"Phone for the fish knives, Norman..." A ceramic sashimi knife (pounds 205) is among the irresistible notions advanced by The Times magazine. Other temptations include an individual ice-cream tub in silver (pounds 450 including tiny spatula spoon), a pair of chocolate pliers (pounds 3) and a stainless-steel clothes peg (pounds 5). A minuscule bottle of Tabasco (15p) is sure to warm the heart of any recipient. To dowse the resulting heat, what better than the breath freshener in the shape of a fire extinguisher (pounds 375) featured in the Evening Standard magazine? It also recommends a leather and brass noughts-and-crosses set (pounds 60) for those poor souls unfamiliar with pen and paper.
Along with its invaluable idea of a sauna thermometer (pounds 11.50), The Guardian cheekily suggests a dog condom (pounds 8). In order to resolve any ambiguity, I should make plain that this is not a canine contraceptive but a human prophylactic in the shape of a doggy (also available as a cow). After such modest outlay, there should be a few bob left over for the cheap 'n' cheerful stocking fillers discovered by The Sunday Times magazine. Together, the Cartier necklace and ring will not set you back a penny over pounds 461,900.
There's still time to scoot over the Atlantic to Macy's for the tin lunch box ($15,000) spotted by the New Yorker. The only drawback is that the container bears over 100 signatures of leading Republicans, including Ronald Reagan and Bob Hope. Maybe you'll be able to scrub them off. Those rural hearties at Country Life recommend a remote-controlled fart machine (coyly, if misleadingly, described as a "wind machine") for pounds 14.99.
Finally, after all the fuss about how bronze turkeys are bringing flavour back to the Christmas table, a certain Saturday magazine went one step further by including a turkey made of wire (pounds 803) among its gift ideas. I'd say which one, but I don't want to risk a schISM.
Appropriately for the season, something a little bit spooky happened to me the other day, when the Weasel family was touring the Queen's House, Inigo Jones' Italianate masterpiece in Greenwich Park. Dusk was encroaching and in the candlelit gloom at the end of a long corridor, I was surprised to see a pair of figures in 17th-century dress. A man in a long, curly wig and tall hat was accompanied by a woman in a flowing dress. Suddenly, they turned and walked through a wall. "Of course they didn't," sniffed Mrs W when I told her of this singular disappearance. "Have you been at the amontillado?"
It was gratifying to turn the corner and discover my two ghosts nibbling a chunk of pork pie. "Ha, we played a merry prank on thee, sirrah," boomed the male spectre, as he pointed out a doorway disguised by wooden panelling. "Yestere'en, I supped with Master Pepys, Comptroller of the King's Navy. Art thou familiar with him?" Mrs Weasel, who has scant patience with such folderol, asked who they really were.
Despite brave efforts to stay in character, the antique couple cracked under Mrs W's relentless interrogation and admitted to being members of a dance troup. They were part of a celebration of the Great Frost Fair of 1683-4, when the Thames froze for 12 weeks. Downstairs, a weatherman called Ian Currie, who was dressed in the quaint fashion of his trade (a snowflake-patterned jersey), unleashed a cheerful avalanche of facts about such phenomena: " I know every year's weather for several hundred years. In 1716, an apple-seller was decapitated when she fell through the ice. In 1813, people froze to death when they got lost on Blackheath. On this day in 1952, there began the last great London smog when 4,000 people died..."
After avoiding conscription into the Essex Militia ("Thou lookest a handy fellow with halberd and pike"), we took our seats for an entertainment described as an "Ice Masque". Unfortunately, volunteers were required. "Now, who will play the River Thames for His Majesty King Charles II?" bellowed a bodice-clad bossy-boots who awakened memories of the harpy who attempted to teach ballroom dancing at my school. "We will surge to and fro as the tide advances and retreats. Can we have a very intelligent River Thames?" I escaped participating in this toe-curling entertainment via a rapidly invented bad leg. With horrified fascination, I watched the dogged efforts of a dozen tourists to impersonate a freezing waterway. As the impressively bewigged figure of His Majesty arrived, we skedaddled. "Blimey," I muttered to Mrs W "Even in the 17th century, you couldn't avoid Riverdance."
As the Christmas telly-binge approaches, I wonder if the BBC will continue to slap itself on the back by showing its home-made adverts extolling the glories of the BBC? Financed, of course, by the licence-payer, they feature various celebs declaring what a cracking bargain we receive from the corporation. I must say I have a soft spot for Seamus Heaney proclaiming his fondness for the shipping forecast - though this encomium might carry a bit more weight if the great poet, who lives near Dublin, actually had to cough up for a licence for himself.
Not quite so palatable is the nauseatingly smug performance by comic Billy Connolly, who modestly informs us that he had the signature tune for The Archers sung at his wedding in Fiji. Well, that certainly makes me feel better about shelling out pounds 91.50 a year. I don't suppose the Big Yin's frequent appearance on the Beeb influenced this paean of praise in any way. Still, it's very kind of Mr Connolly to take such an interest in this great national institution, especially since he happens to reside in Los Angeles.
Of all the manifold idiocies generated by the Birtian regime at the BBC, few are more addle-pated and incomprehensible than the decision to reduce Radio 4's Start the Week to a half-hour rump. Always stimulating, it often provides entertainment of a high order, especially when heavyweights lock horns. Perhaps you will forgive me for repeating the famous mot which I was lucky enough to hear on this gab-fest - but it is singularly apposite at this time of year. For some reason, Richard Adams, author of Watership Down took against fellow guest Gore Vidal, describing his work as "meretricious". "Well, meretricious and a happy new year to you," drawled the viper-tongued American wit without dropping a beat. My sentiments exactlyReuse content