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 


Throwback Thursday: Give the angry man a hat

I've always believed it's bad idea to apologise with a gift. 

A gift is a symbolic, shorthand way of publicly expressing a private feeling. If there is one occasion to avoid shortcuts and symbols it is during an apology. 

Plus, who wants to be reminded of the time they were wronged? Plus, an apology gift has never worked...or has it?

One historical figure proves me wrong: Samuel Pepys. 

Samuel Pepys

Generally speaking, the diary of a civil servant is unlikely to arouse or sustain high levels of interest. The diary of Samuel Pepys is different.

Born during the English Civil  War, Pepys lived through the Great Fire of London, survived both the plague and numerous extramarital encounters and wrote all about it in his diary.

One diary entry contains our historical gift. 

Sunday 1st November 1663

(Lord’s day). This morning my brother’s man […]  brought me as a gift from my brother, a velvet hat, very fine to ride in, and the fashion, which pleases me very well, to which end, I believe, he sent it me, for he knows I had lately been angry with him.

It’s not clear what brother Thomas did to make Samuel angry but the velvet hat was able to placate him. 

It seems like a fitting gift given that both sons took an interest in fashion. Thomas followed his father into the tailoring trade and Samuel placed a number of orders for clothing with Thomas. One such order includes a rather opulent 'gowne of purple shagg, trimmed with gold'. 

Sadly, Thomas followed a less fortunate path than his brother, dying young and in debt. 

I tried to find a picture of a velvet hat from around that time but didn't have much luck. I found this picture on Pinterest which gives an overview of hats between 1600 and 1700. 

1660s fashion Laughing Heart

The National Maritime Museum is holding a major exhibition on Samuel Pepys, his life and times. It runs until the 28th March. Find out more

If you're interested in reading the diary of Samuel Pepys, I'll put a link to it below:

Afternoon tea at Biscuiteers

On Saturday, Marianne and I took afternoon tea at Biscuiteers in Notting Hill.

An estate agent would describe the shop as ‘ideally situated’ and it truly is. It is my embassy, my lighthouse, my place of salvation in times of gift-giving need.

Its huge variety of beautifully-iced biscuits make ideal presents. Last month, I ran in there asking for anything squirrel-shaped. Did they come up with the goods? Just ask my squirrel-shaped cookie cutter.

It occurred to me that I’m either dashing into the shop to grab last-minute gifts it or trudging past it en route to the gym. I’d never taken the time to enjoy Biscuiteers so I booked afternoon tea as a pre-Christmas treat.

I love afternoon tea and I’m won over by any establishment that serves it. I love the fluffy scones, clotted cream and jam. I love the thin cucumber sandwiches and tiny cakes. I believe that afternoon tea is the second greatest thing to come out of the UK after the internet. 

The scones at Biscuiteers were warm when they arrived. Heaven. The cake stand was filled with London-themed biscuits, scones, slices of mini Battenberg, tiny cupcakes, brownies and finger sandwiches. All drinks on the extensive menu were included in the price but I just stuck to Earl Grey and sparkling water.

The lady who served us was polite, accommodating and cheerful.

Happy staff members make all the difference. During my stint as a waitress at an Indian restaurant, I found it hard to maintain (or even establish) enthusiasm but I think this was mainly because I had to wear a costume. 

Though seating is limited at Biscuiteers, we didn’t feel rushed. It’s hard to find any eatery in central London on a weekend which doesn’t hurry you along or seat you next to a queue of people waiting to take your table.

It felt like a village tea room, not least because my next door neighbour popped in to purchase a box of Mexican-themed biscuits.

Payment was taken at time of booking, which seems a bit risky but it actually made things much more civilised at the end of the afternoon.

There was more than enough food for two people and the biscuits and cakes that we couldn’t manage were packaged up to take home.

The London Afternoon Tea is £48.00 and serves two. Arrive hungry and book in advance.


194 Kensington Park Road


W11 2ES

0207 727 8096


Closest tube stations:

Notting Hill Gate (Central, District, Circle)

Ladbroke Grove (Circle, Hammersmith and City)




Throwback Thursday: Foundling heart

The gifts of the rich and royal are easy to research and write about.

For every king, queen or statesman there are at least fifty books which document their lives in minute detail. From Tutankhamen's footwear to the near 1kg book on the 'scenes and times' from Queen Victoria's reign, some scholar or bureaucrat has recorded it. 

But this embroidered heart, just an inch tall and wide, affords a glimpse into the lives of the those at the far end of the fortune spectrum.

Red heart token © The Foundling Museum

Red heart token © The Foundling Museum

This heart, a token, was left with a baby by its mother at the city’s Foundling Hospital sometime between 1741 and 1760.

When a desperate parent applied to have their child admitted to the Foundling Hospital, the capital’s first orphanage, the child had to undergo a medical exam. 

If the child was healthy and admission was approved, it was renamed, given an admission number and baptised. 

But parents were also asked to ‘affix on each child some particular writing, or other distinguishing mark or token, so that the children may be known thereafter if necessary.’

The token was filed away as a link to the infant’s past should they ever be reclaimed. A parent who couldn't read or write but who found themselves in a better position and able to look after their child could say: 'My baby was the one left with the blue and yellow ribbon'. 

Some left poems or coins with their babies, others left buttons or scraps of cloth.

This mother left a heart.

A very small number of the thousands of children admitted to the orphanage were reclaimed by their parents but stories do exist with happy endings.

Like the boy connected with this coin.

Innocency in Safety

The boy, Oliver (renamed Luke) was taken in by the Foundling Hospital in 1758. His parents left a yellow ribbon and this Charles II coin with the words ‘Innocency in Safety’ and the initials of the child’s parents, RL and ED. Oliver’s parents returned for him a few years later.

But the red heart is still in the care of the Foundling Hospital (now a museum) exactly where it was dropped off almost 300 years ago in Brunswick Square.

By 1790, 18,000 tokens, including the red heart, were left unclaimed.

I visited the Foundling Museum last Friday. 

There are hundreds of tokens on display and a fantastic exhibition 'The Fallen Woman' which includes petitions from women who applied to have their babies taken into the care of the Foundling Hospital.

 I took photos of three hearts.

As I looked at each token and at exhibition pictures of children who had passed through the Foundling Hospital through the years, I realised the token wasn't really a gift at all. The tokens exist as a symbol of the highest gift from parent to child: the chance to have a better life. 

The Foundling Museum

40 Brunswick Square

London WC1N 1AZ

T: +44 (0)20 7841 3600