August anniversaries

Two anniversaries of note this week. 

It’s one year since I started this blog and two years since I saddled up to ride the matrimony pony.

This is my gift from him. Silk pyjamas from Rigby and Peller. 

rigby peller | laughing heart

I would’ve been content with cotton, as two year anniversaries are symbolically cotton, but I’m not complaining about the upgrade. 

rigby peller | laughing heart
rigby peller | laughing heart

They delight me and will be perfect for 1. Summer nights 2. Packing for summer holidays 3. Looking awesomesauce. 

I’ve been trying to wear more natural fibres. Never in a twenty-eight years did I imagine I’d ever type a line so eye-roll inducing but there you have it. 

Best silk sets

My Graham & Green Desk

This desk was a wedding gift from my parents.

After getting married, we left my husband's bachelor pad (hallelujah) and moved into an unfurnished flat. 

Getting to pick out exactly what we wanted to go in our home was a dream.  

My parents wanted to give us a 'home' gift, and I had my eye on this desk from Graham and Green. My dad is really into the idea of heirlooms and I think he thought it would be a nice thing to pass down to future generations.  

Made in India, it is inlaid with mother of pearl. The three drawers contain my correspondence cards, stationery and letters.

I just discovered bar of soap in there. So it’s apparently also where my bar of soap lives too. 

I finally understand why my mum went crazy when I put down mugs directly on the piano.

Strange coincidence, but my old piano teacher Liane, gave me some lovely marble coasters. 

I never get tired of looking at this desk. The pictures I've taken don't really capture just how beautiful it looks in the sunshine.  

Did you ever feel like you’d be a better student with a  new pencil case? Or sleep better in new sheets? Or run faster with new trainers? I feel like I’ll be a better writer at this desk.

It's more of a console table than a desk, so it's not very deep but I haven't found this to be a problem. 

It has a matching stool (you have to buy that separately) but I like a chair with a back so I bought a Kartell ghost chair instead which is serving me well. The only downside is that you can't lean back two-legs-high-school-style on it.

Ordering was straightforward, delivery was free and the guy who delivered it took it upstairs for me. It was packaged really well, which sounds like a weird thing to say but it felt like the packing people also believed that this desk was a queen of a desk and should be handled with care. 

Buy the desk chair.

There are a few Graham and Green stores in London. I've only ever been to the one in Notting Hill.

It's definitely the most interesting shop in the neighbourhood and would recommend a visit there, followed by a pizza from The Grocer next door. 

GRAHAM AND GREEN Notting Hill

4 Elgin Crescent,
London,
W11 2HX

www.grahamandgreen.co.uk

Smythson: a gift for my brother

I’ve cheerfully given my big brother many terrible gifts over the years. He turned 30 this month and I knew I had to take this gift-giving event seriously.

My initial thought was to upgrade his backpack to a briefcase. I floated the idea but he didn’t seem keen. He said it’s easier to carry school books in a backpack than in a briefcase (he’s a teacher, not a 30-year-old weirdo).

My next thought was a wallet from Smythson. It was such a good thought that I literally went with it. I went with my thought to Smythson and selected this wallet.

It’s a fitting gift for my brother. A Smythson product doesn’t overstate itself and neither does my brother. He’s basically a genius but he isn’t proud or conceited. He hates anything flashy, faddy or over-the-top and a brand with a heritage felt like another box ticked for a history teacher.  

My top gifts from Smythson 

BEFORE & AFTER 

For the person who has everything

My significant other is in the rare position of having everything that he wants and is happy with everything that he has.

He’s not mopping his brow with £50s, let me be clear. He just doesn't like clutter. Buying gifts for someone like him is difficult, but like a sum done well, you can experience the satisfaction of getting to the right answer, or close to it.

He'd been researching his family tree. One afternoon, he talked me through what he’d found out. His family lived in a lovely house in the middle of Ireland, which was sold in the 1960s and its contents were auctioned off. It later became a hotel, which it remains to this day.

At first I thought I would book a trip to the house. It turned out that booking a room at the hotel was almost impossible plus the flights, hotel and taking time off work would probably be more of a stress than a pleasure. So I began to Google. I Googled the names of his ancestors. I wasn’t sure what I’d find, if anything at all.

I found two purchasable things: two mustard spoons which once belonged to his great, great, great grandfather a painting of a pony that once hung in the hall of the house in an auction for £300,000.

The pony picture was never going to be a goer, let's be honest.

I had a near-religious experience when I found out about the spoons. They were listed on an antiques website for an affordable-but-not-insubstantial amount.

It was fate.

My husband adds mustard to everything. It seemed evidence enough that a passion for mustard was a genetic trait. Maybe I read a bit too much into that.

I contacted the antiques house by email and asked to view the spoons.

Here’s a tip – if you’re buying an antique, don’t say how much it means to you to have it and definitely don’t say it used to belong to a family member. The dealer will be more likely to knock off a few pounds if you adopt an astute but relaxed attitude. If you show that you really, really want it it's unlikely they'll give you a discount.

I just said I was interested in spoons generally (I panicked), and the dealer wrote up a history of the spoons, where they were made, who made them and the design.

I found myself riveted by spoons.

When I asked to view the spoons, it turned out that they lived one street away from the flat.

It blows my mind to think that 300 years after his great, great, great grandfather commissioned these spoons, they would live one road away from his great, great, great, grandson.

I had to engineer a respoonion.

While I was chatting with the dealer and inspecting the tiny spoons wrapped in Kleenex tissue (which looked like it had served a former purpose) I asked him if he’d studied history at university. Of course he had. At the same university that I went to! It seemed like the gods were smiling on me and he knocked off £10 as an ‘alumni discount’.

To accompany the spoons, I wrote up their history: where they had been made, the fiddle-shape design, what happened to them after the estate was sold and how they ended up just one street away. I found a picture of his great, great, great grandfather too (Google) and enclosed a copy of it to bring the spoons to life. Is that a glove in hand or is it one of his mustard spoons? We will never know. Unless we look really closely.

I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the world appreciating these spoons as much as my husband and I gave them to him on Christmas day. He said it was the most 'meaningful gift anyone had given him' and because he's a bit quirky and because I'd given him some really weird gifts in the past (a pig bookmark and a shredder) I believed him.

I found it helpful to give myself rules to steer me to ideas

  • Establish what you can afford and don't overspend
  • Recollect conversations and experiences. The things that you've shared with each other will contain clues: a special edition of their favourite childhood book, a framed picture of a place they have happy memories of, a penchant for mustard.
  • Add value: think of what will improve their life. Maybe it's not anything you can buy. Maybe it's spending a day helping them sort through their wardrobe.

Baby Mama

This precious-but-worried-looking baby lump is my mother.

If you lived in Singapore in the 1950s and took an interest in substitute milk, you might recognise her as the Lactogen Baby.

My grandma entered her into a competition to be the Lactogen baby and she won. She won the title, she won substitute milk and she won $100.

Glory was hers.

It is her birthday this week, so I thought I'd get her an array of little things. She never requests big things (which you'll know if you read this post about the weird things my mum has requested over the years).

So here's what I got her:

AU LAIT Bathing Milk

My mum happened to drop into conversation that when she was a child, she bathed in milk. This apparently keeps skin soft and can help with some skin conditions. It’s efficacy is up for debate: other famous milk-bathers include Cleopatra (renowned beauty) and Elizabeth I (not so much). My mum has no wrinkles so I guess it works!

Now my mum just bathes in regular water like the rest of us mortals, but I saw this from the Scottish Soap Company and thought it would make a nice I-saw-this-and-thought-of-you gift.   

THE FOLLOWING STORY

HOLY MOLY. Finding this  book was like trying to find a fugitive when the only thing you know about them is that they have brown hair. 

During a phone call with mum she asked me: 'Have you read a book about a man who falls asleep and then wakes up somewhere else? Because there was a review of that book on the radio and I didn't catch the name of it. I'd really like to read it'.

You can imagine how many Google searches I did. Anyway, I found it! 

TOP

She said she wanted a pink stripey top et voilà! This one is from Uniqlo and was £12.90. Similar here

REISENTHEL BAGS

Another classic gift request from my mum - resuable shoppers. She said she wanted the to have soft handles and be brightly coloured. I saw these in Wholefoods. They were £4.99 each. 

CAKES

Instead of one big birthday cake, I bought her six little cakes from  Ottolenghi on Ledbury Road. She loves Ottolenghi and we always visit when she comes into town. I bought her this book too at Christmas. 

Cycling Sindy and the Christmas of invisible tears


When I was a little girl the only item that I remember really yearning for was the Sindy doll which came with a little white walking dog, called Gogo.

When adverts for the Sindy and Gogo doll were shown on TV, my heart soared. It was the most brilliant and technically-advanced toy ever created.

I knew that if I brought Gogo into school, I would be, for at least one glorious day, the popular girl in the playground.

I'd been direct with my parents. I wrote them a note requesting this particular doll and nothing else. I wasn't really into dolls, but this was something special.

When Christmas Day came, I made a bee-line for the Cindy and Gogo-sized box. I unwrapped it and inside I found Cycling Sindy and 'Fun Bike'. For the first time, Sindy's perma-smile repulsed me. 

It was a terrible moment.

How could my parents get it so wrong? I had been so clear. 

I didn't dare show the torment that I felt. It was acute.

As I unwrapped the gift fully, I honestly remember thinking that I’d better make the best of it.

So I played with Sindy and her silly dangly broken-at-the-knee legs and the bicycle which was pointy and sharp. I played until I could bear it no longer. Such a martyr.

Tell me about your biggest gift disappointment and how you managed to stay strong.

Step-by-step guide to managing gift disappointment:

  • Receive the gift with both hands
  • Thank the giver. Even before you tear off the wrapping. It's nice that they thought to give you anything at all, so say that.
  • Think of one great thing to say about the gift. If I'd had a bit more wherewithal, I would have said 'Mum, Dad, thank you. This bicycle is so intricate.'
  •  Put the gift somewhere safe, or on display for the afternoon. Don't leave a gift on the floor (unless it's a table or a bed).