‘Tis indeed the festive season. We’ve eaten the first of the mince pies now. I love mince pies but it is a cast-iron rule not to let one pass the lips before 1 December. This keeps them special and ensures some other unlucky individual has finished up Sainsbury’s backlog of last year’s unsold pies stacked high from mid-September. The Christmas cake is cooked and in the tin and now only needs feeding till the big day. This year I’m feeding mine with sloe gin: one tablespoon for the cake, one tablespoon for the cook, one tablespoon for the cake, one tablespoon for the cook, one tablespoon for the cake, hic.
I’ve unearthed the leftover ribbon and Christmas wrap from last year. So now the time has come to start ticking things off the Christmas present list. As always I have some suggestions for you to help make your Christmas shopping easier. Do feel free to reciprocate – I have cashmere gloves for my mum, a Tour de France T-shirt for my brother, yet another tome on the Hapsburgs for my best friend, but if you have ideas for a sixteen year old nephew or my sister-in-law then let me know I will be grateful.
Of course, as a bookseller my suggestions will be nice and easy to wrap. Books are a great choice, there is always something flattering about giving a book, an implied respect for the mind of the recipient (I am assuming here that Jordan’s latest biographical instalment is out of the question).
Are they watching Dan Jones’ new series on Channel 5: Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty ? If so then The hollow crown or The Plantagenets are the obvious choices. Both books by Dan explore the kings, queens and special friends of the royals from Henry II to Richard III. Indeed, I would suggest these for fans of Game of Thrones too. You know this was inspired by the Wars of the Roses of course? As always, truth is stranger than fiction – or in this case bloodier, sexier and more dastardly. Never trust your family, the perfect message for the festive season.
If your list includes those of a gentler persuasion whose ire is only raised by the sighting of snails then how about The Edwardian gardener’s guide, a charming reproduction of pamphlets produced in 1913? This is a delightful present for the gardener in your life, full of helpful advice on cultivation and care, tips for handling those pesky perennials and some invaluable information on designing your own grotto (one should always have a grotto at the end of the garden – where else will your hermit live?)
Machines elicit a constant fascination and within every man (and woman) lurks the little child who dreamed of driving a train. Or perhaps being a train? Depends whether they read The Railway Children or Tommy The Tank Engine. Unlock that inner child (or secret train spotter) with a copy of The handbook for railway steam locomotive enginemen. Packed with diagrams and detail this is a reproduction of the official handbook provided to British Rail engineers in 1957.
The Southern rambles for Londoners is a dinky little pocket guide from 1948 describing walks over the Surrey Downs. I am adding one of these to my mother’s stash as her youth club did these walks at exactly this time and she will love it. For walkers of today it is surprizing how little some of these walks have changed –the Box Hill one a case in point. The cost of the end-of-walk pint may have risen astronomically, and there are a few more houses around, but in essence nothing better justifies the green belt policy than a quick look through this little book. Another walker’s treat of a completely different type is A spy’s London which includes 21 walks around London uncovering the stories behind the espionage capital of the world. Whether you decide to walk these or not it is a fascinating read with photographs and a wealth of background detail about the buildings and the people who lived, worked and plotted there.
Can’t wait to see Damian Lewis in the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall? Then the solution is simple: a copy of Tracy Borman’s Thomas Cromwell will provide all you ever need to know about Henry VIII’s chief hatchet man (perhaps an unfortunate choice of words that).
For those who spend their weekends endlessly ferrying the family from social engagement to sports fixture we can offer a stylish chauffeur keyring (very much in the Downton Abbey mode) or a helpful copy of The woman owner-driver from 1928. For the woman (or man – we are broad church here) whose make-up bag is bursting how about The finishing touch, a history of cosmetics? Now me, I am of the make-up is the mask of oppression school of thought (although a bottle of scent is always welcome Santa – Chanel by preference) but even those who haunt the counters of Boots will celebrate that we no longer use a facewash made of minced and boiled pigeon, or need to take elaborate precautions to avoid mice infesting our wigs.
We also have some gift ideas for non-readers. Although surely you don’t number many of these amongst your nearest and dearest – and if you did would they deserve a present from Santa? Perhaps we shall say those whose shelves are already overfilled? Although as Mike (our bookshop manager) pointed out so recently if you can still get in your front door then you do not have too many books (yet). Tea towels are like T-shirts – an extra one will always come in handy. Holy Mackerel have produced a great range featuring cartoon figures from history and apposite aphorisms (Nelson’s England expects or Shakespeare’s to wash or to dry, now that is the question). For the truly malicious may we suggest a trench whistle for your brother’s six year old ? A delight for the stocking on Christmas morning – provided you are not staying with them of course.