Me People

Gift Guide 2017

If you want the short version:

Don’t buy people stuff for the sake of it, give to charity in their name instead. If you really want to buy them something get them an experience (a show, a meal etc.). If you really want to buy them a *thing*, support an independent creator or local shop (I suggest books and board games).

Need the long version? Ok…


Does the recipient need more stuff?

They probably don’t. Not only do they already have a bunch of stuff but they’re about to get a load more because it’s Xmas/Candlenights/whatever.

It may be the case that there is something that the recipient does need, if that’s the case you don’t need a gift guide: just get them the thing.

Assuming you’re here because you don’t know what thing to get a person my first suggestion is to get them no things. Either:

  1. Give a thing in their name to someone who really, genuinely does need a thing, or
  2. Get them something they can *do*


Charity gifts

Charity gifts may seem like a cop-out (“Oh, you got a goat for… someone else. Yay?”) but unless you are this person’s only gift-giver they’re going to get tangible gifts. Probably a whole bunch. Including a load of stuff they don’t really want and won’t ever use.

You can guarantee your gift is wanted, and used, and you will literally make the world a better place.

It can be an incredibly personal gift. Sadly, it’s pretty likely that something unfortunate will have touched your friend’s life at some point, make your gift a response to that. A bottle of perfume might be nice, but contributing to the fight against the disease that took a loved one, or funding research that might let their nephew see again is a hell of a lot better.

It may seem like an unexciting choice for Smalls. I am almost certain that the fraction of a goat I buy in their name will, at first, be the least exciting present my nephews get. But not every kid lives in a house like they do and goes to a school like they do and it’s important for them to learn that. Plus unless I’m getting them the biggest Ninjago set I can find, any gift I get them isn’t going to be the most exciting. And I should give them more credit, they’re smart kids this will make them think (once they’re bored of remote control Lightning McQueen).

So which charities should you give to? Tbh, I’m not an expert, this year I’ll be donating to:

But there are loads of charities out there. Find one that means something to you or to your recipient, try checking charity rankings (like Givewell) to ensure they’re a decent charity, then go for it.



Get them something they can do. Something they can experience or consume.

If you Google this sort of thing you’ll get the companies that offer F1 days and helicopter flights but I don’t mean those (full disclosure: I flew a helicopter once and it was awesome).

For me these fall into Tickets, Bookings, and Plans.


To a show, a ballet, a gig, comedy, whatever. It can be something you really like, something they really like, something neither of you have ever heard of…

I bought my parents tickets to an Opera for Xmas a few years ago and I know they’ll remember that forever, but I doubt they could tell you what I bought them last Xmas (I certainly can’t).

It can be something for them to enjoy with a partner (throw in a babysitting offer too for brownie points) or it can be for you and them to do together. It doesn’t have to be expensive.

My best friend bought us tickets to see an adaptation of the play within a play from a Midsummer Night’s Dream that was entirely in Russian (neither of us speak Russian) and featured a performing dog. Tickets were £5. We had a blast. Try something you would never normally do.


I couldn’t think of a better word for this (I toyed with voucher but that has implications of the HMV vouchers that were a staple of my childhood). I’m talking about a voucher for a local restaurant or spa, that sort of thing. Preferably something that you’ve done and loved and want them to do too.

Again, it doesn’t have to be expensive, it could be for tea and cake at your favourite bakery (even if they don’t do vouchers just go and ask them – I bet they’ll sort you out), a cocktail at a bar you really like. Something that you did, loved, and wished that person could’ve done too.


My favourite one of all. You can combine this with the above, or, you can do the £0 version. That may seem cheap but I genuinely believe it’s the thought that counts and planning a day out for someone requires a hell of a lot more than buying them a DVD that’s on offer in Sainsbury’s.

Pick somewhere and plan a day out.

Maybe you find a quirky National Trust property (oh hai Snowshill Manor) then look for nearby pubs or cafes, find a walk to or from it. Or you pick a city and work out a route that takes you to every sculpture and blue plaque with a cocktail between each one.

Draw a map of it with little illustrations of you and your buddy doing the things, or make a little book.

I do this for my other half every year and without fail we have the best times.


But I really want to get them a thing!

Ok. In which case I have a few guidelines:

  1. Support creators
  2. Support local, independent shops
  3. Buy fewer things following the above criteria rather than lots of cheaper things from Amazon, Tesco etc.


Right, but what actual stuff?

Books and board games.

Board Games are great. Seriously. There are so many great games out there right now and you probably live near a Friendly Local Game Store (meeting criterion #2 above) plus you can get a single game as a gift for a whole group of people (well hello criterion #3).

Shut Up and Sit Down have a fab gift guide that I recommend you check out for range of great suggestions for all budgets and audiences. My top suggestions would be:

  • Mysterium (it’s Cluedo but one of you is the ghost of the victim trying to help the others solve your murder)
  • Codenames (the best word/guessing game)
  • D&D Starter Set (this is the most fun you can have with your brain, and I can confirm it contains both Dungeons and a Dragon)

As for books… I just love books.

Kottke has a round up of the ‘Top Books of 2017’ lists, though my top tip is to check out top lists from past years too, those books are still just as good. Buy them from your local independent bookshop.

Books I’ve enjoyed this year:

  • Bill Bryson’s At Home
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
  • Robert Webb’s How Not To Be A Boy
  • Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
  • David Grann’s The Lost City of Z
  • Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography
  • Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez

Talking of Kottke, he always pulls together a great Holiday Gift Guide Guide. 2017’s isn’t up yet but you can see 2016’s here and, as above, many of these things would still be cool gifts.

On the ‘supporting a creator’ front, if you follow illustrators or authors on Twitter or Instagram they probably sell stuff, prints, books, postcards, pins. If you dig their stuff then support them, your friend gets a gift that not many other people have, you get to look cool, and the creator gets paid. It’s good all round.


Is that it?

Not quite, there’s a secret final option: make something.

You can do anything from a jar of chutney for them to enjoy with Xmas dinner to a full on hamper of chocolates made by your own fair hand.

My go-to options are:

  • Truffles. Everyone likes chocolate and making them couldn’t be easier. Dark chocolate + equal weight of just boiled cream. Add optional flavourings (honey, vanilla, rum etc.). Let cool. Make into balls and roll in cocoa or crushed toasted nuts.
  • Chutney. Onions, apples, vinegar, sugar, spice. There are no end of chutney recipes, but importantly: it’s cheap, you can make it in bulk, it’s delicious. Keep hold of used jars to save having to buy any.
  • Flavoured Gin. Sloes or Damsons, pricked, plus double their weight in the cheapest gin you can buy, and half their weight in sugar. Leave for at least one month but preferably three. It’s delicious. Bottle it in jars to save having to buy bottles.

Clearly I err towards edibles but you could make a mixtape, throw a pot, knit a scarf, whatever.


Ultimately do whatever you want. I’m not your Mum. But seriously think about whether you’re buying someone a thing just so you have given them a thing, and whether you could not buy them a thing and in doing so make their Xmas better.

Comics People


Related to a recent post, “You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you,” from the Oatmeal is worth the few minutes of your time it will take.

You’ll learn about presidential teeth, Napoleonic height, poop, and flies, but also about something much more important.

Art People

Tokyo Gifathon

These are just pure delight. James Curran is making a gif a day during his month in Tokyo. His style is so lovely, I have no idea where to even begin doing this sort of animation but I’d love to.

My faves…

Humanities People

Mandatory Thursday

Just what the hell is a Maundy anyhow?

I must confess (ha) that my Catholic upbringing has let me down a bit here. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday I’ve got a handle on but Maundy Thursday (which always seemed the coolest of the three names) is a bit of a mystery.

As a kid I always pictured Maundy as a sort of tawny pink colour. It’s actually:

…from Old French mandé, from Latin mandatum “commandment” (see mandate); said to be so called in reference to the opening words of the church service for this day, Mandatum novum do vobis “A new commandment I give unto you” (John xiii:34)


On Maundy Thursday, priests, popes, cardinals and kings around the world will wash one another’s feet (this is the command referenced above).

In the UK, Queen Elizabeth won’t be washing any feet but will give out Maundy Money to some of her poorest pensioners in a ceremony with all the pageantry and period strangeness you’d expect from a tradition stretching back 800 or so years.

The ceremony features the Yeoman of the Guard, The Lord High Almoner (a role that apparently still exists) and six wandsmen. I have no idea what a wandsman is.

Specially minted coins are paraded in on 400 year old platters; the Maundy pennies are presented in a white leather pouch with green string, regular coinage (in lieu of clothing and gifts) in a red leather pouch with white string.

Over time the clothing and gifts have been phased out in favour of money. The practice of giving clothing to women was stopped in 1724 after the event turned into a swap shop as recipients tried on each other’s clothes for size.

The ceremony also features four ‘Maundy Children’, historically these were four old men paid to dress up in linen scarves (nowadays four actual children are used).

In the past there were also mathematical considerations, the number of recipients (and coins given) was equal to the monarch’s age in years, and recipients were for life. Upon Queen Victoria’s accession the number of eligible recipients dropped from 71 to 18. Recipients are no longer for life but selected each year.

Art Humanities People

UK Holocaust Memorial

Anish Kapoor’s proposal for the UK Holocaust Memorial.

Me People

If Britain were 100 people

So… pretty much everyone is white!

My parents are immigrants. But they’re the sort of immigrant that’s ok nowadays (there was a time they really weren’t): we’re white, English-speaking, our names aren’t too tricky to say or spell; there are plenty of ‘more foreign’ targets. Unless I point out to anyone that I’m the first generation to be born in Britain no-one is any the wiser.

My neighbours are Indian. Well, actually they’re not, most of them are British. There are three children all born in Britain, as was their mum, and their Dad is from Punjab. There are also a lot of retirees on my street. I used to talk to them when I was gardening out front or walking to the shop but I don’t any more. It turns out they aren’t happy that there’s a brown family on our street. Our street where virtually everyone is white (there’s a Colombian lass a couple of doors down and a black guy at the end of the street plus my neighbours). But apparently that’s too many. And because I’m white (and probably British, right?) I must agree with them. “They don’t belong here”, “they should go back to their mud huts”, “it’s not right”. They’re all smiles when they see my neighbours, but they must feel so sorry for me having to live next door to them, that’s why they feel the need to come over and utterly mis-empathize with me, right? When I tell them that I couldn’t disagree more they act like I have been outrageously rude to them.

All the nationalist, xenophobic shit the government is trying to pull at the minute is terrifying. Genuinely terrifying. That people can happily scapegoat immigration to the degree they have beggars belief.

When I was kid I loved learning history but back then I didn’t understand that you learned these things in order to avoid the mistakes of the past and to understand why the world is the way it is. I honestly don’t know what happens now, so many people in this country feel wronged or let down, and appealing to their most base, racist beliefs will work. It will always work. There’s no credible opposition. I don’t know what happens.