Archive | December, 2012

I wanna cork tonight

31 Dec

champagne cork shaped stool party setting

I’ve always been a bit of a hoarder, particularly when it comes to sentimental stuff. Cinema and gig tickets, letters and postcards friends have sent over the years, old  school bus passes (with cringeworthy photos of my various teenage hair disasters)… I’ve still got them all, in boxes in my loft. I’ve even got a stash of Champagne corks, from my 18th and 21st birthdays; from my wedding; and from memorable past New Years.

Now I’m aware that it’s probably not healthy to keep hold of so much junk, so one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2013 is to have a huge clear out. I’m going to sell stuff such as two of the three tea sets my granny owned; invest in some good photo albums (for all my childhood pix); and throw out all those corks.

And to celebrate turning over a new leaf, I’m hugely tempted to buy one of these amazing Giant Champagne Cork shaped stools for my living room, from They’re made from quality Portugese cork, are comfy to sit on, and look exactly like mini versions of the real thing. Cool!

At £120 each, they’re definitely not cheap, but they do look awesome, and would be a real talking point. I suppose it just depends now how much money Granny’s teaset makes on EBay…

PS: readers from abroad, you don’t have to miss out! The stools can be shipped anywhere in the world.

6797384792_2c2b78405f_c (1)

Above pic: by Prova Shanty

On the cards…

24 Dec

Cmas card with envelope

Unless you’re going shopping in town (which is madness on Christmas Eve, but when I worked on the perfume counter at Boots, there was a steady stream of panic buyers all day!), it’s too late to buy anything.

So, I  thought I’d show you a Christmas card you can make in five minutes that doesn’t require any particular skill or specialist materials, but that looks fancy and professional.

Here’s how:

1) Take a blank card (or fold a piece of white card in half).

2) Cut a piece of wrapping paper into a square a bit smaller than your card. Stick it onto the front of your card with Pritt stick or glue.

3) Take a flat-ish Christmas decoration (mine came in a pack of four for £1 from Tiger Stores) and stick it with a glue dot, a sticky fixer, some rolled over sellotape or even some Blu Tak to the middle of your card.

Cmas card sticking down decoration

4) Fold the hanging loop over the top of your card and fix with sellotape on the inside (see below). Cmas card back of card

And that’s it! You can use any paper and decorations you like. Easy.

Happy Christmas!

Cmas card four cards

Could it be magic (jar)?

21 Dec


Round at a neighbour’s  house the other day, her five-year old was being surprisingly well-behaved – saying please and thank you, eating all his dinner, doing what his mum asked first time… you know, suspicious things.

When I pointed this out, she admitted she’d had help – in the form of an iPhone/iPad app, invented by her designer husband and his fellow dad friend, called Magic  Jar. The idea is that Father Christmas has shelves and shelves of jars, one for each child, in his house in Lapland. If a child is good, the ‘magic’ in their jar increases; if they’re naughty, it decreases. Every time they click on the Magic Jar icon on their parents’ phone, the screen whizzes through space and snowy forests to Santa’s house; and takes them to view their jar. Parents can control the amount of magic in the jar (pretty swirly lights) with a password, when their kids aren’t looking. Genius.

It’s not much different to a phenomenon in the States, called ‘The Elf on the Shelf’ , where parents buy a toy elf and put it in a different place each day in December (the idea being that the elf has flown back to Santa’s house each night to report on the child’s progress). Only thing is, Magic Jar is a lot less effort and costs just 69p from the Apple Store (take a look at it here

Now some people might not approve of bribery in this way (!), but my friend’s son loved it. He proudly showed me his jar and was so excited by the ‘magic’ inside. Besides, you don’t have to use it for kids – I reckon it’d be perfect for keeping boyfriends, husbands and even grandparents in line, too…!

Apparently there will be future versions of Magic Jar for birthdays and summer holidays. But for now, I’m going to use this one to keep my other half on his toes over the next few days. If he doesn’t behave and keep his jar full of magic, I’ll keep all his Christmas chocolates for myself. Yum.


Last minute dot com

20 Dec

Still haven’t done all your Christmas shopping? Don’t panic! Here’s my guide to some of the best one-stop pressie shops and final online ordering dates for pre-Christmas delivery…

…and breathe!

Personalised and quirky gifts, from calendars to bespoke tea (below, £9.95). And yep, they will still personalise things for you at this late hour!

Last minute personalised tea with mug
Stylish, fun and vintage-style inexpensive goodies. Pay for standard delivery and you’ll be upgraded to express for free until 1pm. Be warned though, you’ll end up treating yourself, too! My picks? The crate of six old skool milk bottles, £9.95; and the Japanese blossom bowls, £4.95 each (several designs, I like the blue waves, below).

MONACO BLUE Japanese blossom bowl blue wave £4.95

Unusual gifts, gadgets and generally cool stuff. There really is something for everyone. My favourite? The new Submarine umbrella, £24.99 (below). Brilliant.

Last minute submarine umbrella couple

Next has some lovely gifts and homewares this season, as well as cute kids clothes and stuff men will like (always tricky). Order by 9pm Friday to get next day delivery. Want something that looks as if you didn’t buy it at the last minute (!)? Go for the You & Me frame, £14 (below) and pop in two of your favourite photos (get ‘em developed at Boots while you wait right up till Christmas Eve!).

Last minute you and me frame £14 next

If you can’t buy it on Amazon, it probably doesn’t exist. It’s hard to pick a top buy, as there are so many, but everyone I’ve bought the Ladybird Book Covers postcards for (£9.59, below) has loved them.

Last minute ladybird book covers postcards £9.59
Order by 7pm on Saturday and good old John Lewis promise to deliver before Christmas. Or, order by 7pm on Sunday 22ndfor their click and collect service from any store. What would I recommend? That’s a tough one – maybe the set of three Orla Kiely multi stem storage tins, £22 (below).

Last minute Orla Kiely multi stem storage tins set of 3 £22 John Lewis
A gem of a site packed with inexpensive treats. There’s 20% off at the moment too. I love the Owl Hand Cream, £5.59 (was £6.99) in orange blossom scent with reusable grey owl-shaped pot; or the crème brulee scent (£8.79, was £10.99), which comes in a swanky gold pot!

Last minute owl hand cream grey

Last minute owl hand cream

Keeping it in the family

19 Dec

The next challenge set for me is by Rachel, who has this Christmas shopping conundrum:

“I have a friend with three kids aged 3-10, and rather than getting them each a present, I want to get one nice thing all three of them can enjoy. Any ideas?”

Actually, yes! I’ve got lots of friends like that, and am always hunting for something that’s fun, looks well-thought out, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. So, here are my top five ‘family present’ suggestions…

Family Charades for kids
Charades for kids, £7.29
A fun game for big and little kids alike, the cards have different levels of difficulty, so that the whole family can play along. It comes in a  post-friendly sized box, too.

Family time multicolour picture frame clock

Multi colour photo frame clock, £29.99
Every member of the family – including pets – can display one or two photos in this clever clock. The one I gave to a friend last year has pride of place above her living room fireplace (hopefully because she actually likes it, not because she feels she ought to!)

doodle-tablecloth--washout-pen-set-by-stitch £29.99 Mollie and Fred

doodle-tablecloth--washout-pen-set-by-stitch £29.99 Mollie and Fred close up

Doodle Tablecloth, £34.95
Okay, so it’s not exactly a bargain, but how cool is this? A tablecloth you can draw on time and time again, and the ink washes out like magic. Write people’s names instead of place settings, give kids free rein, or get seasonal with drawings at Easter, on birthdays or at Christmas. Brilliant.

Family origami planes book

How to make paper planes, £9.59
Who doesn’t like making paper aeroplanes? This book is one of the best out there, and includes 50 sheets of origami paper to practice with. It’s easy to post, too.

Family bingo crackers marks and spencer

Bingo game crackers, now £7.50 (was £15) Marks and Spencer
Every year, my family posts our French friends a pack of fun crackers (apparently they don’t ‘do’ crackers in France), and the one year we forgot, we got a letter asking where they were! It’s a fun, inexpensive family present that’s light to post, and this pack includes a bingo game everyone can play after lunch on Christmas day.

Can you candle this?

17 Dec

teacup candle finished and wrapped

I’d always thought candle making was too difficult/faffy and involved specialist equipment – until a friend showed me some amazing teacup candles she’d made with nothing more than an old cup, some string and some melted tealights.

So, when my neighbour threw out a lovely vintage teaset the other day, I snapped it up and had a go at making some candles myself, to give as Christmas presents.

I’m quite pleased with the results – and they only took about half an hour to make! If you find yourself at a loose end over the holidays, why not give it a go? Please excuse my not-very-professional photos, but hopefully they’ll give you the general idea…

CandleShack blended paraffin wax £3.40 for 800g (from*
Wedo 25mm ECO multipurpose wick £2.15 for 20m (from
15mm wick sustainers 40p for 20 (from
Teacup and saucer
Pencil or chopstick
Blue Tak
Pyrex jug
Weighing scales

teacup candle equipment ready

1. Fill your teacup with water then pour that water into your measuring jug. Whatever the reading in ml, you’ll need the equivalent in grams of wax (eg: if your cup holds 150ml, you’ll need 150g of wax). Measure out the wax on your weighing scales.

2. Thread a length of wick through a wick sustainer and crimp it in place with pliers, so it looks like the pic below:

teacup candle crimping
3. Then stick the sustainer to the inside bottom of your teacup with a dot of glue (you could use Blu Tak at a push). Next, wind the wick around a pencil or chopstick to keep the wick straight, and stick it to the cup rim with Blu Tak to keep it in place.

teacup candle cup is ready

4. Put the wax in the jug and put the jug in a saucepan of water on a low heat. Stir gently until the wax completely melts. You can add fragrance (in a little bottle, £3.53 for 50ml Escentscia scent from – I used blackberry) or colour (30p for 5g – you need 1g per 100g of wax – from I used lavender) – just stir it in at this point.

teacup candle melting the wax

5. Carefully pour almost all of the wax into your teacup. It’ll set with an annoying well in the middle, so after 30 mins or so, re-melt the remaining wax in the jug and fill up the well.

teacup candle pouring the was
That’s it! I wrapped mine in cellophane (£1 a roll from Tiger Stores, or you could ask a florist nicely for a square) and ribbon to make it look all professional. Now I just need to decide which lucky people get them as presents!

*All prices from exclude VAT, so they’ll cost a wee bit more at the checkout.

These radios rock!

14 Dec

John Lewis Spectrum DAB radio £29.95 pink

I can’t decide what I like most about these new Spectrum DAB/FM radios from John Lewis. The fact they come in eight lovely colours (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, pink, white and black/grey); the fact they’ve got a lovely rubbery exterior; the fact they work with both batteries and from the mains; the fact they’re a cute 15cm x 8cm x 2.7cm; or the fact they’re only £29.95.

That’s right – they look designer, but cost just shy of £30. That’s a bargain in my book! And as they’re made by good old John Lewis, you know they’re going to be good quality (they even come with a two-year guarantee).

I reckon they’d make the perfect present for a brother, sister or friend. I’m going to ask Santa for a yellow one for my kitchen!

John Lewis Spectrum DAB radio £29.95 red

Bow wow!

12 Dec

gift bow ring V&A shop £8.50 straight on silver

Fact: there’s nothing that can’t be made festive with the addition of a big fat metallic gift bow. And that includes your fingers.

I saw someone wearing this amazing metal bow ring in a magazine (it’s very similar to a designer version by Kate Spade), and instantly fell in love with it. It’s everything I look for in a piece of jewellery – quirky, oversized, fun and not so expensive that it’s scary to wear it.

Yup, while it looks like the kind of trendy creation you’d find in some East London boutique, this ring is only £8 for a gold version – or £8.50 if you go for the silver – from the brilliant online Victoria and Albert Museum Shop (

If you want one, you’d better be quick though, as I hear stocks are getting low…

Stocking up

10 Dec

stocking 1 low res

As you know, I love a challenge, and none so more than the one my friend Gemma set me last week. She has three little girls, aged 11, 8 and 5, and needed to buy them each a stocking chock full of toys and treats. Her problem? She only had £20 each to spend – that’s just £60 on the whole lot. 

The girls are my honorary nieces, so I was really excited to help. Playing Santa with someone else’s cash? That’s the best job ever!

I quickly realised the trick to successful stocking fillers is to know where to shop. With such a tight budget, I hit Poundland, 99p Stores, Tiger Stores (; Wilkinson ( and Primark. True, there is a lot of rubbish out there, but you can pick up some really cute things for just £1 or £2. The other trick is to split stuff – packets of pretty patterned tissues; bags of lollies; and craft bits can all be split two or three ways, giving you more for your money.

In the end, I got a whopping 23 things for each little girl, for just £54 in total. Impressive, eh? My haul is above and below. The best things? Animal gloves, £2 each from Primark; Japanese doll washbags, £1 each from Poundland; Make Your Own Bracelet kits from 99p Stores; and mini metallic piggy banks, £1 each from Tiger Stores.

If  you spot any other bargains that’d make great stocking fillers, let me know!

stocking low res r

All the right notes

7 Dec


As I’ve revealed before on this blog, I’m one of those people who appears incredibly organised, but who is secretly flailing around beneath the surface.

The only thing that stops me from revealing just how scatterbrained I am? Notes and lists. Lots of ’em. On my phone, on the fridge, in my bag, on the dining room table…

At the moment, they’re on random bits of paper, but after having seen the brilliant notepads from American designers Knock Knock, that’s about to change. They do a whole range of write-on-then-tear-off magnetic notepads, list-making mouse mat pads, and sticky notes for pretty much any situation, as well as handy task clips (bulldog clips) to keep your paperwork together. Not only are they all useful, they’re really funny, too.

The pads costs from £2.99 – £6.99 from or from £2.95 at In both cases, search under ‘knock knock’ to see the range.

PS: If you live in the USA, just visit 


Knock Knock sticky set


Recipe notes by knock knock

5 days a week mousepad notepad

Things you must do to make me happy note pad by knock knock


Task clips by knock knock

Aunt these lovely presents?!

5 Dec

First to take me up on my Christmas gift buying challenge (see Monday 3rd December’s blog) is Jill from London, who emailed to say:

“Can you give me some ideas for my auntie? She likes luxury! But I don’t have a huge budget this year – I can spend £30 on her. She enjoys gardening, films, food and pampering. Help!”

Jill, your wish is my command. Here are my suggestions for luxury-loving aunties, below.

PS: Don’t forget, if you have someone you need gift ideas for, just email me at

Silver Plated Champagne cork salt and pepper shakers by Culinary Concepts, £27.50
Nothing says luxury like Champagne and these stylish shakers will look great on your auntie’s table for years. They come in a posh presentation box, making them easy to post. Culinary Concepts make several other fancy silver plated table items such as watering can-shaped shakers, mouse detail cheese knives, and a sweet silver honey pot and spoon, all for around £30 too. Check out the full range at John Lewis.

Cmas Jill culinary concepts champagne salt and pepper pots John Lewis

Make mine a mojito set, £32,
This fun set includes a good-sized lime tree and mint plant, each in your choice of pot; a mini bottle of Havana club rum; a muddle and instructions on how to make mojitos. All delivered anywhere in the UK. If your auntie doesn’t like booze, Plants4Presents sell all kinds of other lovely plants in fancy pots, such as a Calamondin dwarf orange tree for £25, which looks great in a conservatory.

Cmas Jill make mine a mojito set plants4presents lime tree

Cheese baker, £14.59
This good quality china covered dish is decorated just like a traditional camembert box. Simply place a whole camembert or brie cheese inside, and pop it in the oven for an amazing melty treat. It comes in a matching box, so makes a great gift, and if you want to make it look even more special, you could always buy a decent camembert or brie cheese to go with it.

Cmas Jill camembert cheese baker from

Sophie Conran for Portmeirion jug and sugar bowl, £14 each,
Designer – tick. Classy and timeless – tick. Posh mint green presentation box – tick. Decent price – tick! This stylish range of tableware from Sophie Conran looks uber expensive but is actually pretty reasonable. A matching jug and sugar bowl would make a great gift for an auntie, or you can also browse the range for pitchers, serving bowls, espresso cups and even candles.

Cmas Jill Sophie Conran for Portmeirion milk jug

The Sanctuary Winter Spa in a Box, £20, Boots
Your auntie can turn her bathroom into one of London’s top spas with this handy kit that contains everything she’ll need to recreate The Sanctuary’s famous facial at home.

Cmas Jill The Sanctuary Winter Spa in a Box set from Boots

Dusky pink stud bowling bag, £32.50, Next
Ok, so it’s £2.50 over budget, but this roomy, versatile bag looks far more expensive than it actually is, and works as a classy day bag, work bag or travel bag.

Cmas Jill dusky pink stud bowlling bag £32.50

Black + Blum Candelabra loop, £19.95,
Elegant and expensive-looking, this chrome candle holder should look fab on your auntie’s table, mantlepiece or shelf and comes in a presentation box. You can buy just one, or get a second one for your auntie’s birthday so she can link them together!

Cmas Jill Black and Blum candelabra loop flamingo gifts

Carluccio’s Lui E Lei balsamic vinegar and olive oil set, £22.95,
One of the best balsamic vinegar and olive oil sets that money can buy, in elegant bottles and packaged in a Christmassy box. They not only taste amazing, but they’d also look swanky on display in your auntie’s kitchen. Check out Carluccio’s website for other great foodie gifts too.

Cmas Jill Carluccio's olive oil and balsamic £22.95

Le Creuset Bloom Espresso Mug Set, £30,
If your auntie loves coffee as well as labels, she’ll love this chi-chi set of four petal-coloured stoneware espresso mugs from cuisine experts Le Creuset. They’re almost too pretty to drink from!

Cmas Jill Stoneware_espresso_mugs_bloom Le Creuset

Celia Birtwell Garden Trowel and Fork Set, £19.99, from uk_gifts_and_cards at (search under ‘Birtwell Trowel’)
The classiest way to do the gardening, this good quality fork and trowel have a flower print created by iconic designer Celia Birtwell.

Cmas Jill Celia Birtwell trowel set

Gone With The Wind quotation art, £21.75 by wall envy art at
Wall Envy Art take vintage novel pages (this one is from Gone With the Wind – you can also get a page from the book of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and overprint them with famous quotations from the same book. They then mount the whole lot in a handmade wooden frame. Cute.

Cmas Jill quotation art Gone With The Wind

Your Christmas presents sorted!

3 Dec

It’s December, and that means – if you haven’t done it already – it’s time to buy Christmas presents.

I know how hard it can be to find the perfect gift, or to find inspiration when you’ve got someone tricky to buy for, so this year, I’m offering my treasure hunting services to you lucky (!) readers.

Want a present for a bookworm? Need to find something for a tricky dad? Got a workmate’s Secret Santa gift to buy? Want to impress a new boyfriend? Looking for ideas that’ll keep kids happy? Please, just ask away.

Email me at with your Christmas shopping conundrum (and a bit of detail about the person you’re buying for; your budget; and if possible, the general type of thing you’re looking for) and I’ll put my thinking cap on. I’ll feature as many answers on the blog as I can before the 25th December.

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