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.   


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! 


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


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. 


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. 

Gifts for mother-in-laws

My mother and her mother-in-law exchanged some pretty weird gifts over the years.

Once, my grandma gave my mother used (and stained) ex-hospital bedsheets, which she bought from a hospital. 

Another time, she gave her a flesh-coloured 40 EE size bra. If you saw my mother, more specifically the size of her bust, you’d understand how insane a gift it was.

In return, my grandmother was presented with Slimming World dieting books and a plug-in air freshener.

I happen to like my mother-in-law and she also gives good gifts. I can’t imagine how bad it would be if she gave me some perfume from Jo Malone and then I said, with a glint in my eye, ‘I have something for you too, Sally!’ and then handed her soiled bed linen.

It’s her birthday next month. We’ll probably give her a voucher but here are my failsafe gift ideas for my mother-in-law, who loves animals, interior design, warm weather and lives in the countryside.













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