(Or in some cases, what we got.)
From K: A multi-coloured cotton dressing-gown, in the sort of snazzy Paul Smith stripes which have become my sartorial signature. This will be my “city” dressing-gown (I already possess a “country” dressing gown), and will save me from making mad sprints downstairs in the nicky nacky noo, past the large uncovered window on the half-landing with a view over the street below and the flats opposite, and thus affording eagle-eyed neighbours and passers-by the chance to catch a lightening flash of my willy and/or bum-bum. From next week, such treats will no longer be on offer. For a man at my time of life, this is all to the good.
From K: As has become customary over the past five years, a selection of four CDs from nominated artists in next year’s BBC Radio Three World Music Awards (follow the link to stream complete tracks from all the nominees). It should be noted that K has a pretty good track record for picking the winners; this year, he has given the nod to Etran Finatawa, Ben Harper, Nuru Kane and Gogol Bordello. (He also gives the nod to K’naan and Ska Cubano, whose CDs he was unable to source in time for Christmas.)
From K: City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London, by Vic Gatrell. A fat hardback tome, generously illustrated with caricatures from the Golden Age (1770 to 1830), from the likes of James Gillray and the Cruikshanks. Our continued love and fascination for the Golden Age of caricature remains one of the great unbloggables, mainly because I can’t see my way clear to writing about it without coming over all dry and historical, and telling you things which you could find elsewhere, described and discussed by genuine experts in the field. For now, suffice it to say that we love the vulgarity and the grotesqueness; if ever you think that contemporary cartoonists like Steve Bell “go too far”, and that modern-day news values are being dumbed down by salacious, ephemeral, personality-based tittle-tattle, then these works will show you that there’s nothing new under the sun.
From K: A boxed set of 11 DVDs from the ground-breaking, brilliant, magical film-making partnership of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, dating from the 1940s and 1950s. I already knew (and loved) A Matter of Life and Death, I Know Where I’m Going and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp; yesterday afternoon, I made a start on the rest of the collection, and promptly fell in love with The Red Shoes. There’s a weirdly resonant quality about these strange, singular films, which somehow tap into some of my earliest thoughts and memories. In particular, Joan Maude as the serenely magisterial “Chief Recorder” in A Matter of Life and Death is the spitting image of the woman whom I visualised as my inner “conscience”, aged around three or four (yes, I was a “deep” toddler) – and I really do wonder whether I might have lifted her image from a TV screening of the film.
From my darling sister: The Best of Smash Hits: The ’80s. How well she knows me. You could barely get a peep out of me after Christmas dinner. While K and his extended family nodded off in front of Funny Face, I was lapping up Tom Hibbert’s bizarre 1987 interview with Margaret Thatcher (“Brotherhood of Man? Lovely!”), and wondering how they ever got away with putting the long-forgotten likes of Matt Fretton and Jimmy The Hoover on the cover, and still selling shedloads in the process.
From my darling sister: A boxed set of all 19 of the Clash’s UK seven-inch vinyl singles, in their original sleeves – even including, ohmygodgetthisgetthis, the limited edition “Capital Radio” EP which you could only get through the NME (eek!), which I sent off for and never received. At last, a great historical wrong has been righted. Really, the whole package is commodity fetishism at its most heightened, and probably the antithesis of everything that The Clash originaly stood for – but hey, we evolve. Of all the many lovely presents which I received this year, this was the one which scored highest on the instant reaction squeal-o-meter.
From my darling sister: A pocket-sized Etch A Sketch. How well she knows me, Part 3. I seem to have got better at this in the thirty-year gap since I last used one of these devices, as I have become more patient with its limitations, thinking creatively around them rather than letting them defeat me.
From K’s mum and dad: An engraving by the caricaturist George Cruikshank, in a nice old Hogarth frame, entitled Dandies and Dandyzettes. Dating from 1818, this depicts close-up versions of several of the figures from Cruikshank’s Monstrosities of 1818, which we already own (do take a look; it’s fab) – but the colouring on this engraving is unusually rich and vivid. Really, these people were the frightful, graceless, over-done Versace-clad harpies of their day. There’s nothing new under the sun, Part 2.
From K’s mum and dad: Some rather elegant wine glasses and champagne flutes – but rendered in plastic, and hence suitable for picnicking. They must have spotted the need for these over the summer, when the four of us struggled with our fancy glassware during a picnic in the grounds of Chatsworth House, prior to an open-air concert from Jools Holland and his band. Good spot, the In-Laws!
From K’s mum and dad: A book token, part of which I shall be spending on… but no, that would be telling. All in due course. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
From my mother: A beautiful beech food bowl, made by Liam O’Neill for David Mellor, accessorised with a couple of wooden-handled salad servers. This looks so much better on the refectory table in the cottage kitchen than the hand-painted jug from Marrakech ever did. (The jug has been moved to the kitchen window sill, in case you were worrying. It’s a lovely jug, but the yellow was too cloying against the pine.)
From my mother: Modern Phobias: A litany of contemporary fears, by Tim Lihoreau. I’m sure that neither my mother nor Mr. Lihoreau would be offended if I described it, in the nicest possible way, as “toilet reading”. It’s a dipper-inner.
From K’s glamorous (and newly single, ladies!) lesbian cousin P: a gift set of Kiehl’s pampering products. Kiehl’s, Kiehl’s, where have you been all our lives? One senses that after seven years of unswerving devotion to Molton Brown, that devotion may be drawing to its natural close. (I mean to say, they even have Molton Brown in the loos at Buckingham Palace – and frankly, can you get more dismally Middle England than that?) We are particularly struck by the “Face Fuel” moisturiser (so tingly!), and the “Original Musk” eau de toilette (devised in 1920!).
From K’s auntie and uncle: a gift set of Espa pampering products, more slanted towards the bathroom. But I have to say: the packaging for this stuff takes “unnecessary” to a whole new level. Boxes within boxes, all purely for the sake of the “reveal” moment, and fit for nothing but the bin afterwards. (But we’ll stash them in the garage, Just In Case.)
From K’s late sister’s partner R, who joined us for Christmas Day (along with his almost unbearably handsome brother W): a half bottle of 1988 Sauternes… from… oh, hang on… ohmyf**kingChrist-itisn’t-itIS-itf**kingIS… Chateau de bloody Yquem, sweetie! And then, a couple of hours later – since we couldn’t possibly be expected to share it around the table with the foie gras starter – a second bloody half-bottle of bloody Chateau de bloody Yquem, if you please. Oh my good Lord, that shit rules.
From MissMish: a double-sided picture-frame – essentially a sheer rectangular perspex slab – containing two photos of me and him, taken on the day of our civil partnership registration. As we didn’t have any don’t-say-wedding photos on display, this was an altogether wonderful surprise.
From NewEngland in the village, quietly left inside the garage while we were away in Cambridge, and meant as a “thank you” for ferrying her partner OldEngland across from Nottingham every Friday night: a “Hip Hotels (Escape)” guide, and a beautifully packaged and labelled home-made hamper of produce, all made by NewEngland’s own fair hand. Pepper jelly! Green tomato, onion and cucumber pickle! Brandied tangerines! Three-coloured “harlequin” cubes of home-made marzipan, coated with dark chocolate! And some of those “Blue Diamond” imported Californian almonds which we love so much! Of all the many uncommonly well-chosen gifts which we both received this year (one of our best hauls in ages, it has to be said), these were the most unexpected, the most personal – and therefore possibly the most cherished of all.