Sparking Joy (what I got for my birthday)

I am now in the latest of my late twenties and I just really don’t even want to talk about it. But I have realised:

1. You only start saying ‘age is just a number’ or ‘you’re only as old as you feel' when you turn 29.

2. When you see anyone younger, you feel like this:

Inspired by Marie Kondo, I spent the day tidying. I used to identify as a minimalist and I suppose I do have less stuff than the average person, but after reading Kondo's The Life-changing Magic of Tidying up', I realised I had a long way to go.

Calling myself a minimalist was really just an aspirational claim - like when I was 16 and used to buy bras in the size I wanted to be, not the size I was. A roomy bra, just like having too much stuff, is a lie and enhances nothing.

So I got rid of a lot of stuff and was happy to find that the gifts I got this year allowed me to only let in what I found useful or sparked joy. 



My in-laws gave me a John Lewis gift card and with it I bought A DYSON. I'm so excited. Finger cyclone technology, I am ready for you.


From my husband. He did actually buy me a necklace but it was so so so delicate that I knew it would break when caught up in my hair (which happens all the time, I need a sturdy chain). So we transferred it into a gift card, I haven't spent it yet, still deciding. Here are my thoughts so far...


I love this designer so much. So this was a birthday treat to myself. I actually bought it after my birthday and after our last hot holiday but I will treasure it until next year for its debut. 

M&S gift card

My mum always gets me something M&S related. I haven't spent it yet, but here are  my ideas

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. 


4 Elgin Crescent,
W11 2HX

Never give a gift again: a how-to by Derrida

Some people believe that the best form of gift-giving is to give and expect nothing in return.

This does sound noble. 

The philosopher Jacques Derrida argued that in order for a gift to truly be a gift, there can be no benefit to the giver.

There can be zero benefit to the giver.

None at all.

The receiver can’t say thank you or even acknowledge that a gift has been given. The giver can’t feel a warm feeling inside, let alone consciously give a gift

So if I buy a Rolex, leave it on a park bench and think that it’ll make someone’s day to have it, that’s not a gift. But if I walk down the street in my gym clothes and someone sees me and thinks ‘Wow, I feel inspired me to go to the gym’ That's a gift.

If I say to myself ‘I must remember that Bond Street tube station is closed’ and someone randomly overhears me and thinks ‘Thank goodness I know that golden nugget of information – I can find an alternative route’ then that's a gift.

There are obvious wins with Derrida’s theory and I will name three.


If you don’t know when you’re giving a gift, you could, theoretically, be giving gifts all the time without knowing it which is a lovely thought.  Maybe the universe will reward you for this. 


It’s a very cost-effective theory. You can’t buy anything intended it to be a gift.


It encourages the giver to not be materialistic or conceited.

There are also some very obvious problems:


If you want to give a gift to a specific person, you can’t.


You might give undeserving people gifts. 


You can't enjoy the feeling of giving.


You’d be a pariah at birthday and Christmas parties.

Your dad: What are you giving mum for her birthday?
You: I am consciously giving her nothing. I might be giving her something unconsciously. I’ll never know.

Gift giving ideas inspired by Derrida:

  • Be kind
  • Make good choices

But don’t think about it.

Chinese red envelopes

My husband’s business partner and his wife are having a baby this month.

They are Malaysian Chinese so I thought it would be nice to give the baby a red envelope, also known as ‘hongbao’. 

When visiting relatives in Singapore as a little girl, I knew them as ‘ang pao’ but it’s all the same thing.

You've probably worked  out that the red envelopes contain money.

In terms of etiquette:

  • An even sum is favoured
  • Avoid giving an amount with a 4 in it
  • Give notes of a single denomination, not coins. 

The tradition of giving red envelopes comes from the story of the evil spirit, Suì (祟)

Suì, a black form with colourless hands, tormented a village by sneaking into children’s bedrooms, touching them on the head as they slept leaving them ill or disabled. The parents of a boy from the village gave him coins wrapped in red paper to play with, to keep him awake for the New Year. Everyone fell asleep, including some fairies who came to protect the boy. When Suì entered the room and reached out to touch the boy’s head, the coins shone brightly, frightening Suì away. Words spread that the coins scared Sui away, and so parents put money in red paper.

My mum has a stack of them at home. If I’d planned a little better, I could have swiped one when I last visited.  Thieving ang pao is probably highly inauspicious so I looked for envelopes online. They all looked fine but I had no idea what the characters meant.

Remember when Chinese character tattoos were popular in the nineties and then it turned out that the Chinese characters which were meant to say ‘Wisdom’ or ‘Courage in the face of adversity’ actually said things like ‘Rice fried in pork fat’ and ‘Window Okay Beaver Tears’? 

I wanted to avoid a faux pas so I sent a picture to my Aunty Yian who checked that the envelope was appropriate.

The one I bought, at the top of the post, says happiness/good fortune. I was safe to proceed.

I thought it could be a fun craft project to make your own red envelopes, so here are my recommended supplies. I know the leather Aspinal envelope isn't part of the art and craft supply kit, but it was too cool an idea not to include. 


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.

Throwback Thursday: Pineapple? Fineapple!

A post in which I find out whether it's possible to give someone a serious pineapple-themed gift.



When I was in America earlier this month, my friend Laurie asked me for gift ideas for her friend, Sarah.

The only thing Laurie told me about Sarah was that she liked pineapples and wore silk kimonos.

An actual pineapple was vetoed and novelty pyjamas were out.

This was the ultimate test of my gift-giving abilities. As I was out of my natural environment, I couldn’t suggest any shops in San Francisco that would sell something both pineapple-y and desirable. We went to Jonathan Adler on Fillmore Street but a trip there proved fruitless, literally.

My suggestions fell short. I was a fish flopping about on dry land.

I failed.

In idle moments since getting back to London, I thought about that challenge. Could a chic pineapple gift be done? Was it ridiculous to give a pineapple-themed gift to someone?

I wondered why I thought so much about pineapple-related gifts and then it hit me.


I remembered seeing a painting of Charles II receiving a pineapple.  If Queen Elizabeth II commissioned a painting of her receiving a pineapple, you'd raise an eyebrow. But in the 17th Century, it was a mark of wealth and privilege. 

When pineapples were first available to buy in the 1700s, a single fruit cost the equivalent in today’s money of £5,000 (about $7,000).

Pineapples weren’t a ridiculous point of inspiration for gifts! They had a noble provenance!

And like the comeback you deliver too late, one month later, here are my pineapple suggestions.  

Gift of the Week: Watercolour Set

One of the best gift I received at Christmas was a watercolour paint set.

I come from a long line of people able to draw and paint things. I lamented this to my dad.

He was baffled: ‘All you have to do is look at something and keep practicing until it looks the way you want it to,’ he said.  

And it turns out that my dad’s idea is simple and right (and blunt).

People aren’t born being able to draw. Artists have to learn how to hold a pencil, work out perspective and depth, light and shade just like everyone else. Michelangelo attended dissections in order to understand how the muscles around the mouth worked. He sketched them over and over again so he could paint smiles more convincingly. A person doesn’t sit down and decide to produce a great work of literature. The read widely and write a lot first.

I was reminded of Lady Catherine De Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice who says: ' No excellence [...] is to be acquired, without constant practice.'

When I realised this, suddenly the world opened up.

So many great experiences are missed because we tell ourselves we can’t.

Like attending that wine course in France but you tell yourself you can’t travel there alone. Or the degree in archaeology you’d love to get but you tell yourself you’re too old to go back to university. Or the clothes you walk past in a shop because you think you don’t suit them.  

I began sketching and painting petals. I figured that if I could paint a petal successfully then I’d be better able to paint a flower and then a vase of them, then one day, a garden.  Progress is slow because at the moment, I'm really enjoying painting flamingos. 

It doesn’t cost much to get started.  I’m currently painting a little monogram as gift for my friend. 

The only downside to my new hobby is that I keep dipping my paintbrushes in my tea rather than in the water pot. Which I then drink. Which is disgusting.