10 Christmas niche gift ideas: memories, not wrapping paper
Christmas is around the corner.. less that three weeks away, and as usual, I am stuck for ideas for the close family members who will receive a present from me. Not intending to sound mean, we usually spend Christmas in Italy with only close family, a small affair which involves a larger number of boxes of all sizes under the tree, but mostly for a handful of people and we’ve given each other pretty much everything in the last few decades already.
So I found myself thinking .. ‘would it not be nice to get my family something different, something that will create memories and will be fun and a bit original… ‘ I started searching for a perfume making course in Napoli, having just been on one in London. Of course, I could not find one and I am going back to the usual stuff (perfume, rather than perfume making).
Still, I thought some of my ideas might work for some of my readers based in the UK, so I compiled a list of things I think would make slightly unusual but worthy presents for friends and family as well as partners and why not, one’s self. It’s quite a random list, and in no particular order.
Let me know what you think!
1) For the cinema aficionados bored of multiplexes:
Picture House Membership
I love Picture House cinemas! I only discovered them a year or so ago, and I am gutted I didn’t do it sooner. My favourite branch is the Central: the cinema is new, but has an essay, alternative feel to it, much different from the surrounding, horrible (in my view) and expensive multiplex chains. Tickets are reasonably priced, movies are both main stream and indie as well as black and white and oldies, and they host plenty of special screenings, from discounted movies for seniors to sign language, baby friendly screenings and even the occasional dog friendly session!
The Central is fabulous, with its ground floor restaurant and bar, mezzanine bar and refreshment stands and the members-only bar on the top floor, with a roof terrace sprawling over Lower Regest Street and Piccadilly. Access to this alone would be worth the membership but then the added perks of discounted tickets, free pair of tickets and members only preview screenings, really make becoming a member worth the money, and of course, giving the membership as a gift!
Price: range from £25 (student) to £85 at the Central, other venues might have different price range.
Picturehouse Membership includes additional ticket discounts, 10% off food and drink plus lots more. You can buy in the cinema or online.
2) For the Punchdrunk’s fan:
Dennis Severs House
I visited this small museum a couple of years ago, and fell in love with it, another thing that I’ve had in close proximity for years but took me ages to discover.
Dennis Severs’ House at 18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields is more than just a time capsule. It is both a breathtaking and an intimate portrait of the lives of a family of Huguenot silk-weavers from 1724 to the dawn of the 20th Century. As you follow their fortunes through the generations, the sights, smells and sounds of the house take you into their lives. It was Dennis Severs’ intention that as you enter his house it is as if you have passed through the surface of a painting, exploring with your senses and imagination a meticulously crafted 18th Century world.
It is located just off Spitalfield’s market, really near Liverpool St station and the City as well as Shoreditch. We visited in the evening, when they do ‘silent’ tours. Indeed, you walk around this period mansion and you really feel the different ‘ages’ through sight, sounds, smells.. it is incredibly fascinating and a little daunting too, but well worth a tour! At Christmas, they have special installations of Christmas decorations, making a visit even more special.
For those who, like me, are fans of Punchdrunk’s work and particularly the Drowned Man or Sleep No More, I feel Dennis Severs house brings back echoes of those dark, mysteryous rooms with hidden clues and distant voices.
The House is both a breathtaking and an intimate portrait of the lives of a family of Huguenot silk-weavers from 1724 to the dawn of the 20th Century.
Price: £15-£17.50 pp depending on type of ticket / time of visit.
Buy tickets on their website
3) For the quirky foodie:
Gingerline is fun. No doubt about it. What it is? Well it’s an immersive dining experience, launched a few years ago as a supperclub hosted at a location kept secret until the last minute but, as the name gives it away (kind of), always located by one of the Overground stations (the ‘ginger’ line).
Starting out as a ‘for the love’ experiment, Gingerline has cartwheeled and cavorted across London, opening the eyes (and minds) of intrepid explorers through our growing collection of immersive dining experiences.
We’ve been to three so far, and they all have been really good fun, particularly the ones under the ‘Chambers of Flavours’ theme. Extremely creative, with actors posing as waiting staff (or vice versa?), singing, music, dancing, and some proper bonkers things, my favourite was Chamber of Flavours 2, which also featured in the Apprentice last year as a reward, and saw me having a ball, literally, in a ball pit, drunk on a cocktail drank via a plastic suckie thingy.
It’s pricey, but would make a great present for the adventurous foodie!
Price: around £50-£70 pp depending on time slot / day of the week.
Tickets go for sale at various times through the year and sell out fast – sign up to their mailing list and watch out for tickets releases.
4) For the gourmet tourist:
Taste Tripper tours
Taste tripper was set up by my friend Jennifer, and it’s a great idea for anyone keen on, well London for start, but also coffee, beer and chocolate and exploring new neighbourhoods as well as new venues and coffee shops.
It is really easy to get a pack: choose an Explorer one to begin your independent tasting adventure, then receive a gorgeous pack in the post and use your phone to collect wonderful things to taste at each place. What you get is a bright yellow envelope with featured location cards, fun facts about London, recipes and a tasting wheel.
A special code unlocks tasters and special deals at each location featured in the pack for you to go on your own tasting adventure, just using your phone. A trip can basically be taken at any time, in one’s own time. Some of the brands Jennifer works with are really good names too from Paul Young chocolates to Kaffeine. She does lead tours and events (usually for charitable causes) too and she’s absolutely lovely as well as extremely knowleadgeble on all things chocolate!
And I am not the only one to recommend it as a present – have a look at my fellow blogger Kavey Eats to see why she thinks it makes a great gift!
Price: £19.50 for one person pack, £35 for two
Buy a Taste Tripper
5) For the party goer:
This is something @bmcboy and I did a few years back, when all our responsibilities were for the dog and we had the energy and the will power to go out drinking until kind of late. We booked ourselves onto the Gin Journey, brainchild of Leon Dalloway, back then a little known London event, now grown into a nation-wide (with Manchester and Liverpool added to the options) thing to do to have some fun and learn more about gin. It was a fun evening, with transport included (which makes sense as you get
dru pardon, tipsy, as the evening progresses and being in a mini van helps…) to read more, here’s my blog post…
Fun it was, and I am sure it still is, so for those keen on a night out, it is the ideal gift.
Price: around £70 depending on location / lenght
6) For the sophisticated one:
Experimental Perfume Club
Me and perfume? Who’d have thought. Indeed, I am not big on wearing perfumes, and in my soap making I only use essential oils as oppose to fragrances. So I was, I admit, a little concerned when I received a voucher for a Apprentice session at the Experimental Perfume Club for Christmas by @bmcboy last year.
He bought it as he thought it would give me more skills towards my soap making, and would be something nice to look forward to, post baby. In fact, it took me nearly a year to finally book myself, but so I did, and actually had a brilliant afternoon!
The Apprentice session is a half-day group masterclass puts people “in the nose” teaching the basics of perfumery. Led by Emmanuelle Moeglin, founder of Experimental Perfume Clu, people access a starter selection of perfumery ingredients before creating their own fragrance. Emmanuelle is a classically trained nose with over 12 years’ experience working in the fragrance industry.
Fragrance is an art form with logic at its heart
I throuroghly enjoyed myself, and came home witha small bottle of my own fragrance, which I love more and more and I keep wearing it for special occasions. My work on the day was inspired by.. my memories at the Drowned Man, yes it’s a fixation of mine!
I now understand more about the perfume world, but mostly, I really had an enjoyable afternoon, a break from the baby routine and learnt something to use in my soap making in the end. Really recommended.
Price: £95 for half day Apprentice workshop pp.
7) For the theatre lover:
Witness for the prosecution
Right, there’s no proper, full on immersive production in London at the moment, and I constantly miss the amazing Drowned Man (really? Have I actually mentioned it already?). Yet there are a few theatre productions worth seeing, and occasionally some are a little bit immersive.. just a little bit, but enough to make them slightly different from your usual sit dwn and watch a play session. One such play at the moment is Agatha Christie’s Witness for Persecution.
Step inside the magnificent surroundings of London County Hall and experience the intensity and drama of Agatha Christie’s gripping story of justice, passion and betrayal in a unique courtroom setting. A man is accused of murdering a widow to inherit her wealth. The stakes are high – will he survive the shocking witness testimony, will he be able to convince the jury, and the audience of his innocence and escape the hangman’s noose?
It is Agatha Christie and it is set in a real courtroom… what’s not to like?
Price: from £10 pp
Buy tickets on the dedicated website
8) For the millenial foodie:
The Vaults Dining (Beauty & the Feast)
Oh I love the Vaults! It’s local to us and we’ve been to loads of their productions… some of them have been exceptional (such as Alice in Underground) and some have involved dining as well as theatre… immersive for sure. Last year we had fun at Dining with the Twits, where the cocktails were created by Pastabites’ favourite duo Bompas & Parr for example.
Their current production with gourmet addition is Beauty & The Feast, a take of course, on the Beauty and the Beast. Go and be prepared for a fun, if a little silly, ride with decent food and some exciting moments of thrill.
Price: from £35 pp
Tickets and info on their website
9) For the fussy husband:
Make your own bacon with Cannon & Cannon
Photo source: Cannon & Cannon
My darling husband @bmcboy is quite fussy eater, and grew up pretty much with bacon and sausages and the occasional apple pie. He keeps lamenting that he can no longer ever find the bacon he used to eat as a kid, the elusive long back bacon of his youth. So I got bored of hearing complaints about bacon and decided to send him on a ‘cure your own bacon’ course with Cannon & Cannon a couple of years ago.
While he’s still not tried again to make it at home, he came back laden with really tasty produce, a lot of bacon of course, and happy to have learnt new skills. He recently told me in fact, that once we move back into our home and our kitchen, he’d go again to freshen up on skills and bring home more bacon. Seriously.
Cannon & Cannon is a retailer and distributor of the very best British cured meat and charcuterie.
Since 2010, they have been at the forefront of the British charcuterie revolution, linking with an ever expanding number of quality artisan producers from England, Scotland and Wales, and selling their amazing produce on their Borough Market stall, online shop and to the restaurant, delicatessen and events trade.
They offer a variety of courses, not just bacon!
Price: £75 pp for the Make your own bacon course
Purchase vouchers on their website.
10): For the environmentally conscious
Soap Making workshop
Those who know me well, know that I make soap and have been since a holiday in Borneo years ago which opened my eyes to the deforestation and palm oil issue. Before setting up ‘shop’, I attended a one day workshop with Martine, founder of Ruby Red Cosmetics. I loved the day with her, loved learning about the bad things about the commercial soap we buy in the shop, how to use natural butters and essential oils as well as botanicals as well as how to make cold process soap.
While she no longer runs these workshops and before I start running them myself in the future (who knows), I would definitely recommend such a course to anyone wishing to make their own hand soap. While it is possible to ‘follow instructions’, cold process involves caustic soda, high temperatures, precision and care, so actually having someone show you the first time, is beneficial. Then it’s just fun, it’s like cooking … creative and satisfying.