Christmas Shopping

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The Independent Culture
Oh no, not handkerchiefs again. Despite the best of intentions, that unholy

trinity of father, grandmother and best friend can pose the greatest problems

for present-buyers. But unusual and exciting festive offerings are still to be

found, so unwrapping doesn't have to be an embarrassing annual letdown.

Rosalind Russell comes up with some ideas for gifts that won't get groans

When the Three Wise Men arrived at the stable bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, little did they imagine the impact they'd have on shirt, tie and sock manufacturers 2,000 years later. It's become very hard to think of anything original to give father, but surprises can still be found. Chimay Trappist monks know how to brew a convivial beer. They've been doing it at Forges-les-Chimay in Belgium since 1862, using only natural ingredients. A presentation box containing a 75cl bottle of the ale, along with two Chimay ale glasses, is being sold at around pounds 4.50 in leading off- licences and department stores.

Introduce dad to Life Beyond Old Spice with a classy selection of miniature bottles of eau de toilette from Penhaligon. The four 5ml bottles contain Lord's, Blenheim, Hammam Bouquet and English Fern. They cost pounds 20 from stores in London and Bath, or by mail order on Freephone 0800 317332. A range of empty perfume bottles is also available.

Offer to pay the insurance on grandma's pet; it could save her a packet in vet's bills. If you think this is a waste of money, here is a selection of claims made to Pet Plan Insurance over the last festive period: Jack Russell cut paw on broken tree decoration, pounds 61; Burmese cat, stole and ate almond from top of Christmas cake, operation to remove pounds 228; two boxer dogs ate 24 mince pies, two large trifles and half a Christmas cake (discovered before they could stuff down the other half), vomiting and diarrhoea, treatment pounds 47. Insurance costs from pounds 63pa.

Monty the teddy bear at pounds 265 is for a very best friend. He's just one of the fine furry chaps

featured in the Teddy Bears of Witney catalogue (above) - but by no means the most expensive. Monty, resplendent in dark brown wavy mohair with suede pads, is the creation of American designer Kathy Wallace. For catalogue and details, ring 0993 702616, or visit the shop at 99 High Street, Witney, Oxfordshire.

Making their own entertainment was something granny's generation had to be good at in the pre-video age. So she will be overjoyed to recognise the games in The Paradox Box (left), a selection of old-fashioned amusements with an introduction by Jonathan Miller. They include old favourites such as optical illusions and find-the-hidden-faces, reproduced from the 19th- and early 20th-century originals. Published by Redstone Press, pounds 14.99 from Waterstones and other good bookshops.

Close to that original frankincense and myrrh, Fragrant Frames are a sweetly subtle gift for granny. The scent of mulled wine spices and fir- cones has been captured in a pot- pourri picture. Six themes are available, including Rustic Charm (cinnamon, apple, orange peel and flower-heads) and Ocean Bounty (shells, bark, lichen, hydrangea heads, seeds). pounds 29.99 plus pounds 3.25 p&p mail order, ring 0892 517000.

Anyone would be glad of a parking timer key-ring, which can be programmed with the time-limit on your meter; it emits a plaintive bleeped warning when you go into excess. Just over 1in by 2in, it costs pounds 7.95 plus p&p from the Royal Academy of Arts gift catalogue and could save a fortune in parking fines. Ring 0252 861113 for order form.

Save the paternal legs in the garden; buy him a tool bucket and seat all in one. The combined tool-carrier and bucket makes gardening a lot easier. Plants and bulbs can be carried in the bucket, which converts to a seat with a sturdy air-cushioned lid when it's time to slope off for a rest in the potting-shed. The tools fit in 10 pockets around the side and the bucket holds two gallons. Available from The Traditional Garden Supply Company in Cranleigh, Surrey, or phone orders on 0483 273366 (before Wednesday, to ensure arrival before Christmas).

Out-of-towners find parking in London even more frustrating than the locals. Make your best friend's life a little better with the Evening Standard London Parking Map - 88 pages of parking information, including car parks, how much they cost, hotels and supermarkets that offer parking, pay-and-display parks and parking meter areas. It costs pounds 5 from W H Smith and other bookshops. It is published in tandem with the London Speed Trap Map which identifies speed trap and red light camera-sites, updated in September. It costs pounds 4.25.

For a wacky friend, why not a Bubble Watch? It's been a massive success in the US, where millions bought them for the VW Beetle, frog or dinosaur floating in the face. On sale here at the United Nations shop at 23 New Quebec Street, London W1 (071- 402 9029) in several designs, they cost pounds 6.99 inc p&p. If you buy direct from the shop pounds 1.50 goes to the Bosnia Relief Charity.

Got a chum with wonderlust? Buy them a universal bathplug, the traveller's best companion. pounds 1.99 from Explore Trader, the mail order catalogue from adventure holiday firm Explore Worldwide (0252 316016).

To help them all recover from Christmas: fresh coffee for one, without making a whole pot. An Italian mini espresso machine can be used on gas or electric hob and produces a wonderful demitasse in minutes. pounds 8.50 from the General Trading Company. The glazed white china cup and saucer, just like the real thing, is pounds 2.85. Stores in London, Cirencester and Bath or ring 0793 513945 for mail order.

If granny is finding reading tiring these days, the BBC's collection of audio tapes covers an enormous range of literature. How much easier to lie back and have a book read to you] There's everything from A Perfect Spy - written and read by John Le Carre - to P D James, Ruth Rendell, Dorothy L Sayers and the Woman's Hour 'Jane Austen Collection'. Double cassettes sell for pounds 7.99, boxed sets vary.

Grandma a little eccentric? Choose from the Beeb's vast collection of sound effects tapes, which include Death And Horror Volume 2, Combat and Disasters and Foreign Sound Effects. From the BBC bookshop, other good bookshops, some chain stores and garage and motorway service stations. Enquiries 081-576 2236.

One of the most exotic desk diaries ever . . .

The Indian Diary is illustrated with repros of the country's distinctive art style of advertisements, religious memorabilia and packaging. Anyone who is fascinated by India will love this. Redstone Press, pounds 9.95

More from India: a spice box that is ideal for veggie friends. The stainless steel box contains seven dishes each of which hold 50g of spices such as cumin, fenugreek, turmeric and garam masala. The box comes with a recipe book of Gujarati dishes. pounds 34.45 including p&p from Tamarind Tree, Spice Box Collection Offer, Freepost PO Box 9B, East Molesley, Surrey KT8 OPE.