Just like the kids whining from the back seat ‘Are we there yet?’ (showing my age I suspect: children today are probably little mice, thumbs a-flutter, absorbed in their phones), the low grumble of ‘Are you ready yet?’ has started to build towards its Christmas crescendo.
I’ve already missed the last posting dates for New Zealand; but this happens every year, and like the use-by dates on things lurking in my fridge I tend to regard last posting dates as guide rather than gospel. I’ve started to plan the Christmas Day menu and identified which local church is offering mince pies with its carol singing. I’ve bought some presents and I’ve painted one Christmas card (although that robin looks more like a penguin). There is plenty more to do yet and with luck and a firm control on the mulled wine consumption I will get there. There’s plenty of time yet…
In The National Archives’ bookshop our Christmas window is in and the little tree is by the till (not twinkling this year, I think its dodgy electrics have finally given up). We have cards aplenty, Christmas stamps and, best of all, our festive book recommendations are piled high awaiting purchase. So what do we think should lie wrapped under every tree? I’d go for a book: they are almost foolproof to wrap (even if that staff Christmas party went on longer than you anticipated).
Reel History is fun and perfect for that know-it-all who talks though every scene at the pictures. It is a touch vicious and sarky (which is a plus in my book) and runs the full gamut of famous historical movies, from Cecil B DeMille’s Ten Commandments to Ben Afflick’s Argo (with some very pointed looks at Mel Gibson on the way), rating them for entertainment value and historical accuracy. There is a brief plot summary and comments on cast, set and costume. It is an absolute hoot. One of those perfect-for-Christmas presents as you can sit around reading bits out in the long pauses that arise as the family lies beached in the lounge, trying to work off the Yuletide gorging. I’ll leave it to you to find out which cinematic classic is assessed as ‘Mostly about the wrong people and 600 years out of date’.
If you buying for those who love a good frock at a moment of historical import then consider Take Six Girls. Laura Thompson’s biography of The Mitford Sisters is a delight. A totally fascinating family of women who could only be British, with eccentricity carried to new heights in an era of change and challenge between the wars. If you fear your family is dysfunctional (and at Christmas, do not we all feel just that) then read about the Mitfords!
I am in Arctic mode myself, being not long back from a visit to The Oates Collection in Selbourne. On the back of this I read Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s Worst Journey in the World, a truly great book from a time when men weren’t just men they were gentlemen, whose stiff upper lip was maintained even when that very lip was eaten away with frostbite. Cherry-Garrard is a classic, although possibly not for pony lovers – a spoiler, but it doesn’t end well for the ponies, so don’t get too attached to Blossom and Jimmy Pigg. As this has been out for over 90 years now your giftee may have already read it, so if you are looking for something more contemporary but in a similar mode try Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ Cold, describing his more recent experiences at the poles.
For light relief and travel much closer to home you can’t look past Bill Bryson’s latest The Road To Little Dribbling. Bryson’s exploration of Britain is characterised by humour, exasperation and affection. The land he loves for its ‘decent music, old stony buildings, variety of boiled sweets and reasons for not going to work because of the weather’ is traversed and described. He will tell you things about your own country you never knew or guessed and you will enjoy reading it very much.
If all else fails turn to They All Love Jack by Bruce Robinson. It’s dark and cold this time of year and everyone secretly loves a good murder story – a bit of blood and a frisson of fear experienced safely within the cardboard end-covers of a good book. Film director and screenwriter Robinson has a good eye for scene setting and his radical reinterpretation of the Jack The Ripper legend is an absorbing read.
Good luck with it all, happy wrapping and enjoy the mince pies.