Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Last Minute Gift Recommendations

I thought I would randomly (and hurriedly) witter about a few last minute gift suggestions that might be of use to someone or other.

First, the Sony E-book Reader…..I’d had my eye on it for over a year, and it was the e-book reader of choice in all the reviews (particularly as the Amazon Kindle initially had no hopes of being released in the UK, and even though it might be in 2009, the Sony usually outclasses it, although it does not have some Kindle features such as allowing you to subscribe to newspapers electronically, though the UK might not offer the same). I could already read e-books on my smartphone, so why did I need this? But temptation won me over, John Lewis delivered it the next day, and it came with a CD full of 100 classics that I’ve either always wanted to read or would love to read again.

The e-book reader can hold 160 amounts of books at once, although I added a memory card to expand its capacity and also put work reports on it to read on the train without the weight of bundles of paper. You can take just this light, slim thing on holiday with you, or if you find yourself on the train or in the park suddenly craving a bit of humour instead of the Agatha Christie you’re reading, or you can’t wait to start that newly released novel, then you can switch around. You can bookmark pages on a number of books at once then select from a list which one you want to return to, or chose your book from other menus by pressing the corresponding button. It isn’t perfect (eg you can’t search reference books or add notations) but it is extremely comfortable and light to hold in one hand when you’re on a packed train, easy to turn pages, and the screen/ink technology is much easier on the eyes than a PC. Get this for the bookworm you love (or treat yourself), and they can download books onto their PC and transfer it through a USB lead. Ebooks cost about the same as a paperback, though some classics are cheaper and some are even free on certain websites.

The Sony is tied to Waterstones, but you can download books in the Adobe format and I have found other sites offering a much wider selection and with a better search facility (I think I used Fictionwise, Powells and/or even W H Smith online). It’s only about £160, and you don’t have to give up real books, but this is so much lighter to carry around with you. You can view demonstrations on You Tube, or just read more at .

For the Stephen Fry or Jeeves and Wooster fan who has trouble getting out of bed….
Voco Clock has a ‘Good Morning, Sir’ talking clock, which looks like a tasteful black carriage clock with roman numerals (although it’s actually plastic and a bit basic—it has an old-fashioned ‘alarm hand’ so, unlike digital clocks, you can’t be ultra-precise about the alarm time, and there is no snooze!), but when the alarm goes off, you first hear birdsong, which is soothing, then Stephen Fry acting like your butler Jeeves waking you with one of several dozen different rotating messages, as though you were a wealthy man of leisure (he says ‘sir’), which makes your ears perk up as you want to hear what humorous thing he says. Then follows a sufficiently irritating beeping tone that will get you out of bed. I got mine at City Organiser (at Bow Lane, and ordered another online at ), where they also have an alarm clock that will go off, then fall onto the floor and roll away so that you have to get up and chase it. The Voco Clock is listed at £39.95 (which is what I paid) but City Organiser is currently selling it for only £25.

The clock also comes in a ‘Good Morning, Madam’ model, where the butler addresses a female boss, but has flowers on its face and costs a bit more. That’s not as easy to find as the ‘sir’ version.

For someone in, say, their early 40s who loves music, the book Best of Smash Hits—the 80s is about £12 and includes loads of articles from the old music magazine where the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant used to work, some written by current Word magazine supremos Mark Ellen and David Hepworth, I seem to recall. It is great fun to read interviews with ‘the next big sensation’ Adam and the Ants and the like, and the book is a good size for its price. That will keep them quiet, smiling and reminiscing on Christmas day. You can view the details here though obviously at this stage you will probably need to support your local bookstore, which is no bad thing:

A book for a young woman perhaps living on her own: Savvy!: The Modern Girl's Guide to Doing It All Without Risking It All. I thought this would be naff and haven’t read it all yet, but so far I’ve found it to contain some practical advice, and I thought I knew everything. Presenter Fiona Bruce and Jacqui Hames, who is one of the police officers who appears on Crimewatch, have clearly set out numerous things one can do to be safe, to safeguard one’s possessions, to just be a bit street-wise. I thought I knew everything but there is plenty of helpful information, and practical details of such things as where you can log all the Serial Numbers of your possessions in a secure online database so you’ll be contacted if they’re found after a burglary (like microchipping your things!). Again, you can get it by actually walking into a bookstore, but details are here at the great Amazon:

World Wildlife Fund (WWF): you can adopt an animal for just £3 per month, which is an excellent gift for only £36. Choose a tiger, polar bear, elephant, dolphin, orang-utan etc for the wildlife lover, the environmentally aware, or a young child who might then grow up being more aware of the importance of saving these animals and curbing climate change and destruction of habitats. The recipient will be sent an adoption pack, which I believe includes a stuffed animal, and details of the particular animal they’re sponsoring. . That’s also a good gift when you’ve not shopped in time.

So is a subscription to a magazine, such as Time Out, which is obviously preferable for Londoners or people not averse to commuting in for events, as it is full of listings of fun things to do. However, some people do subscribe overseas just to keep in touch, and it does have enjoyable articles. But ideal for the Londoner who wants to get out more and be notified ahead of time of events and exhibitions (although they have a New York and other versions). , although you can also order it via subscription websites and apparently at W H Smith .

Another good last minute thing where you can give the people a card about it now and don’t need to worry about delivery: a year’s membership to a museum. Someone once gave me Tate membership , which gives you discounts on special exhibitions, a regular magazine on art and events at all the Tate galleries, a discount in the gift shop, apparently a special Member’s room at the Tate that I never tried out (a friend said it was unimpressive at the non-London one he visited)—that sort of thing. I actually ended up using mine quite a bit.

Something from Molton Brown, REN or LUSH, and most have men’s things as well. I won’t take the time now to go through the benefits of each, but there’s plenty of stuff in these shops that you can pick up last minute and still impress the recipient, as they are special, not your run-of-the-mill toiletries from Boots. If they bathe, get bath bombs from LUSH (though be warned, the shops—such as in Covent Garden and less so in Liverpool Street Station have truly overpowering scents so you’ll have to hurry). If they shower or bathe, Molton Brown does a particularly fine shower/bath gel called Heavenly Gingerlily. REN’s Moroccan Rose Otto Body Wash is legendary, and you don’t end up smelling flowery, but it’s lovely while you’re washing and should ensure your skin is not left dry. They all have websites but given the lack of time, you’re best hunting out one of their shops or going to a department store (such as John Lewis or perhaps House of Fraser, or the bigger ones) where their products are sold.

A great stocking stuffer for the artsy very young child or the person in eg their 40s who played with this as a kid is the Hypotrochoid Art Set.
Costs less than £2 from Lakeland (formerly Lakeland plastics), though you’ll need to get to one of their stores (or find it elsewhere) at this late stage. We called these Spirograph when I was a kid, where you use something like a round protractor and put your pen in a hole in a flat plastic disc, and move it around to create laser-light looking colourful designs on your paper.

Without getting too involved into best of the year music recommendations or ideal gift CDs (or downloadable songs), I’d say a few sure-fire recommendations for someone who likes acoustic singer/songwriter stuff, ie the kinda thing that is often found under the ‘folk’ section but has nothing to do with wavering voices and verse-filled sea shanties, try the outstanding Roddy Frame’s Abloom, Luka Bloom’s The Platinum Collection (good price!), Boo Hewerdine’s Thanksgiving or A Live One, Dar William’s Out There Live . Most of them have also released albums this year that are worth getting, but I’ve recommended sure-fire winners or (live) best-ofs. …. Ron Sexsmith is another truly excellent singer/songwriter but is the one of these recommendations that doesn’t win people over every time, though it baffles me. His albums from 1999-2004 are probably my favourites, particularly Ron Sexsmith, but he’s generally worth hearing.

As for DVDs, the Father Ted box set is perfect for most people who like to laugh, if they love slightly surreal comedy, even if they thought they never wanted to bother to tune into some sitcom about priests on an island. This makes me laugh even when I’m unbearably down. One of the writers, Graham Lineham, of course now does the IT Crowd, and has his own enjoyable blog:

The US version of The Office, know as The Office – An American Workplace (starring Steve Carell), grew on me once I bothered to sit down and really watch it, and became quite impressive once it got out from under the feet of the UK version and developed its own characters and plots. I’d recommend that as a gift, or How I Met Your Mother box set of Season One good for light, subtle group-of-friends comedy.

Some light humour books by loved legends have been released, such as Bob Newhart’s I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This (also available in e-book form for E-book reader) and Peter Falk’s Just One More Thing. I’m sure I saw dear Falk, of Columbo fame amongst so many other things, promoting the latter earlier this year and was sad to read that his daughter recently filed court papers saying that he suffers from Alzheimer’s and can no longer look after his own affairs.

Someone who likes rockabilly/big band combo music might be interested to know that the Stray Cats’ Brian Setzer still performs with a big band and has released endless albums, many also downloadable now from Amazon or other sites (or you can listen to samples that way), and most seem to be delightful though I’m only recently re-discovering them myself.

An excellent book for people who like to dream or plan special weekends away, or just to stay in special places when they are travelling around the UK (or in France, for instance; there are other versions) is Alistair Sawday’s Special Places to Stay series, eg special hotels, special B&Bs, special pubs etc….. Have a look at his site for samples, but I recommend the books, for flicking and dreaming and for making your trips that much grander. These aren’t all exorbitant places like the Ritz; sometimes they’ll be a historic small house in the middle of the west country where George Washington lived for a few years, and only a couple rooms are offered to guests….that kinda thing. .

Those are just a few things that come to mind. Have a lovely Christmas, everyone who celebrates it! Though I hope to post more before the day arrives, particularly recommending some Christmas music and DVDs, a bit last minute, as always.


Claude Scales said...

I made the mistake of showing my daughter, a Wodehouse fanatic, the Jeeves alarm clock. Now she has to have one.

Claude Scales said...

I made the mistake of showing my daughter, a Wodehouse fanatic, the Jeeves alarm clock. Now she must have one.