.50) Finnish Design Shop
They say these are for kids but I think they are charming as laundry baskets, fruit baskets, anything you can think of.
How to make a notebook, £65, online class, House of Illustration.org.uk
They did have classes on how to make a comic novel of your life which sounded great. I think people often want experiences rather than things, especially if you are not sure about their taste, or they already have everything. A few years ago I bought my brother a musical comedy class and this led to a whole new circle of friends, a chance to improve his confidence on performing and several appearances in musicals. This class teaches you about book-binding and different kinds of paper. If there is another lockdown then an online class is a fantastic gift: you feel part of a community and learn a new skill.
How to make a pleated lampshade £360, online and in person. minervaworkshop.co.uk
I love the trend for printed fabric pleated lampshades. They are very expensive so why not learn to make one instead? Earlier this year I learnt to make a corset at Gartmore House (highly recommended). During the last 18 months I find I want to use my hands to make things. It’s good for my mental health during a time when it’s been very difficult to host my supper club and make a living.
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