Thursday, 22 December 2011

Christmas gifts 10: presents for under £20

OK, last post of the year - no, really - and I've been looking at cheaper Christmas gifts. It's all very well smug gits like me pointing to jeans for £120 please, and oh yes I'll have one of those £85 Fat Face jackets - but what if you were looking for a stocking filler for a bloke and had a fiver to spare?

If that were the case I'd suggest the Radox for Men gift set. Lime and ginger shower scrub, lemon and tea tree gel/shampoo. Of course it's not the finest scent on the market or designed to match a particular fragrance - it's a fiver for goodness' sake - but it's pleasant enough, does the job, includes a face cloth and if mum buys it on behalf of sprog who wants to get daddy something nice everybody should be happy.

Moving a little upmarket, fancy a reminder that it's sometimes our turn in the kitchen? Sorry, slipped back to the seventies for a moment there - but many blokes love cooking. Have a look at some of the accessories at The Pampered Chef including this rather nice barbecue mitt - other mitts are of course available. There's also a rather nice lemon zester/peeler, and you'd get change from £15 for both of them.

Cooks are also spoiled for choice when it comes to cookery books. To continue the 1970s cliche-fest a little longer, blokes love curries (well this one does) and you're almost always better off making your own as you know what's in it and can use sensible amounts of ghee and salt. "Food of the Grand Trunk Road" is a book based on the TV series with Hardeep Singh Kohli, written in conjunction with restranteur Anirudh Arora and is less predictable than the latest Jamie Oliver (that said, I always get good results from Mr. Oliver's books - but this time of year they can look a lot as though you've just grabbed the nearest best seller). If you're into your spices, try the Harissa sauce from Olives et al - another nice filler and it's a princely four quid. If you're not then the pickled onions from Garner's come in a nicely decorative jar this year

There's other fun stuff around. Scented phone cases from Jelly Belly for £17.99 from Carphone Warehouse, for example. I can't think of a reason I'd want my phone to smell like chewing gum but I bet someone will get these from their kids. If I do, I'll be somewhat bemused. Equally there are some fun gimmicks in Boots but do have a think; if I get given the Wallace and Gromit cufflinks they're selling for £8 I will of course have a silly grin on my face for hours. I'll put them on once and then they'll stay in the box with the Dalek cufflinks I was given three years ago (the rule with novelty cufflinks is that you wear them once to appease the giver, realise they're really not going to go down well in meetings and abandon them immediately afterwards).

QVC tends to be thought of as a TV sales channel but the website is full of stuff you might just get in time for Christmas if you order quickly. The gumball travel speaker looks quite fun and there's a nice key chain with an LCD photo display on it, both around the £15 mark. More interesting to me and still with a  vaguely tecchy angle is a range of crime e-Books from Blasted Heath; small publisher, encourages new authors (always a welcome sign) and sells a USB stick with five novels on it for £12.99.

Yesterday I wrote about the prospects of s dry Christmas, alcohol free. This is still an interesting idea and worth it from health reasons and all sorts of other stuff (although healthy drinking shouldn't be just for Christmas) but for me a good festive ale is going to be welcome after all that driving on Christmas Day. Innis & Gunn is from Edinburgh like my late father so gets an automatic vote of confidence; the fact that its limited edition Highland Cask (7.1%, handle with care) tastes fruity and oaky and comes in a nice box makes it an excellent top-up pressie for anyone with £2.50 to spare.

Your bloke not a beer drinker? A nice bottle of wine might go down well. I tend to enjoy sharing wine more than being given a bottle but there's some good stuff on offer; Wine Rack will sell you a very nice Septima Malbec from Argentina which is on the softer side of fruity with slight woody overtones - don't have it with the Christmas meal, it'll be overpowered by all that heaviness, but if like me you'll have resorted to snacking on leftovers by Tuesday it's an ideal accompaniment. Majestic is doing a good Vina Pomal which is a bit more in your face - I liked this one very much, with more strident flavouring. If you're into turkey curries it would stand up well. Actually just with a cheese board it would stand up pretty damned well. If you're into rum punches for New Year's celebrations you could do worse than to look at a 35cl bottle of Captain Morgan's spiced rum (pictured); I wouldn't think of spiced anything at any other time of year (my idea of spoiling a good wine is by mulling the blasted stuff) but on this occasion it works well in a number of cocktails, with the rum taking on vanilla and cassis flavours. Try it in a hot rum punch. It's good that the smaller bottles are available and I'd like to see more spirits around in this form - personally I like to try different whiskies but buying 70cl bottles means it takes me months, sometimes a year, to get through a single bottle (and I have no intention of accelerating that).

That's a few thoughts to be getting on with anyway and the end of any Christmas guides you're going to get from LifeOver35. Have a great break, this blog will be back in 2012!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

A dry Christmas?

I was going to do a post about last-minute Christmas gifts under £20 today - and I'll do it tomorrow, I promise. But I heard something rather interesting on the radio today: BBC London presenter Wendy Hurrell has been spending the festive season drinking no alcohol whatsoever. (I should add that although I've done the odd chat on BBC London myself I don't know Ms. Hurrell at all - we've never met, I am not promoting a mate's blog here).

This contrasts with my post yesterday about drinks to serve at Christmas. But it's an interesting experiment. She confesses in her blog that she was putting away up to 40 units per week - not getting drunk, just having that extra one or two after a hard working day - and decided to give it up. There will be a followup programme on the BBC in January.

Now, the standard advice for a man is to limit yourself to 21 units, 14 if you're female. Research from the Times in 2007, when the journalist tracked down one of the people who set those limits, was enlightening. If the report and the scientist quoted are to be believed there's no science behind the figures, the authors just thought they ought to say something because binge drinking was getting out of hand. There was in fact no data behind the numbers of units.

Nonetheless, drinking too much is becoming a problem for our society and Hurrell's experiences have been instructive. First people around her react as if she ought to have a drink - and I ask myself, why do we pressure people to have a drink when they may not want one? Second, she's realised that some of the time she was drinking not because she particularly wanted a glass of something but because she'd fallen into the habit. Any of us who routinely crack open a bottle of wine with an evening meal to wind down after what hasn't been a particularly heavy day will know that feeling. There was even research published last week to suggest that some people will claim they're driving when they're not, just to avoid having a drink forced on them. So what, we've reached the stage where we can't actually admit we don't fancy a booze-up?

I really will be driving at Christmas so don't anticipate drinking much, at least until I get home. But our relationship with alcohol is a complex one, and in this country we don't seem to handle it as well as some of our neighbours do. Hurrell's approach is extreme and of course is partly in aid of a TV programme, but re-thinking why so many of us have a drink as the default option rather than because we actually want to is a perfectly sensible idea.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Christmas drinks: what to offer

So it's the 20th, so we can no longer be in denial - Christmas is really very soon. So of course I've got my shopping sorted and now it's time to consider what to offer people when they arrive. This isn't a cookery page; wiser heads than mine will advise you on how to cook turkey, vegetarian alternatives and soforth. I usually get asked to chop some veg, set the table up and soforth. Oh, and sort the drinks.

Here's the plan: first have loads of non-alcoholic drinks available. Many people assume you have to booze all day at Christmas and they're wrong. Someone will be driving, someone just won't fancy it - so juices, teas, coffees. If you want something with a bit of non-alcoholic kick then Sainsbury's is doing a nice apple, pineapple and lemongrass juice at the moment.

Always good to offer people a welcoming drink. On the alcoholic side there's sherry. This is not, repeat not, to be served at room temperature - the Spanish, who make it, keep it in the refrigerator. Gonzales Byass has sent me a bottle of Tio Pepe, the fino variety, which is very dry and needs to be kept chilled; if I'm honest I prefer something a little off dry but this would go well with snacks for people with sterner palates.

People may not fancy anything that strong. Champagne is always good but consider also the less expensive alternatives. Casillero del Diablo is offering a nice sparkling chardonnay, £8.99 from Waitrose. It tastes clean, limey, citrussy. This or one of the many proseccos available will do well abefore lunch - but do be careful, some of them are extremely dry at the moment.

If you have an unduly dry prosecco and are concerned people won't like it as much as you do, there's always the lower-alcohol cocktail option; a restaurant I visited on holiday, the excellent Moonraker's in Alfriston, Sussex, gave us a mix of prosecco and elderflower juice on the way in earlier this year. It's a fine, light start and a good variation on bucks' fizz - but people are less likely to have had it before.

Others may prefer something a little stronger. My own preferred tipple is a single malt whisky, of which there are many on the market. This year I've been trying Highland Park, which is a good all rounder, plus the Macallen, which is a little more peaty. My own favourites remain the clean-tasting, unpeated Penderyn, notable for being the only Welsh single malt so it's a talking point (albeit a short lived one once you've made the point), and Glengoyne, one of the few unpeated Scotch whiskies (it was the only unpeated one last time I looked but I'd need to check to be certain). People who prefer a smokier flavour could look at Talisker, while people who want something lighter and multipurpose would do well with Auchentoshan. Don't be fooled by the lighter taste, this and all the others are 40% proof and need to be drunk with respect to your liver. These are all premium whiskies and not to be drunk with mixers - this isn't a snobby thing, just don't spend £30+ on something you're barely going to taste.

For a longer drink Magners has some new ciders on the market flavoured with rhubarb, honey and cinnamon; they're pleasant if you like something sweet to start you off. I'd rather have an ale like Black Sheep, but at Christmas a lot of people want something a bit different so the Magners is a good option.

If you really wanted something a little different then Mount Gay rum is a good alternative to the single malt - few people think of drinking rum without a mixer (that's a really white middle classed statement I suspect) but it's a premium drink like all of the above, hints of raisins and spices and utterly excellent.

For the meal itself I prefer a red wine accompanied with buckets of water. Vina Pomal Reserve 2006 is available from Majestic Wine and at £12.99 or £9.99 for two is as fruity and rich as you could want to accompany the turkey, stuffing and everything else we all try to cram on our plates this time of year. White drinkers might go for a NZ Sauvignon or continue with the sparkling chardonnay above.

If people want something a bit festive with their dessert - good grief, the stamina some people have - then one of my in-laws swears she will only drink Bailey's. I might try her on Merlin, from the same people who make Penderyn; it's a cream liqueur (not my usual thing I admit) but you can taste the whisky flavour considerably more than you can through a Bailey's. Maybe that's what she likes about it and I'll be doing her an enormous disservice. For my own dessert I'll be attacking a vodka liqueur we came across at a school Christmas fete a week ago; from Howard's of Kent, whose website seems to be down ( when it's back up), Christmas pudding flavour and tastes just like it says on the bottle.

All of that said, I've just remembered whose turn it is to drive at Christmas. So I'm actually more likely to be on the orange juice than anything else. Which is certainly healthier and I'd really, really recommend responsible drinking and not a drop when you're driving.

Maybe I can let my hair down a bit on Boxing Day...

Monday, 19 December 2011

Christmas gifts 9: Gadgets - and a discount for readers

Blokes like gadgets. That's probably sexist and stereotypical too, but look, we just like gadgets. The way to a man's heart is with an iPad 2, and soforth. If you have the budget then a new phone - HTC Sensation XL is one of the cream of the current Android crop - great, he'll love it unless he's an Apple user (if he has an iPhone 4 or 4S then his sim won't fit the new phone anyway). If he has a BlackBerry have a think about a Playbook - it syncs with your BlackBerry and then works like any other tablet computer. I've been playing with one, it's a good machine and the lacklustre sales so far have me stumped.

There are also new land line phones from Magicbox like the Torque, which looks like a phone on a plate which answers itself when you pick it up. Very chic. A new iPad holder from Vogel's called the Ring-O is very useful, turns into a desk stand, wall bracket or attaches to the headrest on a car seat so the kids can have a movie going on the journey to the in-laws. Add a decent pair of headphones - my new ones from BlueAnt are pretty good, a little bulky but who cares in the car - and they'll even be able to hear the film.

Maybe you're a little more eco-conscious than all that, and the good news here - no, really - is that readers of LifeOver35 can have a discount on a JetStorm from Ecocamel. This is a shower head that adds air into the mix so you get just as good a shower as you would with any other head, but you should find your water bill goes down 40% a year. Families of four should, the company says, save up to 56,000 litres of water a year and annual savings average out at £240 per annum. This means you'll save enough to have paid yourself back for the purchase price after three months, according to the blurb.

Or two and a bit months if you help yourself to a 25% discount for readers of LifeOver35 - just go to the website above and order the shower, entering the code EC13 at the checkout and twenty five pee in the pound will vanish from your purchase price.

Other gadgets pitched to LifeOver35 this season include a whole load of coffee machines. These are a bit of a dark art to me; I'm honestly happy with our DeLonghi matching kettle and toaster, and we bought these because they look nice rather than because we think the water is going to be boiled any better by using them.

Note: in case anyone's wondering, I have no affiliation with any of the companies mentioned in this piece; you can order nothing or a million shower heads, I won't get a penny, this is an independent blog. That said, if you *did* by a million of them, please tell me and I'll try and flog the company an ad...

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Christmas gifts 8: Casual clothes

'Twas the last-but-one Saturday before Christmas...and the Times has unbelievably cut the men's style page in the magazine. One page. No wonder we're a scruffy lot. No matter, I've covered cufflinks, designed ties - so here are some thoughts on casual clothes which make good gifts for the big day next weekend.

Tops are always useful and although white tees look good on most men they can get a bit dull. Hot Tuna from Australia has some nice designs around which liven it up a bit; the logo will be a bit much for some but it's single-colour and not garish on this tee (£27.99 so it's a treat rather than an impulse buy) and the detailing on the top buttons tones in well. Also available in black. Pricey but a great gift. Click the pictures on this page for a better view.

It would go well with a pair of Wizard Jeans. Pictured are the Brad Black version which looked pretty good on me; reassuringly unlike many of the designer brands around they go up to a 44in waist (mine aren't that big, in case anyone needs to know). So often if you don't have a supermodel build the designers don't want to know. A 34in leg is standard, you'll need to get them altered to fit - I have mine done locally for a tenner. They're well cut enough to wear with a shirt and jacket in smart casual settings.

To top the look I'd be wearing a Field Jacket from Fat Face. I'm getting one for Christmas - I know, my wife made me try it on just in case - and it looks great. Plus brown Chelsea Boots from the same store, he hinted in case Mum's reading.

But really, Times Magazine - ignoring menswear 8 days from Christmas..?

Friday, 16 December 2011

Bad Christmas records: the winner!

Flickr: istolethetv
First, many thanks to all who entered the competition to decide the worst Christmas record ever. It was a bit of fun and we had some unexpected nominees - Jonah Lewie and Mike Oldfield are OK in my book. So they didn't get through.

I also decided stuff that was deliberately cheesy or a gimmick was disqualified. So whereas Dennis Waterman and George Cole did a pretty rough job on their Christmas effort, it was never supposed to be a "good" record so for our purposes here it doesn't count. Sorry Ben, but thanks for nominating.

Likewise the Frog Song - I'm a McCartney fan (mostly when he was writing and performing in That Group He Was In) and he can write better but this was supposed to be a kids' song in a Rupert The Bear film. It probably works OK on that level. I'm not a great Cliff Richard fan but tend not to bother fast forwarding when it comes up on a Christmas compilation. Speaking of older generation musicians I was surprised nobody nominated Bob Dylan's "Must be Santa" from last year or whenever it was - sounding just like a grumbly old drunk in a pub you should never have gone into.

For me the first nomination was always a front runner. "Have a Cheeky Christmas" by the Cheeky Girls is, on all of the criteria I can think of, a pretty damned awful song. First it's badly written and rushed out for a Christmas release. Second, the singing is truly insipid. But third and most important, the Cheeky Girls were at one stage trying to be real pop singers - an actual girl band. I'm guessing this was intended as a proper attempt at a real Christmas record, to milk royalties from compilations down the years - and it's just teeth-itchingly awful.

So, Brittz Box, who nominated the song, is the winner and will receive a copy of "Thoroughly Decent Manners for Men" by Debrett's and Wadworth immediately he emails me an address at In other news I'm pleased to say the people at Pitrok were generous enough with their prizes so I can send everyone who nominated a deodorant worth nearly six quid. Send an address to the same email address and I'll see to it.

Thanks again - it's been fun!

P. S. The bloke in the picture was on a charity run and I feel a bit mean using his photo to illustrate a piece on bad Christmas stuff - but Santa in Speedos with a drawn-on six pack is just so wrong..!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Congrats on Movember

Just an extra quick entry today - I've just had a press release saying Movember, the now-annual event in which blokes grow their whiskers for awareness of male specific cancers, has had its best year ever. Worldwide it raised £70m and the UK contributed £17m. Huge, huge congratulations to everyone.

My barber at the Valet, meanwhile, was bewildered by the amount of people who were growing moustaches for Movember. She understood the concept but a whole load of them told her they weren't actually collecting for charity, just growing the moustache for the month "to take part". She didn't understand that.

Actually nor do I. If you did it and contributed anything at all to that £70m you're brilliant, is what you are. If you just grew a moustache then, er, you just grew a moustache. Next year try getting sponsored - a few extra quid each and who knows, £75m worldwide..?

Competition: worst Christmas records, one day to go!

Flickr: Ethan Hein
OK guys, tomorrow at about 11.00 I'll start considering which of the Christmas records nominated for my competition (click this link for details) are actually the worst.

It's simple, you name your least favourite and most irritating Christmas song and I send the winner in my own unqualified opinion a copy of "Thoroughly Decent Manners for Men" published by Debretts and the Wadworth Brewery. My thanks again to Wadworth for donating it - if you don't win you can get it for £12.50 on their website. There's a consolation prize of a bottle of Pitrok Crystal men's deodorant. I'm running this blog as a private individual, by the way, so whereas I hope the prizes will get to you before Christmas I can't promise.

Just add your pet Christmas irritation as a comment here or if Blogger is a struggle then Tweet it to me as GuyClapperton, mail it to and I'll put it in the comments myself.

The gruesome nominations so far are as follows - in no particular order:

Have a Cheeky Christmas - Cheeky Girls
Last Christmas - The Only Way is Essex
Mistletoe and Wine - Cliff Richard
The Frog Chorus - Paul McCartney
Stop the Cavalry - Jonah Lewie
Fairytale of New York - Ronan Keating and Moya Brennan version
Grandma We Love You - St. Winnifred's Choir
I'm Sending a Letter to Santa Claus to Bring Daddy Safely Home to Me - Gracie Fields

I'm sure there must be more - over to you! Oh, and feel free to comment on other people's nominations: I mean, Jonah Lewie? A bad record, really..?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Christmas gifts 7: Hand painted ties (and more cufflinks)

I was reading about ties in the Times a few weeks back - in the Luxx section, which they helpfully don't put on the Web. One of the designers highlighted was Victoria Richards, who makes at least some of the ones Jon Snow wears on Channel 4 News. She came out with some of the best tie advice I've ever heard other than don't wear bright colours to a funeral, which is that Snow - who's well known for bright ties - can get away with much louder ones than the rest of us because he's on telly and also because he's only on our screens for 45 minutes. This makes a lot of sense and is the reason you won't see me in anything like the example on the right here - but I certainly bought a couple from her over the weekend. If you have a look at her website do check Momo from the hand painted range - it goes well in all but the most formal meetings and it's distinctive enough to be a little different from anything else you're likely to see around people's necks. The ties are good quality, and although they're not cheap something individual and hand made for £60 sounds a pretty fair cost to me. When we visited her workshop she also had some excellent scarves for the female market, which took care of a Christmas present from me in no time. These aren't on her site yet so presumably it's evolving; I shall certainly be visiting it often during 2012 to see what's new.

P. S. Speaking of things that look good on shirts, I've been reminded that in my rush to tell everyone about the killer cufflinks yesterday I overlooked another set I'd seen and intended to tell everyone about. And deservedly so - the £60 sets from Welsh stained glass specialist GWYDR are very appealing and I can well imagine adding some to my ever-expanding Christmas wants list. Not that I know many people who'd fancy spending sixty quid on me, but if you don't ask...

In case you're wondering I'm not affiliated with either of these craftspeople - I get literally nothing if you buy them, click through to their sites, whatever. The only ad revenue I get from this site is from click throughs to the Google-fed ads on the left of the screen.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Christmas gifts 6: killer cufflinks

I wear a lot of shirts with cufflinks, which is just as well because they make present buying easy. Something nice, something unusual - I have a liking for handmade ones and there's a woman near us who works in silver - and now I find there's a chance of getting something that might actually be deadly. No, you thought I meant "killer" as in "really looking rather good" didn't you?

Well of course these links do that job too. They're from Bouf (the link is to the whole range of cufflinks, they have some seriously unusual stuff) and - wait for it - the balls are actual pistol shot from - it says here - the English Civil War. We are not talking reproduction or facsimile, a Roundhead shot this at a Loyalist or the other way around. Each set comes with a written account of where they were found - but yes, your cufflinks could have been used as a deadly weapon sometime in the last half-millennium if you're wearing these.

Good grief I want a pair of these. Just remind your partners we're all big kids at heart and these are genuine antiques and actual bullets!

My competition to nominate the worst ever Christmas song ends on Friday. Entry is free and here are the details - someone has to win all these prizes!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Christmas gifts 5: Shaving and shoe care

There's little relation between shaving and shoe care, except that they both fall loosely within "personal care" when it comes to grown-up gifts. So I've been looking at the BlueBeards' Revenge pre-shave oil a bit, and it certainly adds to the smoothness of the shave.

Of course it doesn't do it by itself. Cleanse the skin first, scruff it once a week or so (that's bloke for "exfoliate"), apply small amount of oil to help blade glide. Spread over skin, apply foam - preferably a decent shaving preparation that comes in a tub and has more natural ingredients than chemicals in case of allergies. Use a double headed safety razor rather than something that proudly claims it's about to drag about five naked blades over your skin (are you nuts???), be careful of the angle and apply next to no pressure, aim to reduce rather than eliminate hair, shave. Lather again, shave, rinse in cold water to close pores back up. Dry, mousturise and don't put any scent onto the skin that's still going to be a bit raw - back of the neck and top of the chest will make you smell just as good and you won't get shaving rash.

Bluebeards is a good brand and so is Coates for the soap; these are really good stocking fillers for men who like a good shave. My scent of choice for the moment is Jo Malone Lime, Basil and Mandarin but beware, it's not cheap - if I hadn't been travelling and able to buy duty free I'd have been shelling out £70 a bottle. Unusually I'd say this one's probably worth it.

Also on the "YOU PAID WHAT?" scale is the Black Crocodile shoe kit from Charles Burnand. A spokeswoman swears it looks amazing when you get up close to it - it would need to at over £90. Much as I'd love something as swish as this if any rich benefactors are watching, I suspect the similar offering from Charles Tyrwhitt that's a third of the price would do an equally good job. No, I'm sure the crocodile skin isn't present and correct in the cheaper version and yes, the brush is almost certainly lower grade. But I'll bet it cleans your shoes just as well.

Oh, and don't forget the competition - details here, nominate your all-time worst Christmas tune and be in with a chance of a prize worth over ten quid. Literally.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Christmas giveaway: win good manners and hygiene!

OK, here we go - never let it be said that this blog doesn't know how to insult its loyal readership. My thanks today go to two places. First there's Wadworth, the brewery that makes 6X. They failed completely to respond to my subtle hints about sending free beer to bloggers, but more interestingly longer term they've given me a book, "Thoroughly Decent Manners for Men", published in conjunction wih Debrett's.

Liberally illustrated throughout it basically covers the dating game and how not to put your foot in it - but from a distinctly non-blokey angle. Meeting for the first time, stuff not to do on first dates or indeed ever, meeting the parents is all very well; for the more mature male already in a relationship there's stuff on dress codes, the perfect shave, what to expect at the tailor and gym etiquette. It's entertainingly presented and has some rock solid advice. I will tell you how to win this volume, normally priced at £12.50 plus £2 postage from Wadworth, in a mo.


I also have eight sticks of deodorant to give away. Oh yes. My thanks to Pitrok which has sent them to me (well, they're on the way, no doubt held up in the Christmas post but definitely, definitely dispatched). This Crystal deodorant is intended for the quarter of the male population who come out in a rash or get stung by others; it has fewer chemical additives than the usual stuff but is just as effective, says a spokesperson.

So whether you suspect you smell bad or are ill-mannered, this is definitely a competition for you. Entering is very simple:

Every year at this time the radio airwaves fill with the sound of Noddy Holder, Wizzard, Bing Crosby and everyone else who's done a passable Christmas song. Just tell me which are the worst, and why, by commenting on this blog - and tell people you've commented either Facebook or Twitter with a link back to this blog (of course - you knew I wanted more readers!) If the song is particularly bad and on Blip.FM I will inflict it on as many of my Twitter followers as possible. If you have trouble commenting here feel free to Tweet me as GuyClapperton or send a mail to and I'll put it here myself.

I will then send my favourite entrant the book and a stick of deodorant plus seven more entrants will get a stick of deodorant.

Some rules: My decision is final and given the value of the prizes it's probably not going to cause any arguments anyway. I cannot guarantee delivery of any prizes before Christmas. Closing date will be one week from today, let's say 11am on 16 December. Unfortunately I'm able to send prizes only to the UK on grounds of cost (prizes have been given but dispatch will be out of my own pocket), so any international readers are welcome to have some fun with this but will have to spend their own ten quid on the book if they want it.

So, what's the worst Christmas song ever to hit the charts..?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Christmas gifts 4: best foot forward

I'm getting very fussy about trainers in my older age. Anything would do when I was a younger man, my feet were basically indestructible as far as I was concerned so I could put just about anything on. I'm less easy to please now; earlier in the year I bought a pair of MBTs - you know, the ones that are supposed to get you fitter while you're just walking - and ended up with a sore foot. Maybe at 46 I was due to get a bit footsore anyway.

But I've given up buying anything that doesn't come from a reputable brand any more. My current pair are Nikes, bought from an outlet store (I'm really not worried if people recognise them as last year's model). My guidelines are simple when buying: nothing designed specifically for a sport I'm not going to be playing because the supports will be different, and nothing that's going to make me look like a walking mid-life crisis.

This is why I'd consider a pair of K-Swiss Landcruisers (available in a number of different colours, the brown in the picture didn't seem to be in stock as I wrote this) as a good second pair. First, as you'll gather from the picture, there's no gaudy pattern or logo to make me look as if I'm an old bloke trying to get down with the kids. Paired with jeans they won't stick out at all - a hybrid desert boot and trainer, the style is admirably restrained.

Second I've had a pair of K-Swiss tennis shoes for playing that sport and know the manufacturer understands a bit about feet, so I won't end up with a shoe whose sole feels as though it's going to wear down the third time I put it on (I mean, I know Converse is fashionable but the pair I had felt really flimsy).

£75 a pop from the website. They might well go on my Christmas list this year.

I am hoping to launch my first competition and giveaway on this blog tomorrow. I am very excited - the prize is worth literally over ten quid. Come back and find out more - don't say I never give you anything.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Christmas list 3: Blokey packages

I have an inbuilt mistrust of stuff that's put together artificially for Christmas - the sort of package you'd never find at any other time of the year. I'm half Scottish and in December I constantly go around the shops thinking: when did shortbread become a Christmas-only treat? And how come it's always covered in Tartan this time of the year and served (apparently) with whisky when everybody knows you're better off with a cup of tea with a sweet biscuit?

I'm reminded slightly of an old work colleague who was looking for a present for her mother in law. She went to a book shop and told them she was looking for a present and this large High Street chain started reeling off choices based on my workmate's appearance, her likely age, and therefore her in-laws' likely age. It's OK, she told me at the office, mother-in-law is a stereotype but the book they offered didn't have a picture of the Queen Mother on it so it wasn't suitable. Packaged stuff all blokes will like is a bit like that.

This is why I was a bit concerned at the prospect of Unique Boutique's "The Chap" (pictured). It's £75 and you get a whole load of stuff I've been unable to try but it does appear to be a decent crop of stuff. Bath soak smelling of fig and nutmeg - you will only want to smell of nutmeg around Christmas so you might as well, with matching hair and body wash plus shaving soap in a wooden bowl. Presumably the bowl is re-usable; Body Shop and others sell standard-sized shaving soap refills (don't use ordinary soap whatever you do, it dries the skin something rotten).

And a bottle of Sheep Dip whisky. I've never tasted this and the marketers were unable to send a sample, so ask around and make your own mind up about this - usually north of £30 a bottle and it's a blend rather than a single malt or grain, for people who worry about such things.

Overall a pretty good package but - like all big kids - I'm mostly interested in the box. I could see myself storing my shaving bits or shoe cleaning kit in a box like that.

Has anyone else had good or bad experiences of the prepackaged "you're a bloke/female so you'll like this selection" gift set?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Christmas list 2: Staying warm for Christmas

Now it's suddenly cold. Where did that come from? As Spike Milligan once said, I don't know where that cold wind's coming from but I know where it's going.

Half a century old one liners aside, it is suddenly time to think about keeping the cold out. Finisterre has a nice range of men's clothing and the big thing is it's all made out of Bowmont wool. This is a threatened species of sheep and Finisterre is dedicating itself to keeping it going. We're talking a bit finer than Merino but pretty strong.

The beanies (red one pictured) are as warm as they look and if it doesn't quite lie as flat on my head as everyone else's I expect that's just me. £45 to you and if it gets any colder I can see mine getting a load of exercise while I'm walking the dog.

Clearly it's not a formal dress accessory but when it gets really cold nobody actually seems to mind. A nice scarf is more my sort of thing, and if someone were to be spending £45-odd on me I'd just as soon have a cashmere scarf from The Travelling Souk. These come in at £50 which isn't cheap for a scarf but it's pretty good value for a cashmere. I like the designs - the Indigo stripe is pictured and there's a green equivalent, plus a plain khaki and a plain grey-blue.

They're very warm and a bit of a treat which is probably what you'd want at this time of year. That said I won't be buying one; my wife often has words with me about buying scarves because I like the look of them and then forgetting about them, followed by buying another remarkably similar one the following year. I thought she was exaggerating but I've been through my drawer and guess what, I have too many scarves...

In a few days' time I'll be doing the first ever giveaway on this blog - nothing colossal but freebies nonetheless. It's reached 3000 readers a month which isn't huge but other than the odd mention on Twitter I've done no marketing at all, so huge thanks for reading, commenting, bugging me by email - I'm enjoying writing this.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Christmas list 1: Kobo in Kolour for Christmas

E-book reader specialist Kobo has released a new model in time for Christmas. The Kobo Vox is not just an e-book reader, although it's being marketed that way. It is actually a full-blown tablet computer, competing in America with the Amazon Kindle Flame (which we haven't seen in the UK yet) but maybe not up to the spec of Apple's iPad or iPad 2.

First the reading. This is what the gadget is mostly about and it's a bit of an improvement on the black and white model when the light is dim. Like the Amazon Kindle, it uses e-ink and there's no backlighting on the mono version so this brighter-lit sample is a joy. I can imagine my eyes getting tired after a while but for short bursts it's excellent. I suspect the processing power required for a full-blown tablet computer will explain why it's a lot heavier than the basic Kobo, though, and if I'm honest then for me the extra light didn't quite compensate for the additional poundage. That said, I do wonder how many people will actually end up weighing them up side by side as I did.

There's a lot that's positive, then. It's just a shame that the company wanted to put a full tablet computer onto the market. One of the things you may want to do with a tablet computer, I should explain, is to go onto the Internet. That's fine, it attached to my wireless network without a problem. You might also want to check your emails.

And it's here, with regret, I have to say "whoops". There's a bookmark on the screen where you can get to a gmail account, but no matter how hard I tried I have to say I couldn't get anything other than a blank screen out of that. Other web pages including this one worked fine. So I'd gone from really quite enthusiastic (albeit not enough to go and buy one instead of my current mono readers) to thinking, what a shame.

It's possible that this was due to a defect in my review unit, but it does seem a shame - browser working and then a dead link from one of its own bookmarks. So if you wanted to get a loved one an e-reader for Christmas then for me it's still the Kindle or the monochrome Kobo which remains a pleasure to use.

I will be exploring further blokey Christmas gift ideas in the coming weeks - public relations types wanting to pitch items into the mix are more than welcome.

Free aftershave

Just time for a quick link today - if you'd like a year's supply of aftershave (someone else's choice, naturally) head over to - assuming you're a Facebook member - and enter the advent calendar competition. Today's prize is a year's aftershave as above.

I've entered but if I win I'll probably give the aftershaves away on this very blog. Oh yes.

Good luck!