This year, why not buy all your presents by mail order. Do it now, then just sit back and enjoy. By Genevieve Fox
Yes, there are still 54 shopping days till Christmas. But today I saw my first display of fairy lights, and even as I write shopping-centre managers are dusting off their Manilow Sings Rudolph tapes.

I can't face it. For mail-order junkie there are going to be no trips up the high street this year. Instead, I'm going to spend the next week calling in catalogues, and will choose all my presents from the depths of my orange Conran Shop sofa.

And I won't be leafing through Freemans or Littlewoods low-budget letterbox- busters. Mail-order has become increasingly specialised, and upmarket: there are catalogues for kitchen equipment, craft objects, gardening tools, fishing tackle, even French children's book characters.

So fetch the phone and dig out your cheque book. Christmas shopping starts - and ends - here.

Purves & Purves

0171-436 8860

A small but select catalogue with modern home and office accessories. Typical is their Italian army espresso maker, in colours like burnt-sun and fuchsia (pounds 16). It would make a perfect gift for a) a difficult to please but design-conscious brother; b) hardened coffee addicts resilient to bright colours first thing in the morning. Not suitable for conservative grannies wary of foreign appliances. A modern granny might, however, be delighted with an ivory or pistachio green plastic armchair (pounds 115). Less risky gifts from this collection includebrightly-coloured lamps, the whole of which lights up (pounds 49); and any of their clocks (from pounds 18.75).

Nauticalia

01932 253333

This is the Christmas secret that will take the pain out of shopping for grand-dads, uncles, and sailors manque. Nauticalia has thought of everything, from ornamental diving helmets (from pounds 39.95) and brass porthole ashtrays (pounds 14.95) - to a weather vane featuring a gaff-rigged ketch (pounds 39.95). All the practical stuff, such as reefer jackets and sou'westers, is here too. But for the sailor who believed he had everything on board bar Long John Silver himself: a talking parrot. A snip at pounds 19.95, it sits expectantly on a plastic perch and when you press a button will repeat whatever you say. Several times. "Clever Polly," boasts the catalogue, "will irritate all the family."

In Particular

0701 0702 027

In Particular's stable of 13 British craftspeople offers everything from candle lamps to wine racks. Its colourful china octupi (pounds 21) are especially suitable for those who spend all day in the bathroom. If you've got a younger sister who is dripping with pendants, chokers and earrings, but who still demands more, buy her a piece of Diane Flint's pewter jewellery (from pounds 8), whose simple designs acquire a baroque luxuriousness with the addition of bright-coloured glass. In fact, this entire catalogue is the stop for gifts for the gals, young and old. Look out for funky glass perfume bottles (from pounds 31) and calico cushions (pounds 38.50).

Barclay & Bodie

(0171-372 5705; catalogue costs pounds 2)

This could be a life-saver if you're faced with mustering yet another festive token for a very old friend who already has everything, or for a seasonal guest you barely know. Delight the former and enjoy the reaction of the latter with leopard-print slippers (pounds 15.95). If feeling more daring, doubly delight the former and (possibly) horrify the latter with a hot water bottle with breasts (pounds 24.95) if he's male - and, if female, go for the Adonis who snoozes among crumpled sheets on an ironing-board cover (pounds 16.50). You could also do worse than give the guest some washing- up gloves that could as easily be worn at a Jacobean ball as at a Boxing Day washing-up fest. In slinky black rubber, they have check gauntlets covered in plastic fruits (pounds 19.95).

Grand Illusions

0181-744 1046

A something-for-everyone catalogue. For would-be gardeners, buy mugs covered in watering cans and urns. For home-makers, an iron hen from India does nothing, but is quite charming (pounds 15.95).

For those who panic at the very mention of Christmas shopping there is a page entitled "presents for him", including Tintin silk ties (pounds 29.95) and horoscope cufflinks (pounds 80). The "presents for her" are considerably cheaper. But the thought of a man wanting to give his beloved a cuddly bear wearing a jumper with a heart on it (pounds 16.50) is terrifying. The bear is indisputably adorable; it is just better suited to a child. The best of the collection is a 22in long painted wood ocean liner. It's pounds 49.95 and would look delightful in bathroom or bedroom, whether his or hers.

Art Room

01993 770444

Tasteful yet fun, you could tick off your entire Christmas list right here. They've managed to put well-known art works on everything from cufflinks to the inside of umbrellas. Cheer up a male friend's morning ablutions with a daily vision of Botticelli's Venus on a cotton shower curtain (pounds 39.95). Segments of the Venetian vision also feature on a set of buttons (three, pounds 6.95), while a tamer-haired Venus is available as a weighty Greek-style plaster bust (pounds 39.95).

You will also cheer the cockles of the staunchest Christmas-hater with a tray featuring a detail of God reaching out to Adam in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel fresco. Handmade in wood, it is gilt-edged and well worth pounds 19.95.

Arts

British Museum: 01353 668400

All the gifts are replicas of, or based on items in the collection, but they've managed to do it super-tastefully. Best buys: Pompeii kit (excavate and recreate your own replica bowl), pounds 19.95; Lewis chessman mug, pounds 9.95; head of Sophocles in resin (13in high), pounds 99.

Royal Academy: 0151-708 0555

An up-market collection based around RA artists and exhibitions. Particularly good for children's toys. Best buys: Archiblocks (wooden building blocks with architectural shapes), pounds 49.95; Elizabeth Blackadder ironstone dish, pounds 99.95; stuffed spider toy, pounds 16.95.

Crafts

Hitchcocks: 01225 330646

A small , well-chosen collection of craft goods. Best buys: flowerpots in blue or yellow glaze, with contrasting spots (pounds 12.50); furry mole (pounds 5.95); velvet scarf in smoky green and gold (pounds 58.50).

Designer

Muji: 0171-494 1197

Minimalist home and office from Japan. Best buys: zinc box (40 x 20cm), pounds 22.50; recycled paper scrapbook, pounds 5.25; basket ball PVC briefcase, pounds 35.

Tous Mes Amis (01252 733 188)

Books and products associated with cultish French children's books: Tintin, Asterix, Le Petit Prince, Madeline, Babar. Best buys: Arthur (from Babar) watch pounds 20; Babar skiing silk tie pounds 29.95; Madeline paper dolls with outfits, pounds 5.99; fluffy Obelix toy, pounds 22.95.

Home & Garden

Bay tree: 0114 285 4525

Classy gardening things. Best buys: copper planter, pounds 39.95 (pounds 27.50 in zinc); chilli tree("ball" of dried chillis on a stick in terracotta pot), pounds 32.95; lead planters with 18th-century designs, pounds 125/pounds 129.

Divertimenti: 0171-386 9911

Kitchen shop catalogue that is foodie heaven. Best buys: brass spice mill, pounds 24.95; four Cafe Tasse Belgian chocolate bars in box, pounds 5.25; bag of dried wild fungi, pounds 7.95; geared citrus press in stainless steel, pounds 45.95.

McCord: 01793 433 499

A huge selection of essentials and less essentials for the house, garden and office. Best buys: Chick-a-tea kettle (kettle shaped like a hen), pounds 29.95; Christmas pudding, with sixpence, pounds 9.99;classic Dualit two-slice toaster, pounds 115, Harley Davidson pen, pounds 24.95.

National Trust for Scotland: 0131-243 9393

Wholesome gifts with a Scottish theme. Best buys: Scottie doormat, pounds 19.95; Scottie spectacle case tapestry kit, pounds 6.95; 1500-piece golf jigsaw, pounds 16.95; hand-painted marmalade pot with modelled oranges and leaves, pounds 39.50.

Science

Science Museum: 01793 480200

Full of great toys and gadgets. Best buys: Capsela 250 (kit to make a motorised go-kart or digger, from aged 7), pounds 32.50; Star Trek wall clock, pounds 24.95; IQ2: the Mensa board game, pounds 34.95; magic floating pen and clock, pounds 5.95.

Stocking Fillers

Hawkin & Co: 01986 782536

All sorts of small old-fashioned toys and oddities. Best buys: a soap cat that sprouts hair when wet (pounds 2.40); the outer Space UFO ball (K54 pounds 2.35); resurrection plant ("springs to life when placed in water") (pounds 1.95); Jaques' happy families cards, with 1851 illustrations, pounds 2.50.

NSPCC Stocking Fillas: 01793 410016

Cheap and cheerful. Best buys: ice fountain (indoor firework), 99p; inflatable gladiator helmet and duel-stick set, pounds 4.99; Christmas toothbrush, 99p; star-shaped sparklers, pounds 3.50 for five, magic finger chopper, pounds 1.25.

Comments