Save time at Christmas – let your fingers hit the keyboard!
I really don’t have the time to wander round shops searching for suitable gifts at Christmas, and judging from the retailers, I’m just one of hundreds of thousands who think the web is a wonderful place to wander round instead.
So where to start?
We tend to keep all the Christmas catalogues that arrive in the post and use the ones we like best to choose our gifts. Here are the mail order catalogues we chose this year:
Lakeland, Wiggly Wigglers, Thompson & Morgan
What a range of goodies! You may need an evening or two to go through their website, but it’s well worth the time.
Christmas is a time for indulgence and our favourite edible gifts this year were Finlandia fruit jellies and the Glacé fruit tray – the thought of both make your mouth water! Makes a great change from after dinner mints.
Five minute origami will suit a five year old who loves making things. A nearly impossible jigsaw puzzle will infuriate a brother! A Christmas themed set of skittles will get the teams lined up, to win of course! And we can all dip into the tins of biscuits while we compete for supremacy! There is always a slice of delicious Country Fare Glacé fruit cake on hand.
Only one of the many items we ordered was out of stock and we were able choose another equally scrumptious alternative.
One big feature is the Lakeland no quibble return policy which works! And they make shopping so easy, you can phone and order, visit one of their many outlets, click and collect, send orders in the post, or order direct on line.
Why Thompson & Morgan?
Nothing marks the start of the gardening season like the first seed sowing of the year. You could give the gardener in your life all they’ll need for the earliest start in 2015. For the fastest seedlings in small batches you’ll want to treat them to the T&M Premium Seed Kit with its seven tray heated propagator. Both the flower and vegetable selections have something for pots, baskets and open soil. The kit includes plant labels and pencil. We use our seed propagator all the time now, wouldn’t be without it – it gives peace of mind – it is so reliable.
Alternatively you could always order some plug plants to be delivered in time for the best planting period. We have ordered gifts from T&M for several years now and love their indoor plants. This year we particularly like the Christmas Cactus, only £12.99.
What about a standard Bay Tree to give a classy look to your front door? Every outdoor plant we have ordered from T&M has done well, some are now more than 7 years old – for instance the lemon tree in a pot, now safely in the cool greenhouse.
Order before midday on 19th December for guaranteed delivery in time for Christmas.
Why Wiggly Wigglers?
Here we have a real success story, a farmer and his wife provide a real joy of a catalogue to browse through. Everything a bird feed enthusiast might want, bird nesting boxes, garden composers, composting worms – the worms do the work by the way! We have ordered a terracotta bird nesting box and some roosting pockets for some young children to put up in their garden.
This year we have ordered Goat Sock Gifts. To be on the safe side rather than buy the wrong size sock, why not, in view of the possible very cold weather ahead, buy some bed socks. Honestly they are really so good we each have two pairs to make sure we always have cosy feet every night. Can’t praise them enough. They come in one size which seems to suit everyone we know.
Great British Florist is part of the Wiggly Wigglers organisation and they offer the most beautiful bouquets and wreaths. To receive a monthly bouquet of seasonal British flowers you can subscribe to the monthly flower delivery. This would be an absolutely fantastic gift for someone who just loves fresh flowers that haven’t been flown halfway round the world. We really urge you to look at the website and get more information about their flower club, flower workshops, wedding packages including natural flower petal confetti. Do have a look on the Christmas page on their website – we’ve just ordered a Christmas posy for the Christmas Day table and a wreath for the front door – look for the one with brussel sprouts as part of the design! Last date for guaranteed delivery for Christmas is 22 December – don’t miss out, you won’t regret it!
Gifts for ourselves – two witch hazel bushes, one yellow and one red. I remember a huge hedge of witch hazel plants with a most wonderful perfume in Edinburgh Botanical Gardens and have always wanted one since. We heard they were on the Lubera were selling them – Lubera has a most wonderful plant list.
Grown in Switzerland, all their plants are hardy, useful in Cumbria as we can’t cope with tender plants without a lot of care. Recently we now have a damson tree, two pointilla bushes – they provide a most unusual tasty fruit, six raspberry plants both gold and red, and strawberry plants. For more information go to their website – we will soon be writing more about their plants in a separate feature – We Love Lubera!
We always look for unusual decorations for this time of year and found a lovely tealight decoration on the Notcutts website. The Circle of Friends costs just £8.99 and looks wonderful on a windowsill.
Finally, something for us at Christmas when we’ve had enough food, games and alcohol, a jigsaw to push our brains in active mode! A jigsaw puzzle that will take a lot of time giving lots of fun: a copy of the Heye Jigsaw – 2,000 pieces, Napoleon’s Winter, designed by Jean-Jacques Loup. Here’s a link to browse through.
We already have copies of Loup’s Noah’s Ark – we loved it so much we did it twice, and the Spaghetti puzzle, both of which we had a great deal of fun and frustration but what a sense of achievement when we completed it with a touch of regret that we didn’t have it to work any more! We might just contemplate the 4,000 piece Crazy World Cup for next year, but then there is the House of Horror, and the Orchestra designs! Decisions, decisions! By the way we found a source of the Heye puzzles in East Yorkshire, http://www.jigsawpuzzlesdirect.co.uk 01287659036.
We are really looking forward to retreating into puzzle mode and forgetting the wintry weather outside. Can’t wait for Christmas Day now!
Right, that’s everything done … now for a swig of that damson gin we put away a month or more ago. It must be ready by now!
We wish you all a very Merry and Happy Christmas.
Val Reynolds and her team
In theatrical terms, nothing is more traditional in Britain than the pantomime. It owes a lot to Commedia dell’ Arte but you’ll not see anything remotely like it anywhere else in the world. The pantomime as we know it today has evolved over centuries starting with the mummers’ plays of the Middle Ages and is a traditional Christmas entertainment.
For adults, the beauty lies in knowing exactly what to expect: the pantomime dame, not really a drag queen but a man dressed in a frock; good and bad fairies; a principal boy played by a woman; an animal of sorts powered by actors in suffocating costume. Traditional participation, yelled at full throttle, such as ‘look behind you!’ or ‘oh no it isn’t!’ comes completely naturally, as does the enthusiasm to sing along (and frequently perform actions to) the inevitable song that has words displayed on the stage for all to follow. For children, it’s often the first experience of theatre and one that certainly doesn’t expect them to sit quietly and be seen but not heard. The delight of watching kids really enjoy themselves often rivals what’s happening on the stage.
Entertainment such as this is to be found the length and breadth of the land. But to experience the crème de la crème of the genre, all you need to do is to make your way to the Hackney Empire in central London. Built in 1901, originally as a music hall, it is the ideal venue, now restored to its former glory. And this year it welcomes back Clive Rowe, the pantomime dame to beat all pantomime dames, as Mother Goose. With a superb voice, cheeky demeanour and amazing empathy with an audience of all ages, he dazzles in one outrageous costume after another and is the lynchpin of all around him. Sharon D Clarke, whose powerful voice almost shakes the rafters of the old theatre appears as the good Princess Charity, and her evil sister Princess Vanity is played by Susie McKenna, who has devised pantomimes at this theatre for the many. A break with tradition has the young male lead played by the charming male Kat B and the stage is awash with characters from nursery rhymes and fairy tales.
The Hackney Empire, unlike so many venues, doesn’t play host to today’s pop and soap stars who perhaps draw audiences where they appear because of their celebrity. There’s enough talent amongst the Hackney community to sustain the show without big names. And that includes Princess Priscilla, the larger than life goose, who lays the golden eggs that tempt Mother Goose to a life of greed rather than good. Of course, in the end, good prevails, evil is defeated with those characters seeing fit to change their wicked ways, and everyone lives happily ever after with a wedding finale that allows almost all the large cast to don yet one more frock.
And as the six-piece band, who have performed all evening with such verve and enthusiasm that you might have been forgiven for thinking you were listening to a full size orchestra, play out the audience as they leave enchantment and meet up again with reality, the smile on everyone’s faces says it all. Popular theatre like this should never be mocked. It’s truly wonderful, and I can’t wait for next winter’s pantomime at the Hackney Empire!
Mother Goose is playing until 4 January 2015
Jeannette Nelson, Arts critic with special interest in theatre