I’m dreaming of an austerity Christmas

Ten days until Christmas. This year we are having an austerity Christmas in my house and the Cost Centres have been notified that although Santa will be filling stockings as usual, further gifts have been cancelled. After all, in the previous 12 months the CCs have had holidays galore, generous birthday presents, regular supplies of new clothes and a lot of general maintenance. Is it reasonable to expect even more money to be spent on top of that? I think not. The Cost Centres are now 23, 18 and 14. Time to grow up and realise that Santa has to pay tax at 50p in the pound.

Mr M has informed me that I will be getting a “thoughtful stocking”. So my usual column at this time of the year, written to assist him and hundreds of other husbands who still have no notion what to buy their wives (Come on! Is it really that hard?) has been cancelled.

But in the interests of those men and women who are still looking for ideas, I am going to pass on my two best suggestions – one probably for the woman in your life, and one most likely for the man. And fittingly, when the FT Weekend Magazine is marking the achievements of women, they are both courtesy of the Girlfriends. Regular readers know that my Girlfriends are my link and lifeline to everything, and everyone. Where would I be without them?

The first idea is a present for those who love chocolate, which surely encompasses most rational women. So, no, this is not simply a plug for a friend but a veritable public service, in the shape of a book by my Chocolatier Girlfriend, Chantal Coady. Rococo: Mastering the Art of Chocolate is a collection of glorious easy-to-follow recipes. But the biggest revelation of CG’s book is not how to make the perfect salted truffle, but how it describes so personally her own business story. CG set up Rococo 30 years ago, long before artisan chocolates were as available as they are today. I commend it to every other husband looking to assemble a “thoughtful stocking”.

My second gift suggestion originates with my Medical Girlfriend, who runs her own private general practice in Oxford. But it is not about medicine, although it does prescribe a cure for something, namely the insane amounts of money spent on Formula One. MG has had friends in F1 for two decades and (fittingly for someone who assisted in CC#2’s delivery) was the midwife to the genesis of the appointment of Adam Parr as head of the Williams team in 2006.

If someone in your life likes F1 (which I don’t) or you are secretly hoping to persuade someone to take an interest, then I commend the comic book (OK, graphic memoir, if you prefer the posh name) that Parr has penned after quitting Williams abruptly earlier this year. It is a tell-all (or nearly all) account of his five years in F1. You will have seen that two graphic novels were shortlisted for the 2012 Costa awards and that the new chair of the Man Booker prize welcomes submissions of graphic novels – now here we have the graphic business book.

The Art of War: Five Years in Formula One was published in a limited edition – with a foreword by one Max Mosley – but at the time of going to press copies were still available. I’m surprised, really, for this is a book that makes F1 politicking sound as thrillingly poisonous as the household of a Roman emperor. Given that F1 is up there with yoga on the list of things I can do without, I confess that I was amazed to be gripped to the very last page.

And by now we will know who has bought the ultimate present for the person who has everything, something even better than salted truffles – lunch with me. Every year at this time the Financial Times auctions off lunch with its columnists (and others) in aid of its seasonal appeal. So that is one person sorted, and the rest of us will still be shopping. After all, there are only 10 days left till Christmas.


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