Decadent Advent Calendars

My mum used to buy me flat advent calendars, even when I was a teenager. You know, where you open a little door and there’s a pretty picture on the other side. And every year I’d think wtf Mum, I want  CCCHHHOOOCCCOOOLLLAAAAAAAAATTTEE, but I never told her because I knew she really liked the little pictures and I was just being a philistine.

Now I’m a grown-up I don’t particularly want the chocolate ones (try telling a child that when they reach an age and financial position that they can buy as much sugar as they want, they will no longer care for it – the horror and confusion on their faces is priceless). I still want an advent calendar though, and I’m still a philistine so I still want a treat every day, so I’ve put together a Top 5. Let me know which is your favourite.

Master of Malt: Tasting Samples £99.95 – £999.95

Master of Malt 2

Master of Malt 1

These are amazing. Choose from whisky, gin, vodka, tequila, rum, mezcal, bourbon, cognac, armagnac or, my particular favourite given the season, absinthe, and each day you will discover a cute little bottle containing different sample-drams of your tipple of choice. Prices are typically £100-150, though their ‘old and rare whisky’ is an eye-watering £999.95.

Susanne Kaufmann: Beauty, £99

Susanne Kaufmann 1

If you know someone (Mum) who always works overtime at Christmas to make it special for everyone else, buying the perfect gifts, covering the house in foliage and scented candles, and cooking sumptuous meals for house-guests and hungry hangers-on alike, then they may just need a reminder to relax for 5 mins every day. The Susanne Kaufmann advent calendar is just the thing, containing a range of luxurious beauty products from her organic treats wellness line.

Diptyque: Candles & Perfumes, £250

Diptyque 1

I can’t believe I missed out on this one (mind you, given the price, probably lucky I did). Diptyque make the most wonderful candles and perfumes, and this calendar houses a plethora of scents. It’s only been available (exclusively from Selfridges) for 2 weeks, and has already sold out. Next year is going to be my year. Who needs food when you can have Diptyque?

They make so many different products, however, that it does seem a shame to limit the calendar primarily to perfumes and candles. Room sprays, scented ovals, diffusers, shower gels, radiance boosting powder (whatever that is)… I would have thought this the perfect opportunity to market smaller-sizes to those clients usually reluctant to venture out of candle/ perfume territory.

Fortnum & Mason: Wooden Tea Box, £125

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Close your eyes, and imagine yourself surrounded by tropical Indian jungle or oriental bamboo forests. Teas from the hills and valleys of India and Ceylon, China and Japan will help to transport you, for a lot less than the cost of a plane ticket. From ‘Jungpana Second Flush Darjeeling’ to the ‘White Fuding Peony King’, all your tea-needs will be met with this. I love the painted wooden box it comes in also, making it feel that bit more exciting.

Liberty: Beauty, £149

Liberty 2

Liberty 1

Liberty specialise in luxury, and they’ve put together a selection of miniatures across the range in makeup, beauty products and general pampering. Another one that has just sold-out, you’ll have to get in quick next year to benefit from the discount of purchasing these products en-masse, as the calendar has been valued at closer to £400 than the £150 they’re selling it for. It’s also presented in a beautiful and reassuringly-solid box, fronted with the store’s familiar Tudor-frontage and lined with a classic Liberty print.

Oh, and here are two more advent calendars that may not count as decadent, but I actually like just as much as the others I’ve shown you:

Hotel Chocolate: Truffles for Two, £26

Hotel Chocolat 1

Christmas is definitely the time for sharing. My years of finding a lovely Christmas-boyfriend (the only criteria for this being that he had to look good in a woollen jumper, like countryside walks in the snow and watching Love Actually because he’d be gone by February) may be be over, but now I have a lovely Christmas-husband (much longer sell-by date on that one) to share things with. There are two baby truffles behind each window, including festive flavours like Mulled Wine, Pecan Gingerbread, and Cinnamon Praline, and let’s be honest, if you’re going to have chocolate it may as well be the best chocolate.

Yankee Candle: Reindeer Carousel, £31.99

Yankee Candle 1

Yankee candles aren’t terribly pricey, but I still love the idea of trying a different one each day in tea-light form. Fragrances included are: Bundle Up, Candy Cane Lane, Icicles, Spiced Orange, Snowflake Cookie and Winter Glow tealights, as well as a Berry Trifle, Bundle Up, Cosy By the Fire and Winter Glow in votive form.

Is anyone else looking forward to starting their advent calendars, or are they just for children (and me)?

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toadstoools-33   Spitalfields Market   DSC_0387 (800x533)

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Anemones in Pewter

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I love seeing flowers in vases that are not vases, and this little pewter jug is my latest favourite. It has a heavy, masculine quality that balances out the prettiness of the delicate anemones, and is an object to admire in its own right, without distracting attention from its contents as vases can often do. I bought an eclectic collection of pewter jugs and teapots back in April to display our wedding flowers in, but they’re in storage at the moment so I only have this one on display.

Incidentally, I just had to mention that I took the above photo in Manual Mode. That’s right, like a real photographer. Goodbye Auto, I now know how to actually use my camera. Well, I’m getting there anyway. I decided it was about time I learnt, so I booked myself in for a private lesson at Nikon headquarters. They do all sorts of courses, but I really just wanted to learn what all the buttons do, so their training specialist Mark took me through it. He was incredibly patient with me, and I learnt absolute bucketloads. I left feeling like my mind was going to implode though, and gained a newfound respect for my own students who put up with my high expectations every week.

Has anyone else decided to learn a new skill this year?

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Hampstead   The Imaginarium, York 6   Tom & Jade FINAL 0416 (533x800)

Handmade Cards and Gift Boxes

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When I was four we moved to Nauru, a small island in the Pacific halfway between Australia and Hawaii. There were a lot of benefits like massive land-crabs and no taxes to pay (that’s right, MASSIVE land-crabs), but also a few downsides like the extortionate cost of posting letters and cards to the other side of the world (and the desalination plant broke occasionally, so we’d have to fill up all the baths, sinks and other watertight receptacles to use until they fixed it and turned the water back on).

My mother’s family has a bit of a thing about sending cards, for birthdays in particular, so when she found out how much it would cost to post small bits of paper to the UK she decided I was just going to have to hand-make every card we sent from then-on to justify the airfare. Thanks for that mum.

Anyway, this did inspire a life-long obsession with making my own cards, so I thought I’d give you a how-to guide for one of the designs I created recently. It’s easy and quick, but definitely one of my favourites. I made sets of cards as Christmas gifts this year and decorated gift boxes to present them in, so I’ll also show you how I decorated the boxes at the end. They’d make great birthday/ Mother’s Day presents.

Cards Equipment

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Step 1 – stamping

Make sure your stamp is well inked, then press down hard on-top of a hard surface and give it a little wiggle to make sure all the ink is transferred. I usually stamp the top-left corner and the bottom right, but depending on your design you can stamp anywhere you like really.

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Step 2 – spray paint

Splatter the outside of your card with gold spray paint. Just as fun but not quite as easy as it sounds, you have to press really gently to make sure you get a pleasing dribble rather than a big gold splodge. If you do accidentally splodge, more is better than less in this case – just go for it and spray the whole thing.

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I always make a sort of spray-paint tent out of a plastic bag, as the paint spreads further than you’d expect. If you accidentally spray yourself it’ll last a few days. The floor? Forever. Have fun with that.

Step 3 – attach the feather

Cut the shaft of your feather down so it fits onto the front of your card, then put a 2cm line of glue along the card where the top of the shaft needs to be fixed. You have about two seconds before that glue dries and ruins everything, so stick your feather down straight away.

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Step 4 – ribbon

With small drops of hot glue, affix the ribbon. Twist and swirl it across the top and then down the left-hand side of the card. Thinner ribbon is best for this as it looks more elegant, say 7mm rather than the standard 14mm ribbon. You’ll find you get strands of glue all over the place, like strands of silk or spider’s web, but they’ll easily pull or rub off.

Leave a few mm of ribbon sticking out on either side, then trim this until it is flush with the card. Run a thin line of hot glue along the edge of each end, otherwise it will fray. Wipe off the excess (NOT with your finger – just use the side of the glue-gun) or wait until it has dried and simply cut it back down to size with scissors.

Finally, tie a small bow in a different coloured ribbon, glue-gun the ends so they don’t fray, then affix with a large dollop of glue where the swirled ribbon crosses the feather in the top left-hand corner of the card.

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That’s it! See, easy, and it looks pretty damn good if I do say so myself. You can use any colour of card like black or dark blue say, but the red contrasts beautifully with the green peacock feathers.

Gift Boxes Equipment

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Now that you’re getting into the swing of using that glue-gun, we can make a box to put your beautiful cards in. I spent hours and hours and hours searching online for the perfect boxes, and found these from Stockpak. I wanted burgundy as they were for Christmas presents, but any colour would be fine for a different occasion. They’re 1mm too short one way (the envelopes don’t quite fit), so to compensate for this I cut the cotton filler in half and doubled it up, raising one end of the cards.

Step 1 – spray paint

Splatter the box and lid with gold spray-paint, and allow to dry.

Step 2 – ribbon

Twist and swirl the ribbon across one of the diagonals. Avoid being too uniform in this, and leave room between each swirl for buttons.

Step 3 – buttons

The pocketwatch buttons need to have their ‘shanks’ cut off so they don’t stick out too far, so do this with the metal cutters. A good task for husbands, I discovered.

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Then using your new best-friend the glue-gun, attach the pearl buttons and one of the stopwatch buttons to either side of the ribbon.

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And that’s all there is to it. Hope you like them!

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handmade wedding invitation   The Imaginarium, York 6   Handmade gift card

Autumn Shopping

It doesn’t really feel like autumn in London yet but that doesn’t stop me pretending, and a change of season is the perfect excuse to go shopping.

I thought I’d share my recent purchases with you – hopefully they’ll help inspire a shopping trip of your own!

Perfume

Nothing is so evocative of time and place as scent. It transports you instantly, affecting your mood and emotions as you slide into another world for a moment. The glimmers of that world surround you like phantoms when you wear a perfume, flickering in and out of sight as you go about even the most ordinary of days.

Féminité du Bois

I always wear Féminité du Bois by Serge Lutens in autumn.  It’s warm and dark, full of slowly burning spices and brimming with cedar. A musky base brings a masculine edge to the sugary overtones of autumn fruits, and the violet glass bottle adds a dash of elegance to any table. The Candy Perfume Boy reminded me that it’s high time I replenished my stock, so I popped down to Liberty last week and here it is.

Féminité du Bois

Candles and Candle Holders

With autumn comes the reluctant shutting of windows, that in our little flat provide a doorway to the lush horse chestnut trees outside. In summer it’s like sitting in the canopy. Song birds often fly into the flat and sit, slightly confused on the backs of chairs, and bees happily harvest the flowers inside the flat as well as on the windowsill.

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Now that the windows are shut, however, some compensation comes in filling the flat with scented candles. I skipped across from Liberty to Diptyque, and picked up a Pomander candle (Liberty do of course sell Diptyque candles as well, but they don’t pop a handful of free perfume samples into your bag like Diptyque do).

I also found the most beautiful tealight holders last week in Eight Sq, Spitalfields. Designed in South Africa by Luna Del Mar, perfect sea urchin skeletons have been crafted in porcelain. Fragile and intriguing, when a tealight is placed inside and lit they exude a beautiful, honeyed glow that enhances their intricate design.

sea urchin candle holder

sea urchin candle holder

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Bird Feeders

This one is a little less conventional, but I miss having those songbirds popping in for tea, so I thought I’d encourage them to visit more often. I wanted to suspend a feeder on the side of each window, but the support had to be drilled into the brickwork and I didn’t think my landlord would appreciate that. Then I found these acrylic versions. They’re not as pretty as some feeders, but there’s a tray for seeds and supports on either side for balls of food – just what birds need to get them through the winter. I got the feeder online from here, then shelled sunflower seeds (less messy for the neighbours underneath us than seeds still in their shells) and balls of seeds and fat from the RSPB online shop.

window bird feeder

So far I’ve got two bluetits and a very angry robin visiting every day. One of the bluetits lands, looks around several times then grabs a sunflower seed and darts off to eat it under cover. The other bluetit likes to hang out a bit, nibbling on the balls of food and seeds before selecting a seed to take with him. The robin lands indignantly on top of the feeder a few times a day, glares at me and chirrups loudly. Sometimes he doesn’t even take any seeds, he just glowers at me. I’m sure he’ll warm to me eventually.

What are your favourite autumn purchases?

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Spring Outfit: Vintage Roses and Bronze Antlers

Spring is definitely in the air in London. As good an excuse as any to go shopping I thought!

I do love floral patterns against a black background, and floaty tea dresses are perfect when the weather warms up and the wind subsides. I found this dress in Urban Outfitters, and cinched it in with a plaited leather belt (shoes from Hobbs, sunglasses Ralph Lauren). It looks quite different depending on how you style it; boho-chic with oversized shades and loose curls, or dressed up with a ballerina bun and smart black jacket. Which do you prefer?

© Jade Everingham

© Jade Everingham(I lost the black jacket so you’d be able to see the dress properly, but it looked very nice I promise!)

The bronze-antler necklace was another spring purchase, this time from Spitalfields market (definitely my favourite market). It’s available online here, though they’re not advertising the bronze chain that came with mine – I’m sure you can request this though if you prefer it to the leather or gunmetal chain available.

© Jade Everingham

I’ve been stealthily filling our flat with spring bulbs as well, as a man appears regularly near our house with a big van full of them. This sounds a bit sinister… tempting young women in with pretty flowers… but he’s very nice!

© Jade EveringhamBlue hyacinths

© Jade EveringhamWhite hyacinths and narcissus

What purchases does spring inspire you to make?

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Handmade Wedding Invites

We’ve finally had the last of the wedding rsvps back, so I thought I’d do a quick post on the invites I designed. If anyone else out there is a fan of stationery, read on!

This was the first thing I did, over a year ago when we first set the date. I’m sure most brides go straight for The Dress, but I was definitely more interested in anything I could stick in an envelope and put a postage stamp on. I think I looked at every single wedding invitation on the Internet, to get an idea of the options and expectations.

Once I’d decided on a design, I spent hours trying to find the right patterned wrapping-paper online. This was less than fruitful. Why there isn’t a website collating all the wrapping paper for sale in the world I just don’t know – it seems to be one of those few things you still have to source in person. I toyed with using wallpaper as there are some beautiful floral patterns out there, but when I popped into John Lewis to have a closer look I realised that the patterns are all too big, and lack detail or definition close-up. By chance, I came across a gorgeous pattern in Liberty (not available online). Although I hadn’t intended to incorporate blue it was the prettiest I’d seen, so I couldn’t resist.

I then created a spreadsheet of all the guests we’d decided to invite, and asked Tom to fill in his half of the addresses… then spent the next twelve months trying to bully and cajole him into actually doing so. Boys, eh.

Anyway, a year later I got round to actually making the invites. The silk ribbon had to be exactly the right shade of spring green, that I’d found years ago on a market stall and set my heart on for the bridesmaid dresses. I sourced it from V V Rouleaux, along with a brown leather ribbon to frame the wording inside.  Silk ribbon is about five times the price of satin, but definitely worth it – it’s so much easier to work with, and has a gentle lustre rather than a cheap shine. I also purchased antique-gold charms from Beadworks in Covent Garden – they’re labelled as pansies, but look more like dog roses to me. The card and envelopes came from The London Graphics Centre, and are the colour of old parchment; they reminded me of the year  I spent studying Renaissance literature when I first met Tom. I also sourced the pearl detailing here, as they come pre-sticky, so are much easier to apply.

© Jade Everingham

© Jade Everingham

© Jade EveringhamThe magic ingredient? Double sided tape. I discovered this recently, and it was an absolute godsend for securing ribbon, paper, card and leather. I’ll never be without it again. Nearly fifty hours of measuring, cutting, folding, gluing, printing, taping, sewing and sealing later… and I was finished.

The invitations are the first glimpse of a wedding that guests see, so I wanted ours to say something about us, without being too fussy. I hope you like them!

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The Imaginarium

© Jade Everingham

A fairly new shop has opened in York, and I love it. It’s like Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, but for grown-ups. Or at least for those of us children masquerading as grown-ups.

Despite already being wrapped up in the magic of trotting through the past as you wander along York’s twisting, medieval streets, when you come across The Imaginarium you can’t help but pause. The gleaming gold carousel horse in the window makes the child in you say STOP. That’s quite far enough. We’re not going another step until you let me go inside. The giant hare in the other window whispers an invitation to you to jump down the rabbit hole so, with a quick glance to either side in case you’re never seen again, you step inside.

© Jade Everingham

The interior is both beautiful and enchanting; full of shadows, treasures and jewel-like colours. Like Alice in Wonderland, you can’t help but skip between displays, gasping in delight and coveting everything you see. The paraphernalia associated with the science of magic and the fictive fantasy of it is everywhere, inviting you to lose yourself in the world of The Imaginarium. Glass bottles for potions, bell jars for displaying specimens, candles, incense and antique books, ornaments both utilitarian and decorative of toads, snails, owls and toadstools, ferns bursting through the walls as if an enchanted forest is trying to break through from the other side. Ibride’s theriocephaly trays adorn one wall, creatures caught half-way through enchantment, and  sculpted human hands reach through to hold out silk scarves for your perusal.

© Jade Everingham

© Jade Everingham

© Jade Everingham

© Jade Everingham

© Jade Everingham

There’s a wide spectrum of prices, with items for sale ranging from gift cards to unique sculptures, so you’ll be able to afford something whatever your budget. With a wedding to pay for I had to draw the line at paying £600 for one of Mr. Finch’s giant toadstools (I will be back one day though, never you fear). I was particularly enamoured of the potion bottles with labels like Aphrodisiac, Love Potion No. 9, A Solution for Everything, Joy Undiluted and Elixir of Youth (I would fill them unimaginatively with alcohol, obviously, but they’d make a great talking point when brought out during a Night Circus style dinner-party.) The miniature bell jars also took my fancy, and I loved these snail sugar-caddies.

© Jade Everingham

© Jade Everingham

The staff are lovely, and ever so well turned out (I wish I could wear a velvet jacket to work).

If you find yourself in York, do make sure you pay a visit to The Imaginarium. Get lost for half an hour, and purchase something magical that will make you smile every time you see it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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DSCF1566  IMG-20130324-00038   Diptyque 3 (editer.com)

Ten Interesting Christmas Gifts

Christmas shouldn’t be a time for getting things you need. Where’s the magic in that? (Though, Mum and Dad, if you’re reading this, I really do need  that new camera. And… a pony?) Christmas presents should be treats. They should be special; unique. I thought I’d pick out a few traditionally boring gift categories, and show you how to make them a bit more exciting.

Claret Really Wild Socks1) Socks

Socks are sort of a joke present these days aren’t they, but actually I think Grandads are onto something here. I’m a big fan of these woollen lovelies from Really Wild. Warm and sturdy, they’re perfect for popping under gumboots for long muddy walks, or if you live in a real country house that’s always bloody cold in winter.

£35. You can buy them here.

2) Paperweights

Another dull necessity, but something designed to be displayed on your desk, to be weighed in the hand and stared into for inspiration, should be worthy of its place. These are:

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£30 for the small size, £40 for the large. You can buy them here.

3) Ornaments

Some people like porcelain kittens but, er, not me. I recently discovered the work of the wonderful Mister Finch stocked in York’s Imaginarium. He sews together the most beautiful animals, toadstools and insects, inspired by British folklore. His creations are magical, and I’d be delighted to find one of his giant bumble bees or delicate toadstools under the Christmas tree.

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Stockists here.

4) Book Vouchers

These are always boring. Even for a bookworm like me! (Well, actually, I do find them pretty exciting, but most people are normal.) Gifts should be memorable, even if they don’t last, so go to the effort of finding out what sort of book they’d like and buying it for them. If you are adamant that you’d prefer vouchers though, why not go for something different, like a voucher from the Royal Opera House? Your lucky recipient can still make their choice from the different ballets and operas being staged, so you’re leaving them an element of control, but it’ll be far more memorable than a trip to Waterstones for them. Go on, surprise someone – it won’t be what they expected!

Parsifal

Royal Opera House 2

Royal Opera House

Spend as much or as little as you want to! You can buy them here.

5) Chocolates

Chocolates in any form and shape are always welcome, but some are more welcome than others. William Curley was awarded the prestigious ‘Britain’s Best Chocolatier’ accolade four times by The Academy of Chocolate (doesn’t that sound like a great place to work?) You can of course just purchase the chocolates, but if you’re keen on vouchers and have deep pockets, then they also offer a three month membership voucher. For £75, you receive a box each month full of their best sellers and new products. For £155, you will be contacted directly by one of their team to establish your likes, dislikes and favourites, then receive a bespoke selection of new products, seasonal lines, best sellers, award winners and your own personal favourites.

William Curley ChocolatesWilliam Curley Chocolates 2

You can buy them (for me) here.

6) Jewellery

It’s very difficult to find affordable jewellery that is still personal and interesting. Etsy is always a useful place to start online, but antique stores and markets are the best place to turn up something unique. One particular antique dealer in Tenterden knows  that I collect black wedgewood, so last time I popped in he showed me a mid-nineteenth century, black wedgewood ring set in gold (that he’d just happened to get his hands on). It was the most expensive piece of jewellery I’d ever bought for myself, but I couldn’t resist it because it was so unusual.

I’m particularly enamoured of these sea urchin rings at the moment. I used to spend hours beach-combing when I lived on Nauru, and found hundreds of sea urchin needles, but an intact skeleton was always an especially great prize. I think it’s important to hold onto our childhoods, where we came from and what made us who we are, and the jewellery we wear is often an expression of this.

Alexis Dove Urchin Ring

I’m also a big fan of the small dog-rose rings by the same designer, however… it would be difficult to decide!

Alexis Dove Wild Rose rings

£65-£160. Buy them here.

7) Pencils

Don’t get me wrong, I like pencils, especially ones in tins with names like ‘Graphite MASTER‘ and ‘Uber Skizze‘, but… exciting? No. For the creative person in your life (or the creatively deficient who frankly, needs the practice) why not go crazy and invent a new hobby for them so they can actually play with stuff at Christmas. A block of clay and weirdly invasive-looking tools? Yes please! Maybe try gilding, with sheets of actual gold. You could gild your children – they’ll love it, I promise. I sometimes give my female students gift-card-making paraphernalia: blank cards and envelopes, ribbons, charms, stamps and ink pads, which always goes down well.

Clay tools

Buy art materials here.

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Head here for ribbons, but do go in person, because it’s a wonderful, wonderful place.

8) Alcohol

No, it isn’t boring – of course not! However, if you are trying to find something a little bit different, perhaps try an accompanying toy:

cocktail shaker

Elegant cocktail shaker and matching ice bucket? Yes please!

cocktail glasses

Go on, throw in the glasses as well. John Lewis will sort you out here.

I also found these completely pointless but strangely tantalising moulds for making round ice cubes. Perfect for whiskey apparently, as the ice chills without diluting.

Ice sphere

£15 for two. You can buy them here.

9) Kitchenware

There is something wonderful about a practical object being also beautiful, especially if it’s also a bit strange. I told you about Ibride’s stunning trays before, but they’re too good to forget (and, like, nobody’s bought me one yet? Hello?!)

Pondichery Cornelius Monkey Tray

Au Grand Theatre Ambrose Hummingbird Tray

Ibride wall

£44-£166. You can buy them here.

10) Something You Made Yourself

Right, so I know this is sort of breaking the ‘shopping theme’ of this post, but having heard someone recently bemoaning being given home-made gifts, I thought I’d clarify the issue. Home-made gifts are of no value at all at Christmas if they’re any good. The BEST home-made gifts, are absolutely bloody awful. Stay with me. If you’re terrible at drawing, draw caricatures of all your friends and frame them (the frame is the clincher, as it means they’ll have to display it, at least when you visit). They’ll laugh at a portrait your cat could have drawn better, and you’ll laugh for years to come when they have to look at it on the wall every day. See, Christmas should be a time of frivolity and laughter. Zero culinary skills? Make the worst cake/ biscuits/ liqueur you can, and its consumption can be used as a forfeit when the drinking games begin! Tom used to eat a lot of pickled eggs (I don’t know why, I think it’s a Northern thing. Or maybe he’s just disgusting.) so I gave him a jar of pickled quail eggs one year. He and his brothers had a great time forcing each-other to eat them. I think someone vomited. Now THAT’S what you want out of Christmas.

Quail eggs

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Thomas J. Fudge’s Remarkable Bakery

Just a quick post today, but I had to show you what I found.

I was pootling along in Waitrose yesterday, when my eye was drawn to the ‘crackers and savoury snacks aisle’. This is a favoured location for me to while away the hours. I work my way through a lot of cheese each week, and will happily nibble on snacks all day long, so can profess to be a bit of an expert. Amidst the usual delights, a whole shelf had been given over a new range I hadn’t seen before, by Thomas J. Fudge’s Remarkable Bakery (they had me on the name, to be honest).

My eyes widened, as I contemplated the practicality of buying one of everything (there were about twelve different varieties of shards, flats, melts and pufferies), but I reluctantly settled just on the following three.

I love the packaging, as the designs are both pretty and silly; the perfect thing for having friends over. Reminiscent of nineteenth century botany and ornithology drawings, but with a modern pop of colour, an artistic representation of the ingredients used is balanced on the top-hatted heads of dapper gents on the front of each. Attention to detail is also impressive. A clear panel on the side of each box allows you to peek in at what you’re soon to be snaffling, and there are little notes printed inside the lid and along the decorated serving tray they come in. Oh, and they’re also utterly and completely delicious!

There’s a competition running currently on their website, to win a hatbox full of the new range of edible delights. Apparently there will be 22 weekly draws between 3rd August 2013 and 3rd January 2014, so plenty of chances to win! You can enter it here.

Let me know if you give them a go, or if you happen to win a hatbox full (I will be mad with jealousy, but adopt you as a good-luck charm).

The New Mulberry Zip Tote, and the Importance of Shopping Ethically

SO. I bought a Mulberry handbag.

I know, I know. Before you say it, or even think it, I can hear a horrified wave of tutting and gasps building in the distance, like a tsunami of disapproval. I’ve been (half) jokingly lusting after one for years, and Tom finally turned round and said that volunteering to teach all summer instead of going on holiday was the cherry on top of the working-70-to-100hr-weeks-for-the-last-four-years cake, and I deserved a reward. I thought about just posting a few photos and weathering the storm (“Mulberry handbag? Where? Gosh, how did that get there?!”) but decided, actually, to use this opportunity to write about the importance of paying good money for the things you believe in.

Don’t worry, I’ll post photos as well.

When I was growing up, designer clothes only existed in Vogue. People at my state comprehensive certainly didn’t wear them! If you wanted to dress in something that wasn’t from Topshop you rummaged through the charity shops, which resulted in wonderfully cheap and eccentric outfits. I was perfectly happy with this at the time, but I did know that there was something else, something better, out there. I found it in London.

I still shopped in Oxfam, vintage stores and Topshop (have you SEEN the flagship store at Oxford Circus?! It’s amazing!) but I began to develop an eye for other, better quality British brands. I noticed the difference in quality, both in design and materials. Fabric that regained its intended shape even after numerous washes, that didn’t wear through with holes or split at the seams, and that didn’t fade at the first threat of water or in bright sunlight. Real leather that was supple and weathered with age, rather than plastic that didn’t. Shoes that didn’t cripple me.

I did my research as well. I read about horrendous working conditions in sweatshops producing cheap clothes. When 1,129 people died in the Primark-supplying Rana Plaza factory in April 2013, it reminded me that paying more for clothes is not simply vanity; it helps prevent tragedies like this. The damage done to the environment by industrial levels of pesticide and bleach (poisoning local water supplies and wildlife) in the mass-production of cotton, is another example of destruction resulting from greedy consumers demanding cheap clothing. I’ve always tried to buy organic food as  I don’t particularly want to ingest toxins if I don’t need to, but also because it sends a message to the supermarkets. They control farming these days, and if the consumer says they want to pay a tiny bit more for organic food then the supermarkets will themselves encourage this. Buying clothing produced sustainably and fairly is an extension of this.

Also, although I love clothes and shopping, I dislike mass-consumerism. I don’t need a wardrobe bursting at the seams, and I find the modern flippancy towards clothes, happily throwing away last year’s fashions to make room for this year’s, distasteful. I spend a lot on my clothes, but I probably only buy one item each month, if that. Why would I need any more? My clothes last! If I do manage to damage them, I repair them. I think carefully about every pair of shoes or garment that I buy, and I value them as a result; I take pride in their ownership. A value that our consumerist society has, paradoxically, lost.

Finally, I also like supporting British brands. Hobbs, Barbour and Really Wild; Karen Millen, Reiss and Ted Baker; Turnbull and Asser, Aquascutum and Mulberry. I’m not saying they need my money, but I feel proud to wear British fashion. I know with Mulberry in particular I’m paying a lot for the label, but as someone who has built a brand based on quality myself, I respect that. They’ve earned it. I’m also contributing to our economy positively, helping to provide desperately needed employment and maintain high standards; our laws on production, wages and working conditions are a lot stricter than in developing countries. We should pride ourselves on this.

I’ve worked hard as long as I can remember to be able to live a lifestyle I enjoy, but being able to make moral choices is a major factor in this. Most people don’t even notice my Mulberry handbag, as it’s not exactly ostentatious, but that’s not why I bought it. Apart from all the other arguments I’ve offered you I’ll probably use it for the next thirty years, which works out at £50 per year, and it’s not just a part of my wardrobe now: it’s a part of me.

Plus these choirs of angels start singing whenever I look at it. Funny, Mulberry didn’t mention that that would happen!

Coat Karen Millen, shoes Hobbs.

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