Secret Santa Fail

Secret Santa – the scourge of the office Christmas.

I’m no Scrooge and actually, I rather enjoy the challenge of buying a random gift for a random colleague, but generally I don’t seem to come out of these things well. I’m passing no judgement on the present I received today, and this is not necessarily a view I share, but C rated it as the ‘lamest Secret Santa’. Cheers. Even the giving element wasn’t particularly thrilling for me, as the name I picked was the one colleague in my team that I’d never met and worked out of the building. The only respectable thing to do in such a situation is to buy nice chocolates, which is what I did.

Annoyingly, I missed a really good trick this year. My first pick out of the festive bucket was my own name, so I put it back and chose another. When I told C this, he pointed out that I’d have been much better off if I’d simply kept my own name and bought myself something I actually wanted. (Though trying to explain to the team how my Secret Santa had miraculously chosen the exact volume of Orwell essays I wanted might have been tricky…)

This is probably a little late for most people (someone I was chatting to this evening needed his gift by tomorrow, so was off to Lidl first thing to acquire it – I pity the person at an anonymous office in Oxford who receives that one), but here’s a few suggestions of gifts for a fiver:

Penguin Great Ideas series These are £4.99 each and consist of a whole range of classic and not so classic texts. I discovered them via Nose in a Book and her rave review of Orwell’s Books V Cigarettes – possibly the first time I’ve ever read a review and literally gone straight out (within the hour) and bought it. The latest series has another Orwell collection and I’m all about collecting Orwell at the moment.

Boots 3 for 2 gifts. There are tons of these – perfect for anyone – and the bonus is that you get a freebie. This year I’m particularly loving a mug covered in useful information (formulae, random facts etc), so you can learn while you sip.

Miniature toiletries. I’m a sucker for these – in fact, I have a whole drawer in my bathroom devoted to them, mostly items purloined from hotels. Personally, I like a stock of Sanctuary products that can be kept in my gym bag. Always nice to have pleasant smelling shower gel after a workout.

A nice, reusable shopping bag. Who doesn’t like to have multiple bags? Many of these are £5 or less. Current favourites include this red Foyles number – at £2.50 you could buy 2 – or one jute Foyles bag. Continuing the bookshop theme, Daunt’s bags are also highly attractive and useful (if you buy a super expensive book there, you get their smaller one free – fabulous).

Failing those ideas, chocolate will always work (unless you have my friend Jo, who’s allergic to cocoa – travesty), especially those Green & Blacks selection boxes. Oh, it’ll work unless the person you’re giving it to has been on a diet for 9 months and obviously lost a lot of weight – I wasn’t overly impressed last year to receive 2 bars of (quite nice) chocolate and a chocolate recipe calendar, given as I was deliberately avoiding the stuff! And scented candles – who doesn’t appreciate a good scented candle?

I do hope, if you work in an office environment and are not the sole employee of your organisation, that you get a wonderful Secret Santa gift this year. (If you do work on your own, why not just buy yourself a treat?) Next year, why not up the ante and make it really challenging? My favourite experience of the tradition was with a group of friends where we set the amount at £7.77 and insisted that the precise amount had to be spent. Quite, quite amusing.

Oh, and if you happen to get my name next year – follow the above instructions and you’ll do exceedingly well. Thank-you in advance.

Oh Christmas twigs, oh Christmas twigs…

Remember my foraging adventure? Well, I am now able to explain its purpose in full, technicolour glory…

I have a big mouth and a tendency towards sarcasm – the combination of these two things often lands me in trouble, especially at work. Add to the mix a propensity for sporadic creative ideas and it results in my occasionally finding myself in odd situations.

A classic recent example would be a conversation I had with our administrator about our cluster’s Christmas Tree. For the last two years we’ve had a real one, which though nice and smelly, I’ve seen as just a little pointless – especially as someone who finishes work as early as possible before the festivities owing to travelling obligations. I shared this thought and then (flippantly) remarked that “a bucket full of twigs would be just as good  to hang decorations on”. Fast forward to our next cluster meeting and under agenda item ‘Christmas Tree’, the administrator said that she wasn’t bothered about a real tree, but really liked the sound of the twigs. The cluster then decided that I should be given the task of creating such an installation and that I should spend Thursday lunchtime foraging for suitable bits of tree.

To be fair, this idea has been in the back of my mind for some years – I just don’t live near enough a decent source of twigs to make it possible at home. But I do have a track record of coming up with ridiculous creative ideas in the middle of meetings, that then land me with a whole heap of unexpected work. Like the time I suggested a ‘mugshots’ photography project in order to identify which colleague owned which mug and how they liked their beverages served – I never actually completed it and it still gets brought up from time to time (much to my annoyance).

Thus, I found myself facing the prospect of foraging under a foot of snow for twigs on one of the coldest days of the year. (C was also meant to be helping with the project, but he declined to join me, citing the bad weather as his excuse – hmph.) After initial sceptism that I’d find enough of the right type of twig, I ended up with a huge armful, including some that could be better termed as branches – and over 4 feet long. This is me, half-way through my collection, but gives you an idea of what I looked like crossing one of London’s busiest roads on my way back to the office:

This is what I ended up with:

That’s practically half a tree! Thankfully, the colleagues were impressed.

Left to dry overnight, Friday’s lunch time project was to assemble the other necessary ingredients – silver spray paint, oasis (in which to arrange the branches within the bucket) and silver paper to decorate the bucket – and then get on with the creative process.

Step 1 was to spray the twigs. It would have worked if I’d left them au naturel, but who doesn’t want a bit of extra Christmas sparkle? One can of paint was just about enough – possibly would have been fine if I’d been less over-enthusiastic with the first few.

That second photo’s from after the newspaper was cleared away.
 I possibly could’ve done with more newspaper – oops. Still, nice for the back stairs to shine…

Step 2 was to prepare the bucket – firstly covering it in silver wrapping paper (to disguise the fact that it was a generic under the desk bin) and then making it ready for the sticks. It needed weight to stabilise it (I found a couple of old Minutes that finally came in handy), some plastic bags for added height, a plate for the oasis to rest on and finally the insertion of the oasis. 

Finally, it was time to arrange the twigs and then to decorate it. Somehow I ended up without photos of the pre-decoration phase, but you get the idea…

Who says you need an expensive tree to make things feel Christmassy? 

Assorted photographic randomness

One of the things I thought I wouldn’t get overly excited by amongst the whole ‘I’ve got an iPhone’ thing was the camera. I’ve carried my own camera (infinitely better than the iPhone’s) with me pretty much 24/7 for over a year and prefer good quality photos to shabby ones.

However, the temptation to take random photos and have them instantly uploaded to Twitter can be rather overwhelming, and thus, a week on from the iPhone’s arrival my camera roll includes a random collection of shots. There was a purpose to all of them, but not all have made it on to Twitter/Facebook, so I thought I’d share…

1. The office reception gets over-run with bean bags:

That’s a lot of bean bags (there were more behind me too). They were on their way to a youth conference, but sat there for more than a day looking ever so tempting. Is it just me, or would others be tempted to launch themselves upon them?

2. A Perfectly Posh Gingerbread House (& what was needed to make it):

I liked the look of Perfectly Posh in Bristol’s Clifton Village, but sadly it had just shut when we got there. I’m posh and I’m perfect, so I’m sure I’d have fitted in straight away… 
3. A sign outside an aquarium on Great Portland Street:
I know, very immature! But honestly, if they’re going to have that sign right on the pavement for all to see, it’s just asking for people to take photos. Actually, this wasn’t a surprise – I’d heard mention of it on Radio 1 (it’s just across the road from their studios) and vowed I’d look out for it. Despite frequent walks in that direction (is it wrong that I sometimes deliberately route journeys past Radio 1 in the hope of celeb spotting?) I’d never found the aquarium – until today. It vastly improved an otherwise uninteresting lunch hour. 
The thought process behind photographic tweets is rather random. That’s certainly the only explanation for how a photo of forlorn cherry tomatoes at the end of an M&S pesto salad ended up there. (Despite this year’s successful eating of this fruit, I still generally avoid them.) Apologies. 

All publicity is good publicity?

Last week a colleague returned from a visit to South India. When I popped into her office to say hello and catch up, I was rather surprised to discover this laid across the nearby seating area:

That’s a reasonably sized banner advertising my colleague’s presence at a mission festival – it’s about 2m wide and maybe a metre tall. Underneath is another banner, far too big to take a decent photo of – big enough to stretch across a road or the front of a building.

I tell you, the Diocese of Nandyal takes its publicity very seriously. Perhaps British churches should consider this method? Who wouldn’t want a bigger than life size photo of their vicar towering above the church or village hall? Surely it’s the best way to show enormous respect (and great excitement) for a visiting church dignatory?

My personal claim to fame in this instance is that in a previous existence, I cropped the photo used on the banner (granted, that’s a very tenuous link). However, the purple hibiscus flowers were added by the banner maker, I think it’s a nice touch.

Is all publicity good publicity? I personally feel that if my face never makes it onto a vinyl banner I will have failed in some respect…

An ode to…

…my slippers:

Brand spanking new on Christmas Day

Is it wrong that in the last few days I’ve worn these beauties to a church service and while chairing an AGM? Perhaps wrong is an incorrect term – is it odd that I was wearing them? Quite possibly. 
Slippers are beautiful things. These particular ones are almost certainly the best ones I’ve ever owned – no exaggerating. Not only are they stripy and colourful, but their boot-ness makes them uber cosy – think ‘normal’ slippers plus leg warmers. Lush. 
I’m unbelievably thankful that I found room for them in my rather full bag this past weekend (I was generously transporting a handbag for one friend and boots for my sister, so I wasn’t sure they’d fit) – it made living in a church so much more bearable. In fact, on our first evening several of us in our 20’s had a conversation on the topic. One friend had been reminded to bring her slippers having read my tweet on my packing dilemma…our conversation went a bit like this:
“I brought my slippers.”
“Me too!”
“I brought my dressing gown…”
I feel like pointing out that the guy with the dressing gown is actually 6 years younger than the two of us who had our slippers with us. [Incidentally, if you’re going to wear your dressing gown to breakfast with a load of random young people, it might be worth wearing PJ bottoms with them, rather than just boxers. You’ll be slightly forgiven if your legs are great, but it’s still just a tad inappropriate!] 
No, I didn’t intend to wear them to the service yesterday morning (I got caught up with a pastoral issue & didn’t get chance to change, which also meant walking up the centre aisle of the church as the service began – the precise point I realised I was still in them). However, I think they added a certain je ne sais quoi to my chairing of a potentially tense AGM – though perhaps detracted from my ‘please take me seriously, this is very important’ demeanour. Luckily, I did remember to remove them (and put on actual shoes) for the concert at which I was giving a notice designed to prompt people to donate money – I suspect this would’ve had less of an impact if I’d had stripy, cushioned footwear on. 
This all makes me realise that I am perhaps wrong for mocking colleagues who sit in important governance meetings wearing slippers. In actual fact they’ve got the right idea. If your feet are toasty and blissfully comfortable, then you’re not distracted and can concentrate on the matters in hand. Thus, I’m now (semi) seriously considering taking them into work – would that be inappropriate? Anyone else care to join me? 
[As a total aside, but still on the subject of work and slippers, my mother works from home most of the time but makes a point of changing into ‘proper’ shoes when working to distinguish from simply being at home…]