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 


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. 

Throwback Thursday: a gift from Byron's wild antelope

‘We that are true lovers run into strange capers’ says Touchstone in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

And nowhere can odd behaviour between lovers be demonstrated better than in a particular gift exchange between Lady Caroline Lamb and the Romantic poet, Lord Byron, whom she appropriately called ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know'. 

The two started a scandalous affair in 1812. Lady Caroline was already married to the man who would later become the prime minister, Lord Melbourne. Byron didn’t exactly have an unblemished reputation.

In August of 1812 Lady Caroline sent a letter to Byron and enclosed a lock (I’m not sure that’s the right term) of her public hair. 

With the lock/tuft she wrote:

Caroline Byron

Next to Thyrsa dearest & most faithful - God bless you own love - Ricordati Di Biondetta

From your Wild Antelope.

Lady Caroline was never Caroline Byron except in her wishful thinking. Biondetta is a character from Spanish fantasy romance novel, Le diable amoureux, published in 1772. Biondetta is the devil in disguise who seduces protagonist Alvaro. She writes ‘Ricordati Di Biondetta’ - remember Biondetta. Perhaps in doing so, she is reminding Byron of her seductive powers over him.  I love that she signs off ‘Your Wild Antelope’. 

In an accompanying letter she writes:

‘I asked you not to send blood but Yet do – because if it means love I like to have it. I cut the hair too close & bled much more than you need – do not you the same & pray put not scissors points near where quei capelli grow – sooner take it from the arm or wrist – pray be careful….’

Lady Caroline is asking for Byron to send a love token in return, she doesn’t mind blood but she doesn’t want him to do himself too great an injury. The ‘quei capelli’ or ‘that hair’, indicates that she doesn’t want him to injure his private parts in the extraction. She instead suggest his arm or wrist.

Ah, love. 

Throwback Thursday: Robert Burns

In the week that Jackie Kay was named Scotland's national poet, or makar, I thought I'd look to Robert Burns for this week's historical gift-giving story.

Robert Burns, perhaps Scotland's greatest poet, gave this inkwell to his friend, John Lapraik, in 1793.

John Lapraik and Robert Burns Inkwell | Laughing Heart

It is made from the hoof of a pony. Weird, but not uncommon.  The hoof of Napoleon Bonaparte's favourite horse, Marengo, was made into an inkwell.

This particular inkwell features an iron shoe, a silver plaque bearing the presentation date and a brass lid engraved with the following: 'Presented to Mr Lapraik by his Much respected Friend Robt Burns'.

Born thirty miles and thirty years apart, Burns and Lapraik were from farming families in Ayrshire and, as Lapraik put it in a poem to Burns, ‘A mut’al flame inspires us baith’ meaning the two were poets.

Lapraik was an early supporter of Burns but he didn’t come close to achieving the level of fame or commercial success as his young friend. His contribution to Burn’s work can be seen in the ‘Three Epistles to John Lapraik’

An inkwell is a good gift for a writer. However, the reason I find the gift so poignant is that Burns was already enjoying notoriety in 1793. Lapraik by that time was already 66 years old. By giving Lapraik the inkwell, Burns is both practically and symbolically saying to his friend: ‘You must keep writing too’.

As an object, the hoof is as much associated with forward movement as it is with the earth. As my old professor Robert Crawford said of Burns, ‘No poet has been at once so brilliant and so down-to-earth.’ An ornate silver inkwell wouldn’t have been quite right for an old friend.

I don’t love the idea of an inkwell made out of a pony’s hoof but as far as gifts go, this gift ranks highly. It is as symbolic as it is practical and I like it for a’ that.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us...

If you'd like to read more about John Lapraik, www.lap   is a great site to visit. 

Visit Robert Burn's House in Dumfries:

Burns Street




01387 255297



Gift of the week: Friendship Bracelets

Aged ten, I came back from holiday in the Bahamas with six friendship bracelets made by a lady on the beach. 

I gave them all to one dinner lady, Mrs. H. 

Read into that what you will.

Here are the loveliest friendship bracelets I can find.

Gift of the week: Wool Blanket

Holy moly it’s been cold in London lately. We live in an old building with huge single-glazed windows. Wonderful in the summer, portal to icy hell in the winter.

A few months ago, in slightly-warmer times, I went to John Lewis and bought a duck-egg blue lambswool throw for the sofa. I thought it would ‘work’ in the living room but it didn’t. So it migrated to the bedroom.

I can’t tell you how toasty warm this keeps me. Sheep are so lucky.

Did you know that even if wool is wet it’ll still keep you warm because of the insulating air pockets? That's not a suggestion. 

When I’m working in my study, I’ll wrap it round me like the woman who feeds birds for tuppence a bag in Mary Poppins.

The best wool blankets: