The Best Christmas Gift Ideas

Blue paper shoppign bag with blue tags on blue floor with one single red tag visible

Not sure if you’ve noticed, but there’s a shift away from Christmas presents this year. Lots of people we know are going without, or giving to charity – which is lovely, and has its own feel-good factor, of course. And we kind of get it. Both of us have received too many presents over the years which just aren’t ‘us’ – and soon after Christmas make their way to a carrier bag near the door, waiting for the next stroll past Oxfam. (Or in Jo’s case, the boot of her car – it being safer to transport unwanted gifts to the next town, lest her friends spot their rejected presents in a too-local charity.)

But this, for us, is where beauty ‘treats’ score, as gifts. Chosen well, they simply don’t hang around for long enough to gather dust. And over the years, we’ve learned which gifts are pretty fail-safe choices. Mostly because they’d please us, and we love a bit of pampering and self-TLC, and have spent enough time in this business to know what’s worth asking for, and what’s worth giving.

This year’s best Christmas gift ideas

Bottom line? We’d happily put any or all of these on our own ‘Dear Santa’ lists. And we suggest you might like to do the same.

Lixir Skin Good Skin Trio Mini Set, £34. From the genius cosmetic formulator Dr. Colette Haydon (a woman behind more beauty brands’ offerings than many of us have had hot dinners), three of her own bestselling products in generous travel sizes: Electrogel Cleanser, Universal Emulsion (which can be used on the body as well as face), and glow-getting Vitamin C paste. We could literally survive being cast away on a desert island, skincare-wise, with this lot.

Aromatherapy Associates Ultimate Bath & Shower Oil Collection, £65.What can we say? Hearts leap, smiles broaden, foreheads un-crinkle upon opening a gift box of Aromatherapy Associates Bath & Shower Oils. Multi-award-winning (including countless Beauty Bible Awards), they’re still the most effective mood-shifting oils we’ve ever used, and in this set, find 10 x 9ml sizes including classic Deep Relax, Inner Strength and Support Equilibrium. We know NOBODY who wouldn’t be thrilled with this. (Except Gill, who’s allergic to essential oils!)

Lebon Orange Gift Set, £29. Toothpaste, we hear you chorus? Toothpaste for Christmas? Well, this isn’t any old toothpaste: it’s Lebon organic toothpaste, created by perfumers in Grasse, and is basically the Chanel or Gucci of oral care. This set includes three fabulous flavours: mint and cinnamon Villa Naocarlina; mango, mint and papaya Back to Pampleonne (with brightening papaya enzymes), and pineapple/rooibos/mint Tropical Crush. We promise it’ll make the recipient smile – and that bit more brightly.

Lanolips Coconutter Cracker, £10.99. Well, the contents of this cracker sure beats a bad joke and a party hat: a pair of Lano’s coconut butter-enriched skin treats – 101 Multi Balm Coconutter (which excels at pretty much any skin challenge you throw at it), and the lavish-before-bedtime Coconutter Hand Cream Intense. Wafts of tropical coconut, but not enough to tip the product into the realms of Bounty bar sweetness.

ilapothecary Beat the Blues Ritual, £85. Definitely the priciest present on our shortlist, but if you’ve someone who really deserves something special and is perhaps having a tough time, look no further. Denise Leicester’s aromatherapy blends are astonishingly powerful – transformative, actually – and this features three products to be used alone or synergistically: Beat the Blues Rollerball (always in our handbags – frankly you could wear this tuberose-rich oil as a perfume, and we know people who do), Beat the Blues Shower & Bath Oil and Beat the Blues Room Spray. They are spectacularly good for anyone suffering from SAD, BTW, also featuring clary sage and geranium (for confidence and self-esteem), and petitgrain which is just a little ray of sunshine in its own right, as an essential oil.

This Works Choose Sleep, £10. Formerly known as the ‘Can’t Sleep Kit’, the most brilliant little Christmas stocking or Secret Santa gift, featuring 5ml sizes of Deep Sleep Stress Less (could come in v-e-r-y handy on Christmas Day itself), and Deep Sleep Pillow Spray, which is clinically proven to improve your zzzz’s. Right up there with the loaves and fishes in miracle terms, so far as we’re concerned.

Temple Spa Quietude, £25. Can we just recommend this for anyone who’s expecting a frenzied household over Christmas? You might suggest they open this early, to spritz this into the living room before the chaos of present-opening, actually – because this zingy, aromatic blend of lavender, cedarwood, cypress, clove, vetiver, orange, patchouli, frankincense and chamomile dials down the stress level immediately.

Beauty Bible Lip Balm, £6. Last but not least – and what can we say…? We honestly think this stocking-stuffer-sized balm is the best we’ve ever tried and are chuffed to bits that entirely independently, so did the diligent testers whose scores earned it a Beauty Bible Award. It’s big, it’s fat, it’s luscious – and our lips can’t get enough of its all-natural formula. Now, where’s that mistletoe…?

How To Be Less Miserablist


It had been a while since I’d played this game. Maybe even half a century. It’s nighttime, a comfy 30 degrees and we’re at a party that’s progressed into the pool. I have one foot on someone’s shoulder – David? Thomas? Richard? It’s difficult to distinguish between them as I heave myself into the clutches of Liz who’s waiting for me to complete the human pyramid. Finally I’m up and for a few seconds we are a triangular mass of wobbling post-youth bodies that then crash into the inky water, shrieking like the children we once were.

That was last month at a reunion in Bahrain where we all grew up together in a Californian-styled township in the desert, a story for another day. As these pewter grey November days close in, quick, quick, spit spot – name the last time you really goofed around? Like blaaah, head shaking, arm-waving crazy? See. Long time. Too long.

Yet in these not-so-cheerful times, it turns out George Bernard Shaw was right about fooling around being seriously good for you.“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing” wrote the Irish playwright. The benefits? Manifold. Adult play relieves stress, boosts feel-good endorphins, improves brain function, helps relationships, keeps you feeling young and energetic and may even improve your resistance to disease.

In my forsaken executive life of being at my desk at 8am, 10 miles from home, I was deemed “lugubrious” by one of the fashion team. He was right. A tendency towards worry and a diabetic child to keep alive was lethally mixed with fierce weekly deadlines.  Something had to give and for me it was the lightness of being. A later bout of working with optimistic millennials did little to help.

Yet in this of all years, life’s become inestimably brighter, slipping those surly bonds of gloom.

What gave? Frankly even I was bored of having a resting worried face. But the turning point came down to a cat, two yogis, one run and two WhatsApp groups. Mostly the latter.

Sky the Siberian Forest kitten arrived to remind us of the joy of stroking and the fun of felines leaping for ping pong balls.  The last year has been like living with an amusingly furry two year old.

Then there was the physical fillip from a weekly run and two yoga sessions.  Emerging from a cotton cocoon to lollop around Wormwood Scrubs for 5km every Saturday at 9am does not induce laughter – but its after effects do. (News reports last month said one shortish run a week is all it takes to reduce the risk of early death, no matter how slow you go.) Ditto the two £10-a-go weekly yoga sessions that melt calcified fascia, lull the mind and mean you can embrace the freelancer’s 5/2 wardrobe – two whole days of never having to be properly dressed.

But the biggest spike in my annual lol activity came from spending more time, that most illusory commodity, with family and friends generally, and two groups of women specifically.

Here we need clarification – spending time at play is about more than just having fun. Renowned American shrink Stuart Brown has done a rather brilliant Ted talk on the subject, which if you can’t be bothered to watch says this: we need to retain our neoteny. Our what-eny?  Make it your word of the day because it means the “retention of juvenile features in the adult animal”, which translates into keep goofing around throughout your life. Because Brown is clear on one fact  — the opposite of play is depression.

He spent years studying prison inmates and almost every one of them suffered play deprivation as children. They missed out on the give-and-take learning that comes from play. “Normally we play,” says Brown.  “When we don’t, something has gone very, very, wrong, and non-players will suffer a number of effects.” He quotes field biologist Marc Bekoff, a former university professor, who says play is “training for the unexpected”.  Which makes it pretty essential in the sand-shifting era of Trump and Brexit.

Beyond playing the usual array of sports (abandoned tennis racket – one day I will return), the adult play market is now huge business, with the Lego trend a prime example. Last month ‘Build Yourself Happy: The Joy of Lego Play’ was published  as a manual for wellness while at John Lewis you can buy the 5,900 piece adult Lego Taj Mahal for £279.99.

Not for me, but let me tell you about those WhatsApp groups.  The ‘girl’s night’ one began several years ago with eight of us getting together whenever we could agree on a date, but which has progressed to added playtime. There was a recent wine drinking and pottery making evening, a perfect getting-your-hands-dirty combo,  with the resultant crusts of unglazed clay still rattling around in the back of my car.  Next up is a poker night in January with a real live poker teacher who’ll hopefully instruct us on how to arrange our flaccid faces into inscrutable masks. Cannot wait.

Meanwhile, a reunion reconnected me with three of my first friends, the ones I’d grown up with in primary school, had played spin the bottle with as a teenager and fooled around with in swimming pools. We are now scattered across Australia, Florida, London and Portugal but every Saturday sees us together again on a WhatsApp video grid, our latest quest being to learn to virally hoola hoop. I’m pretty good thanks – Sara, doll, it’s all in the hip thrust.

We definitely all need to play more.  To put down those  perfidious phones and dig out that frisbee or pack of cards.

The dream? A poker-playing, hoola-hooping pool party.

OMG lol, as only an Ok, Boomer would write.

How to be less of a miserablist in 2020

  1. Delete your Mail Online app pronto. Child killer/Kardashian tales are no longer needed.
  2. Buy Rummikub, the perfect board game as it can last less than 30 minutes. (Habitually losing inures me to the pain of real life.)
  3. Revisit Season 1 of Friends. Basically be more Chandler. Step away from Newsnight.
  4. Ask for ‘Funny Ha-ha’ in your stocking – 80 of the funniest stories ever written, out this month and edited by veteran wit Paul Merton. Leave the Booker prizewinners to gather dust.
  5. Purchase a cheap hoola hoop and eat latkes (hello Gill) or crisp sarnies with friends who make time to see you. Money does not = good times.
  6. When it’s all going south, listen to Baccara’s “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie”, the 1977 best-selling single of all time by a female group (18 million).  Joyfully awful lyrics, but it’ll  make you laugh and dance at the same time. Dream pastime.

The Argument For Having A Low Key Christmas

Silver christmas horn ornament on black suface with gold glitter

Normally, my Christmas is the sort of military operation. I’ve been known to buy the first of the following year’s Christmas presents in February, I tend to get panicked if I don’t have the crackers before Bonfire Night, and if you stand still long enough in my house during advent, you’re likely to find a bauble glue-gunned to a limb. Or be swagged with pine. Or just possibly sprayed with glitter. And if anything doesn’t seem to be going ‘to plan’, I am, as a rule, not a happy camper.

But this year, Christmas is going to be a little more unpredictable in our house, and its taught me an excellent life lesson. On Christmas Day, we might be six – or we might be fourteen. (Which is quite a difference.) And I might not know till the day before. This is because there’s someone in the family who’s not too good health-wise, and they may or may not be up to making the journey. If not, then more than half the party – her children and grandchildren – will head to London for a scratch Christmas to make sure she’s not alone.

For a few years, I was smug about having organised our Christmas arrangements pretty ‘flawlessly’. It had dawned on me that we were hosting a dozen people every year, but they weren’t necessarily the same dozen. So in no uncertain terms, I informed everyone they needed to co-ordinate their Christmases, because we were only going to do one big Christmas every other year. (In between, we’d either go away, or quietly celebrate with two of us, or maybe accept an invitation to someone else’s Christmas lunch.)

And it worked. At least it worked until the younger family members started partnering up and having babies, which meant doing their duty to go to their partners’ families for the holidays. And since some of those families are fractured, we’re now in a three or four-year rotation, because there are two sets of parents to accommodate, as well as us. Duh. Didn’t think of that, did I? Chances of us all getting together again? Around zero, give or take.

So I have decided instead to quieten my inner Martha Stewart (who has rarely been far beneath the surface in previous years), and take a ‘whatever’ approach to what can be an unbelievably stressful time of year. Basically, it will be what it will be. I’ve got enough food to feed fourteen, and if instead we’re six, or maybe eight, I might invite some waifs and strays. I always admired my mother’s approach, inviting people who didn’t have anywhere else to go for Christmas. (Mostly she did this because a stranger at the dinner table meant that the children behaved far better than they would otherwise have done, but she also did it because she had a big heart.) Maybe we’ll do round up some ‘randoms’ – or maybe not, and instead spend a lot of time Googling ‘turkey leftover recipes’ in the aftermath. (And Tofurkey leftover recipes, if there are such things.)

All in all, even I – former Queen of Christmas, sequined trumpet-blower for all things festive and sparkly – am coming to the conclusion that Christmas has turned into a bit of a monster. The RSI from signing Christmas cards. The lists, the endless lists. The wrapping – and heck, I’ve always loved wrapping, but this year (partly for eco reasons) I’ve ordered personalised sacks into which to slip people’s presents, pull a drawstring – and then they can give me the sack back for next year.

Am I turning into Scrooge, in mid-life? I don’t think so. I’ve just got things a bit more in proportion. There have been some nail-biting health moments for people in our family, and for my friends, this year. One good friend died, actually. And so for me, it’s become more about spreading the kindness, cheer and generosity year-round – which nobody can argue that we definitely need more of, right now. Yes, we’ll have a tree. And lots and lots of pine branches, because I like the smell. But I am not, for once, going head to head with Regent Street on the decorations front.

I’m also reminded of a conversation with a friend, not long ago. She told me that her best Christmas ever was soon after she’d divorced and she asked her kids how they’d like to spend Christmas, and what food they’d like. Upshot is: they stayed in their onesies all day, and had pizza for Christmas lunch while watching videos. I’m going to leave you with that thought, as you frantically hunt for that recipe for Devils on Horseback canapés that you just know you tucked away somewhere.

I’m not sure I’m ready to be quite that laid-back for the holidays, yet. (Though in future years, who knows?) But what I do know is that I’m going to cut myself some slack, this year, in the hope of keeping the needle on the Christmas ‘Stress-o-Meter’ firmly in the green zone. Basically, in 2019, when it comes to Christmas, at our house it’s going to be a case of: ‘whatevs.’

As my darling step-grandchildren – who may or may NOT be here on 25th December – so love to say…

How To Tune Into Your Intuition

balancing scale with heart on right side and brain left side

It is clear to see that the popularity of spiritual practices is on the rise. We’re seeing crystals lined up on desks, energy healers on speed dial and more of us are choosing to swap out post-work drinks for breath work. Whether you’re engaging in these practices or not, there’s one word that’s always mentioned and written about, but seems to escape many of us, and that’s intuition. Read More…


different flavours ice creams on the waffle cone

If I had my life to live over…
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d relax. I would limber up.
I would be sillier than I have been this trip.
I would take more chances.
I would climb more mountains
and swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans…
If I had to do it again, I would
travel lighter than I have…
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later into the fall (autumn).
I would go to more dances.
I would ride more merry-go-rounds.
I would pick more daisies…

Just sometimes, don’t you come across a poem or a poster that stops you in your tracks? That happened to me, lately, in the most unlikely setting (an Anglian Water team event in Ipswich, actually, where I happened to be a guest speaker).

Once I’d got past the cheese-y typography of this A4 sheet in their wellbeing zone, it really got me thinking about my life. (Whew. Deep stuff.) And it touched so many nerves, with me. First off, silliness. I definitely haven’t been silly enough. I’ve worried about what people would think if I skipped down the street (which I do sometimes think of doing), and I really wish I hadn’t bowed to crowd-sourced opinion lately about a grey felt hat with wolf ears, which got shouted down by my friends. (I might check out Etsy to see if it’s still available, actually.) I think the reason most of us like hanging out with kids is that we get to be silly without people staring – but it probably would make the world a happier place if we all relaxed (see Line Three) and let loose.

The barefoot thing definitely resonates. It’s only in the last 18 months that I’ve discovered the joys of going barefoot, with its wonderful earthing and grounding power. I’ll never get back all those years I spent walking beside my barefoot husband (as ever, the pioneer), my feet encased in sandals or trainers when I could’ve enjoyed toe liberation and the pleasure of foot dew-baths. Not long ago, we walked seven miles over Beachy Head barefoot. We were definitely the only tourists walking barefoot around the walls of Dubrovnik, recently, beautifully smooth, warm stone underfoot. Better late than never, but I do definitely regret the ‘shoe years’. (There’s a lot on that list that relates to not worrying about what other people think of us, actually. One of the reasons I love my husband is that he really doesn’t give a damn what other people think – and I need to learn from him, there.)

I only properly climbed a mountain a few years ago – and had never realised how triumphant it feels at the top (well, it was a foothill of the Himalayas, but it was still a mountain-top), having overcome a) my fear of heights and b) the overwhelming urge to turn round and go back down because it was just so, so hard, and scary, and my thighs were screaming so loudly in protest I was pretty sure they could hear them in Pakistan. Interestingly, my reward – apart from the view – was that something happened exponentially to my fitness on that one climb with the result that I find it so much easier to climb hills and even walk up escalators out of choice, now. So: another thing on that list which I totally agree with. More mountains.

Part of that poster’s message is about being more daring. Not just doing the same-old-same-old, but taking some risks. Trying different things. Travelling to places new. I was a bit of a scaredy-cat, as a young woman. Not so much, now – and life’s so much richer, as a result. I’ve a way to go before I voluntarily abseil down a cliff, but I can see that possibly, just possibly, I could rise to that challenge – and I can also envision the elation afterwards.

But most importantly, it’s about not having regrets. I often see people quoted, late in life, saying: ‘It’s not the things I did that I regret. It’s the things that I didn’t do.’ On a travel level, if I don’t get to Rajasthan, I’m really going to regret that. (Note to self: start researching that trip, and stop worrying about dying in a collision with a sacred cow on a road between Udaipur and Jodhpur.)

I’ve got a friend who’s basically been on a diet for all the years I’ve known her. For all that time, her weight has see-sawed – and she’s never knowingly enjoyed a guilt-free meal, at least not one I’ve shared with her. And I think she’s really beginning to regret it, since she’s fundamentally the same size as when we first met, but hasn’t ever allowed herself truly to enjoy food.

Food! Sustenance! Potentially the source of so much joy…! And I certainly don’t want to be someone who feels bad about having a generous slice of cake or a celebratory glass of champagne, and allowing myself small pleasures. (On which note: the ‘I would eat more ice cream’ line is pretty redundant, in my case. My ice cream quotient’s right up there, frankly, and I don’t regret a single lick.)

Above all, it’s about not having regrets about spending time with the people who matter to us, too. Small (daisy chain-loving) children, who become teenagers before you know it, and then drift away to university or get married and/or have babies, so that the only time you really can be sure of seeing them is when they come home for Christmas or to retrieve possessions from what was once your garage but is now a free storage unit, because at least it means you’ll see them when they do.

Friends, far and near. One of my big regrets is that recently, a team of my friends got together to cook for another mutual friend who was very sick, spending an hour over lunch with her in turn while feeding her delicious food. I was too busy to join the rota (I really was, but I should have juggled something). Well, the friend died. We’ll never get that time together, and that’s a regret which will always be a nagging, dull ache. (Another note to self: book that trip to Hay-on-Wye to catch-up with a really good, really old mate who I’ve been promising to visit for a decade, now. And haven’t got round to it.)

The bottom line is that in a world of social media and obsession with ‘likes’ and ghastly news on the TV and doom and gloom in newspapers, when everyone’s walking down the road looking at their phones and there are so very many small distractions to gobble up our days, I think we need to remind ourselves constantly what really and truly matters in life. For me, those few lines really made me check in with myself – and I’ve printed it out for my office wall, to act as a daily nudge in the direction of what really matters. Merry-go-rounds, daisies and all.

I reckon we probably all need to think about the things we’d put on a list like that of our own. I wonder: what would yours say…? And more importantly, what are you going to do about it, starting right now…?

How To Ease Aches And Pains

wooden blocks spelling posture with wooden armature

Pain is no beautifier. We furrow our brows, the light goes out of our eyes, we stoop of slouch. (And, left untended our joints may suffer irreparable damage.) At Beauty Bible, as you’ll probably know, we take a holistic approach to beauty – and so that means doing what we can to keep aches and pains, with their knock-on effect on our looks and energy levels, at bay. Read More…