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18 December 2008

Practically perfect

By Annalisa Barbieri

Hello. Last year I peaked early and by the time Christmas came round, I was over it. Not that you can, of course, be over Christ’s birthday, but the commercial part of it – well, I was numb to fairy lights and mince pies come 25 December. This year, despite an adrenalin shot of excitement surging through me when I found myself in the just-opened Christmas room at Selfridges this August, I’ve held back. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about Christmas presents.

What will be happening with sales, money-off days and the like, no one knows, so the prices I’ve quoted are what was advertised (rounded up to the nearest pound) at the time of going to press. My first top tip is a pair of cashmere-lined gloves from Marks & Spencer. No one has done a better-value offering. For women, there is a pair from Autograph (£25) that manages to retain sleekness while still providing warmth. Men have a slightly chunkier version for £40; both come in black or brown. If you’re planning on keeping the heating down, you need a proper pashmina. Two-ply is more blanket-like, great to snuggle up with or to provide real warmth on a walk; one-ply is great for every day and chucking into a bag (it folds up tiny). Both versions cost £60 for the shawl size. I could fill a whole column with how useful they are (I think I did once); I use mine every day. The only place to get them from is My Pashmina: great value, great service and wonderful quality for a reasonable price.

Graham and Green has some lovely things that make unusual presents. My favourites this year include some etched-glass tumblers (the mountain scene ones are particularly retro) that come in all different colours, six for £40; an owl doorstop, £45; and a heart of bells from £4.50 (totally pointless but somehow highly necessary). For children, Next has a wonderful over-the-bed canopy for £12, which you can’t go wrong with if you know a princess-loving girl (or boy). And their little £8 bag, containing a fake phone, keys etc, has proved highly popular. (Buy in store, though, and not online: they open a Next account for you whether you want one or not.) Woolworths (RIP) has a great dump truck and excavator at half price: £30. And for children’s bedlinen, go to Designers Guild, where you can get really unusual, but still very pretty/handsome duvet covers and pillowcases for £40 a set. I know that handkerchiefs are much derided, but really, I can never have too many and am going to start a one-woman campaign to bring them back. I like mine with a pattern so that I have a different one for every day (that way they build up personalities, too, but ssshh, don’t tell anyone). Liberty of London is a good place to start looking, but no one does a really great variety for men, women and children (there’s an opportunity here). Last year I warned you off scented candles but this year I think they bring a much-needed bit of whiffy luxury to the air. My favourites are Rigaud (very long burning but expensive, from £45) and Jo Malone, from £38, but nothing beats Muji candles, from as little as £2.25, on price or smell.

A whimsical but very covetable present is a little handbag by Reiss (£89 from Selfridges). It comes in black or red and is small but big enough for the essentials, the sort of thing, with its metal handle, that makes you come over all 1950s ladylike.

Finally, the oak Tiffany tray from Habitat is only £22 but it has legs – perfect for breakfast in bed. Not only is it very handsome and practical, but it shows good intent. If you accompany it with a promise of breakfast in bed every Saturday, I’m not sure a gift could give more . . . Merry Christmas.

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Sources: Liberty: Selfridges: *M&S: *My Pashmina: *Graham and Green: Next: to find your local store; I recommend in preference to the online service *Designers Guild: *Rigaud at Roullier White: *Muji: *Jo Malone: *Habitat:

*You can buy online

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