Last weekend we took Eva to Carshalton Frost Fair. As we battled our way through the crowds, I spotted Santa and an Elf headed our way. Excited to see my little girl’s first encounter with The Big Red Beardy One, I lined her up to get a good look. ‘Ho-ho-ho!’, I commented conversationally as Santa strode past. He stopped and peered round in our direction, a distinct look of disapproval upon his face.
‘”Ho-ho-ho…?”‘, he repeated,
‘”Ho-ho-ho…?” Oh, no, no, no. It’s….
HO – HO – HO!!!!!!!’
And on he strode, seemingly oblivious as Eva dissolved into tears of terror at the sheer volume of it.
‘He obviously attended the Brian Blessed School of Santa-Clausing’ chuckled DP later on.
But that incident, in a nutshell, describes how I have felt about Christmas this year. Initial excitement and anticipation quickly followed by trepidation as it looms over the horizon at you …and, finally, utter panic when you find yourself immersed in all it’s sound and fury with nothing done.
The tree isn’t up, the place looks a mess, Threadless is dangerously short on Non-Star-Wars-themed hoodies this year, and the pressies I have ordered are taking their sweet time to arrive. Greetings Cards? Ha! Don’t make me laugh! Last year’s effort was Him Indoors heroically burning through the list in his illegible handwriting as I desperately tried to do my bit towards shipping a game. (Most of the recipients are probably still wondering who the card was actually from…)
You’d have thought having children and being more ‘homebound’ would give further prep time for stuff like Christmas. Like most preconceptions about parenthood, this is of course utter bullshit. Having a child takes you out of the house – and therefore away from Amazon – more than ever. It fills your spare time with laundry where once you would have sat down and done a little present planning, or put the bloody tree up! And even the ‘easiest’ of children (i.e: Eva) doesn’t allow me the browsing time I once took over presents in the high street. Add to this that I recently started part-time work once again and, oh my goodness, are we ever not ready for Christmas in this household. Ho-Ho-bloody-Ho indeed.
But enough moaning! For last week Him Indoors kindly booked our girl an extra day at nursery and we rode decadently off into The Big Smoke, coffee in hands, happy and carefree (and missing Eva like mad after about half an hour of course!) ….with big Present-Buying ambitions.
And, my friend, the Present-Buying Muse was fully in attendance when it came to grabbing gifts for toddlers that sunny Friday. So here are the best of my finds.. in case you are also a) local to London and b) panicking in these last two shopping weeks before Christmas:
I’ve been wistfully eye-balling these Grimms Pocket Gnomes for a while:
Eva is getting very interested in little figurines (her latest trick is to sit her tiny Duplo man on my knee and insist that I read books to him nearly everyday) and the gnomes seemed good for learning about colours into the bargain. But at over a fiver a pop, my wallet winced at the idea of buying more than two.
Enter Spitalfield’s Market, and these little characters:
Colours? Check. Cuteness? Check. Eva is crazy about monkeys and will enjoy housing them in their banana into the bargain.
£15 for the five monkeys, and the stall holder also knocked a couple quid off when I took these £8 rabbits as well:
The cute-o-meter just exploded! And it didn’t break the bank doing it.
Baby Biggles Hat:
So these seem to be A Thing. I had a quick scan of t’internets, but this £12 offering from My Little Ducking’s stall in Covent Garden tickled me the most, as they seemed a bit more structured than some of the alternatives. Plus, they were selling for a couple of quid less on the stall than they do online. This is for my friend’s new baby. He’s still in her tummy at the time of writing, and, although My Little Duckling cater for six months and up, I went straight to a bigger size for one that will fit him next winter; the bigger they are, the better they look, imo – plus he will be out and about more by then.
Simply Spiffing, chums!
Nepalese Hand Puppet:
This little £8 bunny – well, actually he’s quite big! – was another offering from Spitalfields. Given the ‘pouch’, I was surprised not to see a Kangaroo version too. Unless I am completely mistaken and this is meant to be one.
Well, whatever… the important thing is: little ‘baby’ in the pouch is actually a finger puppet. Awwww!
(Plus this thing is so sturdy I’m wondering if it might actually double as an oven glove.. )
I am not the most mature of individuals, so when giant tweezers first came to my attention, my initial response was to laugh and wonder if you had to wear one of those massive foam hands and a pair of oversize Elton-John glasses in order to operate them legally.
But one exercise I have seen a lot of in Montessori circles is that of inviting your child to try picking up and transferring objects between bowls with these big tongs. It seems to really engage them and is great for dexterity too. The ideal is to use nondescript wooden ones but, being way too slapdash to follow something to the letter, I couldn’t help but want these crocs for Eva when I spotted them in Pylones, Covent Garden. The plan is to put these in her stocking, give her a ‘pickup’ demo with some felt balls and see what happens…. She is bound to enjoy these in their own right whatever the result!
Bamboo Plate and Cutlery:
Also in Pylones was this bamboo plate and cutlery set for well under a tenner: an ideal present for a visiting Mum friend from overseas, who is bound to appreciate flat gifts for her son, when she packs in preparation to long-haul it back to Singapore. Plus, what little one wouldn’t want to eat their dinner orf a fox’s face? There were Owls too, if taking bites off a beaky bird is more your baby’s bag!
LadieBirdy Animal Alphabet:
This is one cool kid’s gift that we did not go home with. The reason? We discovered these early on in our trawl around Spitalfields, and were afraid of damaging the prints during the rest of our day out in London (Given how much Dim Sum grease I found on stuff later, this was probably a wise decision!)
There’s a lot of child-friendly vector art doing the rounds these days, but these were particularly appealing, we thought. The artist has taken a simple premise and run with it to bold effect, and the colours are gorgeous – slightly muted without being dull.
So do check out this Ladiebirdy’s cool prints. I am now eagerly awaiting her Animal Alphabet book (currently a work in progress). She makes greetings cards too, and has an Etsy shop if you’re not near the market.
Do Have a Cow, Man!!!
As you may have spotted in the photos above, Eva had a little bear hat from Sainsburys, but it went missing in the midst of the christmas chaos.
So imagine our delight at being able to replace that bear with a honking great cow from (yet again) a stall at Spitalfields! They have a whole menagerie to chose from – pigs, elephants, bears, badgers, all at £12 a pop (I’m sure you could knock them down to ten too, if you are better at bartering than me, which nearly everybody is!)
I have also seen these for sale at Wisley over the Christmas period. A portion of the proceeds go to WWF.
Does it stay on..? Well, it’s early days, but so far so good!
For the record, if you’re looking at kids hats, try to go for something with ear-flaps: it makes them so much easier to get on without faffing and hair-pulling. Dp was worried these would encourage her to pull the hat off too but, frankly, any child is going to pull a hat off eventually whatever the shape, so my advice is to drop that concern waaaaay down your list.
Oh, and as sods law would have it, two days after buying the Cow, we discovered the Bear hat down the back of Eva’s draws.
Her clothes draws, not her pants. Just in case you were wondering.
Bloody Ginormous Advent Calendar:
Suddenly, my guilt about the tree is a thing of the past, because this Advent Calendar is so effing huge it hardly leaves any room for one, anyway! RHS Wisley came through for us here, with discounted calendars enough to please any latecomers to the christmas party. It’s probably down to the 80s Christmases of my yoof, but I am partial to a good bit of glitter and some ‘proper’ Raymond Briggs-esque pictures in an advent calendar, as opposed to some ugly plastic housing containing chunks of what can generously be described as dog-chocolate… and this delivers on both fronts. It is a bit heavy on the ‘mouse’ theme (door number 1: mouse-in-a-hat, door no 3: mouse-with-a-card, door no 7: just-a-mouse.. you get the idea…) but I don’t hear Eva complaining. And I doubt there’ll be any shortage of sugar-hits elsewhere for her, this season.
Another reason to visit Wisley’s gift shop around Christmas is their excellent book section, which is full of funny stocking-fillers, as well as more big and beautiful offerings including, unsurprisingly, some stunning plant books. There are hamper-friendly foodstuffs as well, in addition to all the plants. If you live local to the A3, it may well take you less time to travel and get parked up there than it would get to Guildford Town Centre itself, so give it a go… you don’t need to pay entry to get in the shop itself.
(Really should get myself sponsored by Wisley, shouldn’t I, the way I keep banging on about the place?!)
So, back to the London trip: at the end of the day we stumbled through the front door, bags bulging, feeling quite jubilant. Job done! Or all least partially done… there’s still a mountain of Christmas tasks to get through, but we’d made a good start. And even managed the guilty pleasure of a child-free lunch in a buzzing Chinatown restaurant into the bargain. Bliss!
But we soon encountered a flip side to this success story: we live in a two bedroom flat. The ‘spare’ room is now Eva’s room, and she roams freely throughout the flat. We are already short of storage space. She is now at that age where she will eagerly unwrap anything she sees.
So…. where do we hide all the presents?
Answers on a postcard, please….
Footnote: Since I started this post, Baby Biggles has arrived (apparently he was in such a hurry he nearly made his debut ‘in a lift’ in the Royal Surrey, but the family made the birthing pool just in time. Welcome to the world, Edward!
….and Merry Christmas.