Well spring has almost sprung – not quite a case of ‘spring has sprung, the grass is rizzed . . .’   We have the usual intermittent freezing morning followed by bright sunlight, followed by rain showers.  Usually in the same day . . .  but on the whole the winter has mostly departed and we look forward to warmer days ahead.  Usually at this time of  year we have Easter and other celbratory festivals to look forward to.  With the confusion and worry that the viral pandemic has created, it’s not easy to plan ahead for any family gatherings so the easter festivals will have to wait.  However there are lots of companies still willing and able to supply gifts,   These dedicated souls are happily gathering their stocks of home gifts, personal and romantic to make gift buying simpler.  In a time of national uncertainty and worry, knowing we have good options for gift choices really does help lift the spirit and bring some cheer!

Ahh the month of February and all that entails from a romance and gift buying and gift choices point of view…..   I may be an old cynic but the rise in spending around this time of the year does beggar belief.  I only  hope I don’t have any more aged relatives who pop off this mortal coil any time soon –  at least it’s less likely that florists will get their funeral flower orders mixed up with the dozens of red roses going out to demanding girlfriends.  I feel sorry for chaps in fact – they daren’t do anything that suggests they’re only looking out for a bit of saucy fun, but if they don’t buy endless reminders of it being valentine’s day, they’re going to be in deep water.  Gift buying a any time of year can be a bit of a minefield for he haples boyfriend.  He really has to note throughout the previous weeks of ‘courtship’ what his lady friend definitely shows a liking for and what she doesn’t – in terms of normal every day clothes, food, films, tv, concerts etc.  It shouldn’t be too difficult to register whether she’s a fussy eater or doesn’t eat chocolates . . . .  so that limits the possibility for making bad gift choices!  Some lasses really love the idea of being home makers but for valentines, a really nice piece of kitchen equipment may not ring her bell.  Yet how does a poor bloke know the boundaries when it comes to those ghastly tacky lingerie ads.  They fall for them every time!

The many and varied means of gift buying these days does mean that we don’t always have to troup down our local high street for that essenial home gift buying or outfit for the firm’s Christmas dinner and dance.  At one time this was a truly pleasurable occupation for me.  I live in a town that used to have a fantastic little independent retail store.  Definitely very much admired and entrenched in locals’ minds as the essential outpost for quality, style, excellence of service and just the right place to go for anything you needed that was not food or medical stuff.  The store was excellent for any gift choice from glassware to kitchenware – particularly for those upmarket and unusal cookware items.  Now that the tv world has gone beserk over professional chef competitions, home gift items are even more in demand.  It also had an art department where you could hire pictures for a few months for a very modest outlay.  All the goods are available online of course, but the joy of visiting this shop is impossible to describe.

I have just returned from a short short over to a town in northern Germany.    Very good fun it was too – for the most part.  My companion and I planned to visit the very famous Christmas markets.  It was great fun looking at the city itself.  The problem came at the Markets – my word they were heaving with people – every nationality, size and make.  We were literally shoulder to shoulder and it was terrifyingly grim – made even worse by stupid mothers with pushchairs!     I had thoughts towards a small hand carved clock and other charming home ware gifts.  Unfortunately this became mission impossible so we came back with one item only to show for it.  We cut our losses and toured the best giftware site on line and found exactly the same products – I was able to buy several examples of those lovely hand crafted wooden toys and nativity sets that are so appealing. I also found some very pretty tree decorations and small crafted items for the mantle piece.   My gifting is now complete and I feel splendidly relaxed, if still a little bruised round the edges!

I’ve been away on my travels again and found many things that have caused concern and annoyance . . .  Firstly,  I do like to buy folk back home the odd little gift or token of affection from the places I’ve been to.  This gift buying is reall a carry over from the Victorian and Edwardian days – when little momentos were in the form of bone china miniatures with engravings of the location – Blackpool tower as an example.  These giftware trinkets and novelties then expanded to include pretty lace handkerchiefs and head scarves.   I have been bought quite a selection over theyears and have returned the favour whenever opportunity has presented itself.  I look for items specifically made in the country or area I’m visiting.   It was seriously disappointing to discover that out of all thegift choices in one particular market hall, only one style of winter hat was actually made in the country we were visiting.  Almost everything was made in the far east and Turkey.

There is always an element of risk when you order goods online.  Unless you’re very familiar with the store you’re ordering from, there is sometimes the feeling that perhaps you should be able to check their authenticity.  I’ve had exactly this problem.  A problem arose with the USB charger cable for my mobile phone.  I’ve got two of the fantastic fast chargers – brilliant, but the cables themselves have flimsy connection and of course, after many pluggings in and yanking outs, over time, the plastic protective coating wears out and I note a few bare wires visible.    I ordered what was described as genuine maker, C type cable – listed my phone exactly.  Great, it came next day – but it was obvious from the first use this was not a genuinely compatible item – the connection into the phone does not engage satisfactorily and keeps slipping out so the phone then alerts me to it’s failure to fast charge, or charge at all.  This has happened three times from 3 different suppliers, so I’ve now had to buy a complete charger and cable at ten times the price, just to get a reliably genuine cable.  A tad disappointing but at least the online business allowed me to find what I needed!

Getting the perfect birthday present for anyone can be quite a challenge.   Some folk are perfectly content with an item for the home but others like to have strictly personal presents.  Other relatives of mine don’t mind having the homestead present for an anniversary or for a joint Christmas present, so long as they get something nice just for themselves on their birthday too.  Looking at the vast array of gift sites, it can be a further daunting challenge to find the right sort of personal present – one person’s favourite perfumery product is another man’s allergy trigger.  I do know of a couple who bought each other their own favourite perfume, knowing the other would not want it and thus they would happily exchange – bizarre but true.  Goin on the very best gifting web sites is the best idea – using the button provided you can select all the favourite attributes of anything with a choice and filter out the bits you’re not needing.  It’s so much easier these days and so very reliable too!

Gifts can come in the most surprising shapes and sizes.  We don’t always have a nice little box tied up with a bow these days.  I was out with some chums on one of our monthly walks – plodding around a nature trail. Then suddenly around the next set of bushes we came across a divine little cottage – I had no inkling we’d find this absolute gem.  If Hansel & Gretel had walked out, we wouldn’t have been any more surprised!   We were just staring up at the pretty carved gables and disgussing the tiny little windows when the owner came out to greet us.  Very fortunate we were there at the time – she was getting it ready for the next lot of holiday renters; a couple coming for two weeks to celebrate a wedding anniversary.  Well we didn’t take much persuading to accept the invite in to look around the cottage – the hostess was very quick to spot a chance of free advertising – we were a social group who report on our walks.   Ideal timing for us to publish details of this dear little gingerbread cottage with crooked beams and squeaky floorboards but with such a feeling of age and belonging!

One of the more unusual gifts I can think of passing on to children is the one of gratitude and good manners.  However, the moralising over, another idea, which should stand them in good stead throughout their future lives is some sort of hobby skill.  I was taught to knit by my father – he had been in a branch of the navy for many years and they all learnt to knit – socks and presents for mother-back-home was my Dad’s phrase.  This ability to knit has been an absolute boon on many occasions.  I used to like knitting simple hats and tea cosies at one time – they were easy for my small hands to manage.  I now like to knit sweaters and cardis in colours and designs that I never see in shops.  Being able to choose from a ver wide selection of yarn colours and thicknesses is still an absolute joy today.  The tactile sensation as you check each ones characteristics shouldn’t be under estimated!

The secret to a long and fruitful life is to eat well, drink moderately, exercise lots and relax even more.  It would be really fab if everyone could just get this organised and we’d need no docotrs, hospitals, clinics etc.   But we do.  I have to say that in the major toy superstores, there don’t seem to be as many role play items on show that there used to be.  I always like to visit a proper toy shop whenever I’m tasked with organising the gifts for any child  under 90.  I have definite ideas for the smaller ones – very specific and generally suiting what I think I’d like to receive if I was that age.  It’s not quite on the rocket science edge of things but it works.  Every present I’ve handed over to all the age groups have appeared to be thrilled to bits.  Every one has been gratefully accepted as out of the normal boring run of things.  That, from any age of child is a win win situation for a wrinkly!