Friday, 28 December 2012

My seventh day of Christmas: lovely festive things to do

So sorry; rather let my Twelve Days of Christmas lapse. Now I am back.

In the limbo period between Christmas and New Year, what better way to distract the mind from mince pies and Turkey curry than to watch some excellent American political television? Ezra Klein is easily my favourite of the political geeks (self-described); he is even geekier about politics than I am, which gladdens my heart. Here, he moves away for a moment from the fiscal cliff and the hopelessness of Mr John Boehner to contemplate, slightly surprisingly, the amazing feats of Ranulph Fiennes. He not only pronounces his full name quite correctly, but makes an excellent Debrett's joke. Who knew that American political commentators had even heard of such a book?

This is just sweet and lovely on every level:

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Saturday, 22 December 2012

My sixth day of Christmas: lovely festive things to do.


A little pot pourri today for you.

1. Pay someone a compliment.

I realise that I am now wading into treacherous hippy-ish waters. I shall soon be teaching the world to sing and suggesting you wear flowers in your hair. No doubt, I shall mention the fact that a smile costs nothing.

But here is the thing, especially if you are British: often reticence or even shyness can strangle generosity of spirit. Paying a compliment can feel a bit cheesy or gushy or even faintly phoney. Much better not to risk it. And, if it is someone you know very well, you may assume that they already know they are kind or brilliant at making gravy or clever with numbers or have a way with flowers. You don't’ need to say it out loud.

My theory is: say the thing. Even the people who appear most confident have a small critical voice in their heads which occasionally tells them they are pointless and feckless and useless. Even the most well-armoured sceptic can find their heart lifting when they are appreciated. A compliment is the easiest thing you can give someone this Christmas.

2. Shop small.

The great retail giants are very efficient and easy and have everything under one roof. They are known quantities. But there is something charming and delightful about the small local shop. The best one I discovered this year is in the back streets of Cirencester. It is called For You and Your Home, and it is run by two incredibly nice gentlemen and their incredibly nice dog, and it has lots of beautiful things for the house, from salad bowls to scented candles. They source British where they can, and quite a lot of the things they carry have a story behind them. If you have not yet finished your Christmas shopping, and are in the area, I cannot recommend them enough.

You can find them on Twitter here:

3. Deck the halls.

If you are not yet quite Christmassy enough, get in armfuls of eucalyptus. I’ve gone eucalyptus crazy this year. It’s not too expensive, it looks wonderfully festive, and it lasts forever. It also smells delicious.

Friday, 21 December 2012

My fifth day of Christmas: lovely festive things to do

This is really hopeless of me, because I should have written it before the last posting day for Christmas. I was going to say buy someone a delightful present and support a fledgling business at the same time, but I am stymied by the temporal laws.

However, I then thought perhaps a lovely festive thing to do is to forget about presents, and buy something delightful for yourself. You have thought of everybody else over the last days, spent all your money, used all your brain agonising over whether Aunt Marigold would really like another bar of gardenia soap; now it is time to reward your kind, selfless self.

The days between Christmas and New Year can be anti-climactic. One may feel a little wintry and liverish. Why not order yourself some delicious potion or lotion from L'Apothecary, which was established this year and makes glorious oils and balms, for men and women both. I have tried their products, and they are beautifully packaged, made with love and care, entirely natural, and a pleasure to use. The business was started by the lovely Lou, of Lou, Boos and Shoes, whom I know through the blogosphere. I have a great admiration for people who set things up from scratch, and especially when they make something both beautiful and useful. William Morris would be proud.

So, if you want to give yourself a treat, you can find L'Apothecary here.

Facial and Skin Saving Oil

Thursday, 20 December 2012

My fourth day of Christmas: lovely festive things to do

Very quick today, as I have unaccustomed social life. This one is not suitable for everyone, but it is for the canine lovers out there. If you are thinking of getting a new dog, not just for Christmas but for life, consider a rescue. I adopted a dog three weeks ago and it's one of the best things I ever did. Of course you can get yourself a delightful expensive new puppy, but there are so many extant dogs out there, longing for a new home, and they are so grateful and loyal if you do decide to take them. You get the double joy of a canine companion, and the warm glow of knowing you did a decent thing. And that is very, very Christmassy indeed.

Here is where I got mine, a most excellent organisation that I cannot recommend highly enough:

They have foster carers all over the country, so you do not have to be in Wales, where they are based, and they are extremely nice people, who do really good work.

And here is the kind of glorious fellow with whom you might end up:

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

My Third Day of Christmas: lovely festive things to do

Buy a funny book for those you love. This is a shameless plug for my friend Fi Cotter Craig, who, with Zebedee Helm, has written a clever and hilarious book about the dear old middle classes. It's worth buying for the names alone. (You'll see what I mean when you read it.)

It's beautifully produced, and apart from being highly amusing, contains some rather penetrating sociological insights.

Also, as the great day draws terrifyingly near, it means you can let Amazon take the strain, and wrap and send the thing for you, so you don't have to queue at the post office. Although I must admit I love nothing more than a trip to the post office at this time of year. But I live in a small Scottish village, with a remarkable postmistress. Less fun if you are in the Tottenham Court Road and have to get in line and take a number and feel your life flashing before you.

You can get it for a special knock down price here. I really do keenly recommend. It made me laugh and smile.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

My Second Day of Christmas: lovely festive things to do.

One of the things that can happen at this time of year is a slight twist of consumerist disgust. Despite the pleasure of choosing the exact lovely item for the exact lovely person, the avalanche of shopping and advertising and spending and buying may, by this stage, seem rather excessive and even oddly wrong. As yet another advertisement comes onto the television, one may cry: where is the true spirit of Christmas? (It is usually at this stage that I decide crossly to give goats to Africa in the name of my godchildren, instead of what they really want, which is iTunes vouchers.)

I have found that an effective and most excellent corrective for this curdled feeling is to donate to a well-chosen charity. Giving at this time of year is wonderfully mutually beneficial. The cause you support has a happy Christmas, and you may rid yourself of any first world, overindulging, materialist guilt, and enjoy your presents in peace.

HorseBack UK is a charity for whom I write. It’s a brilliant organisation which uses horses to help rehabilitate wounded servicemen and women, from double amputees to those with acute post-traumatic stress. The work they do is really interesting, incredibly imaginative, and amazingly effective. They are also very, very nice people. If you go to their website, you will find a Just Donate button, where you may easily contribute using only the miracle of the internet. For a few pounds, you can have the glorious feeling of helping a tremendously good cause. You can make an actual difference in the lives of people you shall never meet, and if that is not the true spirit of Christmas, then I don’t know what is.

You can find them here:

And on Facebook here:

Here are some pictures I have taken of them this year:

18 Dec H118 Dec H2

18 Dec H3

18 Dec H4

18 Dec H5

18 Dec H6

18 Dec H7

18 Dec H10

18 Dec H11

18 Dec H12

18 Dec H14

Monday, 17 December 2012

Lovely Christmas idea of the day: if you are stuck for presents, why not give the gift of poetry?

A long time ago, and very far away, an old friend of mine told me she was embarking on a new venture. She was inventing an app.

Apart from the fact that I think 'app' one of the ugliest neologisms in the English language, I was frantically impressed. I am always very impressed by people who know how to do things that I cannot fathom. It is why I love the dry stone-wallers.

She and another old friend from university days got together and came up with an idea so lovely in its simplicity, so William Morris-ish in its beauty and utility, that I collected together all my hats and took them off.

It was a poetry app, for children. There were many carefully selected, mostly quite short poems, for every age group and every occasion. Some of them were read aloud by good actors, like Bill Nighy and Helena Bonham-Carter, so you could press a button on your device and hear them reading The Charge of the Light Brigade, or The Owl and the Pussycat.

So overcome was I by the cleverness of this that I swore up and down that I should write of nothing else on the blog. 'I don't have very many readers,' I said, 'but they are very, very high quality.' The thing would go viral, and I would have helped, and everything in the garden would be blindingly lovely.

Then, I kept forgetting. Once I had forgotten a few times, the resulting angst was so crushing that I could not write a word about the thing, even though I used it and loved it. It turned out that although it was compiled for children, all the poems were perfectly delightful for grown-ups too.

Very few apps have much pleasing application, apart from a fleeting novelty value. If you go and look at the list of apps in the iStore, you may experience a dull sinking of the heart, they are so specious. This one was so good that it took off with no help from me, and was a roaring success. So much so, that it was followed by a book.

Finally, because it is Christmas, I get around to mentioning it. The book is If: A Treasury of Poems for Almost Every Possibility; a very good title for a very good book. It is a perfect present for someone you love:

You can buy it on Amazon here

Details of the app and some sample readings are on the If website, here.

Not that many people create something which is good and simple and true and not cynical or driven by hype, but just gives pleasure. I'm always really admiring of those who do. 

And as if all this goodness were not enough, they give 10% of their sales to Save the Children. Which, you must admit, is very, very Christmassy indeed.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Absolutely the number one best thing I saw on the internet on 12.12.12.

This is not a cute kitten or a small child doing something comical or any professional body dancing Gangnam style. It is not funny at all. It is serious and interesting and impressive and thought-provoking and lovely and true.

It's seven minutes 39 seconds long, and it's worth your full attention. I hope this young man is one day President. Or, at very least, entirely happy and successful in his life. He is shimmering with goodness and cleverness and authenticity. He is another example of why the grouches are wrong when they complain of the Young People of Today.

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