Those final panic buying moments are upon us! Every year most of us promise ourselves we will be organised with presents wrapped by November and cards written and ready to send well before that final posting date, but I find that every year I get less efficient! Time is short for everyone, and this year finances are stretched.
A few golden rules of good manners and common sense. Set a budget and be prepared to exceed by 50% the closer to Christmas Eve you leave your purchasing, due to pressure of time and last minute choice. However, this year many shops have started knock down sale prices early, so leaving it til the last minute may produce a real bargain. Don’t bankrupt yourself for the sake of keeping up appearances, measured generosity can still mean luxury.
Buy the best you can afford on your budget, go for quality, timelessness and classic detail, whether it is the Little Black Dress in Whistles’ sale, or a leather bound photograph album from Noble Macmillan which can be engraved for as little as £3.
Gift giving is not entirely selfless as there is a warm glow for the donor to perceive the look of joy on the face of the recipient if they have chosen well. Have the recipient firmly in mind when you buy – what are their likes and dislikes, what are their hobbies? Try to match gift to recipient and in this way you are almost certain of a winner. In the likely event you will receive something yourself which is utterly ghastly, open it with an even expression and try to contain your dismay – one man’s treasure is another’s junk, and you can do great things to keep up the recycling trend next time there is a birthday or a raffle prize being sought, as long as you ensure the giver is nowhere near the second recipient and you have not used it! As my colleague William Hanson says, there should be six steps of separation between gift and giver….
A busy year has led to my gross inefficiency in card writing and present buying in 2011. Friends of The English Manner will note they are missing a formal card – having run out at a crucial stage I ordered more online but they have failed to materialise, so tomorrow we resort to an emailshot. Mea culpa.
Yesterday I had just one hour in which to race around Sloane Square to source last minute gifts for those I had either left until last due to lack of inspiration or the teenager’s umpteen friends. If someone not on your list suddenly produces a present, don’t be cowed into reciprocating, remember to thank gratefully and gracefully but stick to your budget. You can consider next year if it might be necessary, but don’t run yourself ragged dashing out to give something in return. Christmas gifts should be reserved for those closest to you, but make sure you have some extra boxes of chocolate or luxury soap to take as a last minute invitation hostess gift. The teenager herself has produced the inextensive but decidedly expensive wish list – Chanel no 5, Links charms for the bracelet and an Olympics wristband which is rather cute, anything from Jack Wills (I wish I had thought up that company), and iPhone and a pair of Russell and Bromley riding boots. The boots are certainly out at £345, but in the window they have suddenly produced a pair of weatherproof rubber boots in an exact replica with a tan top for £145 – they are just darling….
I recognise that many do not have easy access to London shops, and there are some brilliant retailers in the provinces. Bath, Birmingham, Bristol’s Cabot Circus, Leeds, York, Edinburgh, and out of towners such as the wonderful Daylesford in Stow…. But for me London and with the clock ticking, I began my last minute sourcing quest in the age old bastions of good manners and taste – Sloane Square. First off the grocery emporium of Partridges where one can buy just about any deluxe brand or sweetmeat and watch the world go by with a cup of steaming coffee and a croissant – when time permits and no deadlines loom. Fabulous stocking fillers here – macaroons, marzipan fruits, chocolates and candies. For the last minute table, brightly patterned Caspari napkins, extensive wine collections and quirky but traditional ‘extras’ such as Gentleman’s Relish and Duchy Originals marmalade.
From here I traced my footsteps back through Duke of York Square past The alma mater of the Duchess of Cambridge – Jigsaw. Always a favourite and now they have some fabulous party clothes and great weekend and country clothes such as tweed hacking jackets or smart grey flannel blazers. The sales are starting and this is the perfect time to dress up for Christmas Day or the New Year’s Eve party you are committed to attend.
If in doubt, go to Peter Jones or indeed any branch of John Lewis, to find perfect household gifts and some jolly good ranges of extras. James handmade chocolates, Rococo nougat, good champagne, and yesterday a new range by Parisian deli Fauchon; perfect.
The superb leather goods designer, Franchetti Bond, has slashed items in their sale and I defy anyone not to think some of their bags could be Hermes at a hundred paces, for a fraction of the price – and I spied an orange copy Birkin in the window of Viyella the other day – run girls, run!
For fans of The White Company, 30% off some of their items. Fabulous soap, diffusers, candles and the most gorgeous winter wreath of dried orange, cinnamon and raffia to hang above the Aga, or simply on an internal door, to waft delicious citrus and Christmassy smells throughout the festivities.
Gifts of food are usually well received. Even the most diet conscious may take a chocolate or two from the box at Christmas, and home made gifts show a great deal of thought and care. If desperate turn to the trick so beautifully presented in ‘I don’t know how she does it’ – buy luxury mince pies from M&S or Waitrose; make up a lovely gift box with tissue and ribbon, liberally sift icing sugar on top of said pies and cover with florist’s cellophane to present as a gift with love and aplomb!
And finally, one final rule of thumb for the chaps. Remember boys, if she says she only wants a new toaster/washing machine/wok she doesn’t mean it. The hidden text here is diamonds….