The Cheltonian > Articles

Christmas Gift Guide

A. Burchard has rooted out ideas and gifts and made some very personal choices to save our readers the foot work. crack

THEY ARE Everywhere
Christmas SHOPPING Guides
OF Magazines
WE GO OFF THE Beaten Track
TO FIND Original
Gifts AND Treats
FROM THE Luxurious
TO THE WHOLLY Affordable

One year, when we were totally fed up with the Christmas hysteria in the shops we decided to have a ‘utility Christmas’ – the kind that people had during the war. The brief was to fill each other’s stocking (made from red crêpe paper fastened by a pieces of garden string) with long forgotten items lying at the back of over-filled drawers around the house. No money could be spent. The stockings were then topped up with the odd apple or orange and a few nuts. It made for the most hilarious Christmas morning ever. In my stocking I found a half-knitted scarf, started some years ago, boot laces, my mother’s recipe for truffles,an old battered dolls head, some scratched Dinky cars, a plastic toy from a cereal box long emptied and wrapped in tissue paper the remains of a bar of soap worn to a slither (soap was hard to come by during the war).

Well, I can’t expect people to follow our example, so here is a guide with a difference. Rather than feature all the predictable items from the obvious shops I have hunted down the hidden treasures in Cheltenham. I would like to state however that these are my personal choice and do not represent the views or tastes of the editors.

There are of course a million and one things one can give to one’s loved ones for Christmas, but what? These days we have so much stuff that our wardrobes won’t close and our homes are filled with all kinds of gadgets, all of them requiring miles of cables which must surely be the ugliest by-product of modern living. Even in the kitchen we hoard thousands of utensilss which often lie unused. After a hard day’s work one often has barely the energy to open the door of the microwave and press the start button before collapsing on the sofa.

The dream of the perfect home at Christmas is still alive and well - we all want that homely kitchen with the herbs dangling from a rail above, the gleaming pots and pans, just like in the shop windows of all the kitchenalia shops around Cheltenham. But it’s a no-brainer to ask anyone to choose between cooking and buying a fabulous pair of shoes or a handbag (can there be anyone left in Cheltenham who needs one more handbag?) Our town is filled with the most wonderful shops, from shoes to accessories, to the latest fashion, from the wholly affordable to the top class designer items. You can buy watches for £2.99 and just ten yards down the street you can find a fine watch for £20.000 or more. In town I see more Bentleys and other expensive cars driving by than I ever saw in London or Paris. Although we are living through hard times in many ways at the moment there is still plenty to see that one can either aspire to or simply dream about. That is what gives Cheltenham its unique quality of life and what sets it apart. So, what can one possibly give as a present to people who already seem to have everything? In my search for the original I decided to forgo the obvious chain stores. After all, they sell the same stuff here as they do in Manchester, London or Brighton. So I visited the small shops, many of which are run by individuals, either by a husband and wife team or by someone who has a particular talent and passion for something very special.

The Stuff Of Dreams

My travels around the shops began on the Promenade. I thought I might as well start at the top and dream the dream. For watches and jewellery it doesn’t get any better than Beards.

When timepieces first appeared they had to be fastened to clothing or hang on a chain around the neck. In many ways they were similar to mantel clocks – a watch had to be wound up twice a day and chimed, no doubt to announce the affluence of its owner to the world around him. Needless to say, it took an enormous amount of time to make such a piece. Even when the 18th century scientists, who thirsted for enlightenment, did improve watches and sped up production, it was still a luxury item. Things have changed a great deal since. When Quartz watches became possible everything became much simpler and of course cheaper; today it is possible to buy a watch for the price of a hamburger. But the attraction of a beautiful watch has not waned; in fact today certain watches have the status of top class jewellery.

The Jaeger-LeCoultre watch featured here consists of over 1,300 parts and took five years to develop. And one can see the astonishing workings through a glass on the back. It is said to be one of the most advanced and complex movements of Grande Complication ever created for a wrist watch.

Beards of Cheltenham has a state of the art workshop in which Hannah Hughes, jewellery designer and Mark Carter, watchmaker can work using the latest technology to produce and adapt pieces to customers specifications.

Beards jewellery designers work with diamonds sourced from London, Antwerp and New York.

If a piece of valuable jewellery has been left to you you can have it adapted or changed to your taste or have a new setting designed for you. In this way brooches can become pendants or rings to be more suitable for todays wear. Beards in-house designers will be only too happy to advise on what is possible.

Of course, all this comes at a price and it comes as no surprise that Beards rubs shoulders with those who can often be found at a royal polo match or on the deck of a Monte Carlo yacht. But before you break down in tears, they do have some beautiful items for which you will not have to sell your house.

During George III’s reign, a clockmaker named Samuel Martin opened a business on The Strand in Cheltenham.

Since then Martin & Co have become an instituation in Cheltenham and the store has a loyal family following. Gifts abound in their store with something for everyone, from top quality to the more affordable items. Martin & Co are also world famous for their association with the Gold Cup . They are responsible for its manufacture every year.

In an age where we all have to write on a keyboard exquisite pens from Mont Blanc and Cross are still much in vogue. And not all men like to hang out in sweatshirts - with a well cut shirt a pair of quality cufflinks are a must.

There are also porcelain pieces, bronzes, crystal vases, silver and luxurious leather goods. In fact, it would be easy to find the perfect gift for everyone.

Bicks of Montpellier were established in 1896 and today specialise in classical, contemporary and antique jewellery along with antique silver pieces. They offer an in-house jewellery design service and customers can design and realise their own special creations. All bespoke pieces, remodeling work or repairs are carried out on the premises by a highly qualified goldsmith.

Greens of Cheltenham are well-known for their antique and their contempory unique pieces. They have fine pieces by Cartier, Boucheron, Tiffany and Van Clef and Arpels, among many others.

The Must-Have Accessories

If you’ve had to impose your very own financial sanctions this year due to the recession you needn’t go without. Both Caroline Charles as well as Beatrice von Tresckow have their signature accessories. Beatrice has a new line of elegant shoes in coloured silks with fine beading. Silk scarves in all shades and styles will make something of even the plainest dress or suit. Wear big scarves and shawls with panache and style and no one will see what you are wearing under them.

Love It and Love It 2 on the first floor of the Beechwood Shopping Centre have some beautiful accessories, like bejewelled scarves and both big and bold and dainty, elegant necklaces galore. Handbags are here too in force, some stylish classic styles, as well as a fun fur bag which makes a nice change from cold leather.

At RD on the lower level of The Courtyard, Montpellier, I found a stunning clutch bag by Azurée in shocking pink with a motif of peacocks feathers. There are also matching shoes to go with it.

Another stunning item was the coloured necklace inspired by the jewellery in the times of the Egyptian pharaohs.

Style galore
This year dark grey is the new black. I’ve just returned from Vienna were the fashion shops show all the latest designs straight from Milan just a hop and a skip away. But Cheltenham is on the ball and you will find the latest styles here, luckily not at Milan and Viennese prices. It is no wonder that the town attracts so many women who aim very high in their pursuit of the latest trends.

Although all shades of dark grey have been dictated by Milan and Paris the door has been left open to accessorise with colour.

Lace, embroidery and bead work can be seen everywhere, from Caroline Charles’ creations to Beatrice von Tresckow’s brilliant colours.

This season Caroline Charles presented a fabulous winter collection with lots of gold beading. Many of her models on the catwalk looked resplendent in Cleopatra inspired creations. One of Charles’ thigh-length black top beaded jackets with lotus leaf motifs (next page) stole the show for me.

The same applies to the embroidered jackets and coats by Beatrice von Tresckow across the street. Here the embroidery is done after the garment has been made up, so that the motifs on both sides match perfectly.

Beatrice is a perfectionist with a long-standing team of embroiderers. They know that only the best quality work is good enough. Caroline Charles, who this season was inspired by ancient Egyptian royalty, is also an expert designer when it comes to beading and embroiderey. She has a long established reputation for her collections which feature her signature bead work, this season with gold on black for extra

prestigious Womenswear Retailer of The Year 2010 at the Drapers Awards. They had been designers for Mulberry, Boden, Conran and Nokia. In 2002 they launched Foundation and decided to stock a hand-picked selection of clothes, but also accessories and home wear by young designers. At Foundation there is no conflict between style and wearability.

Love It on the first floor of the Beechwood Shopping Centre opened Love It 2 recently and both shops carry a great range of fashion in the latest styles. Husband and wife team Darren and Catherine Britton-Beal have a great eye for the latest trends. The two shops work closely together. They say you needn’t spend hundreds of pounds to get style and quality. Here too of course, the dark greys dominate this year, but with their excellent accessories you can personalise your look.

Feva is perhaps the odd one out for me. If you need that wild splash of colour to get you through the winter then this is for you. Their styles have something of the rebel about them. With their colourful designs they appeal to a fun and arty market with bold Italian and eye-catching French designs which transport you straight to a hot night in St. Tropez.

As French women will tell you, the clothes you wear on the top are only half the story of feeling attractive. Beautiful underwear is not a luxury for them, it is necessity. Your body posture improves when you’re wearing deliciously beautiful lingerie. Joyce Brooks Lingerie in Cheltenham’s West End makes a change from the racks full of underwear hanging sadly in the department store. At Joyce Brooks you can find all the great makes. Decades ago Playtex and Triumph dominated the market. They guaranteed a flat stomach and the perfect silhouette in those long pencil skirt. No woman would have been seen with a bulging stomach in a tight skirt; they would definitely not let it all hang out from under a cropped top.

Of course, French women are rather lighter and daintier than their British sisters so there’s all the more reason to follow their example. In this country the statistics prove that most women own anything up to twenty bras, bought in department stores without having tried them on. When they get home they find that the new bras pinch, don’t fit properly or get scratchy after a couple of washes. At Joyce Brooks there are many brands to choose from including Lejaby and Fantasie, one of my favourites, pictured on our pages.

Veritie Louise in The Courtyard, Montpellier specialise in the most beautiful lingerie and swimwear. Their priority is a perfect fit and styling. Again, there is absolute expertise when you are measured up and fitted and you can say good bye to all those brand-new, unworn bras in that drawer.

The same goes for perfumes. There are lots of scents on the market, many endorsed or going under the names of current celebrities. But just like these celebrities, their scents are here one minute and have evaporated the next. A cheap perfume is always a mistake, so save up and buy yourself a Chanel Number 5, a bottle of YSL or Dior. They come in many price ranges, but a Chanel eau de toilette is absolutely affordable and can do wonders for your self-esteem. You’re definitely worth it. The Perfume Shop in the Regent Arcade has an enormous choice.

For the little ones there are loads of fun clothes at Ziggy’s on the first floor of the Beechwood Shopping Centre. They can dress up or simply choose a colourful top or tights. If your daughter is into dancing, whether it is ‘street’ or tap, the shoes are the most important things for the well-being of their feet. The Dance Locker in Great Norwood Street have all you need and you’ll be sure that the fit for those small feet is perfect.

The image of men has changed a great deal in the last few decades. Gone are the rugged faces men used to have, largely due to life or work in the great outdoors. It is getting to be quite rare to see a man with a face like Clint Eastwood or Sean Connery when they were in their prime. Ewan MacGregor came close to it when he’d been half-way around the world on a motorbike and lost qite a few pounds. Men’s faces and skin now look a great deal more fragile. This is largely due to the fact that the majority spend their working lives in offices, not up on the face of the Eiger mountain, though judging by the books they buy, many dream of such exploits.

Despite the fact that brilliant products for men’s skin care have been around for a while many women still struggle to persuade their partners to put on a dollop of face cream without feeling like a wimp. In Italy and France urban males have long looked after their skin, possibly to protect themselves from the sun. There are many products which make a man feel, well, like a man and still give his skin a glow, but some men still need an expert.

In Cheltenham men are more spoilt than in other town this size. Along with the designer clothes on sale everywhere, male grooming salons such as McCaffreys on Montpellier Avenue have sprung up. This is a haven for men of all ages. The salon is in a Grade 2 listed building and everything has been done to make clients at home – they can watch sport on TV, use the Wi Fi, down a free coffee or beer and relax on the leather furniture. Everything to turn you into a Jude Law look-alike can be had here. The McCaffrey Christmas Gift Card is now out, so ladies, take advantage of this and turn your man into a star!

At Tobacco World upstairs in the Regent Arcade. I was very taken by some beautiful and luxurious shaving items. Even the little razors with their elegant handles in black or brown are wonderful to hold in one’s hand and the shaving brushes caress rather than brush. I picked out a hardwood and a chrome shaving dish which, when closed are perfect ornaments Everything here oozed quality.

If the man in your life enjoys the occasional good cigar, there are beautifully crafted humidors. The boxes are made with coloured woods and will make sure that his cigars will not dry out and turn into dust.

For scents there is no better place than the Perfume Shop on the ground floor of the Regent Arcade. I especially love the fabulous Cartier bottles.

Strictly Come Dancing is all the rage and has captured the hearts and minds not only of the ladies, but also of some men. I went to The Dance Locker to see what kind of shoes a man needed to do the tango. There are many but I could imagine a real lounge lizard in this the snazzy two-tone number, steering a smitten lady around the dance floor. Irresistible. Let’s face it, ladies, we all secretly dream of that. Why else do English women love a Latin lover so when they travel?

House Warming Luxuries

We’ve had a long stretch of the Sarah Beany sleek and super-cool, if not cold interiors. But these showroom looks depend on a top quality stone and exorbitantly expensive woods, most of which come from the Far East or South America and are the product of rampant deforestation which is changing our climate and destroying the habitat and the survival of the Orang-Utan.

Hard-wood ultra chic floorboards look very nice but when one has three kids running around with friends to boot the noise is absolutely deafening. Now it is time to once again look to making the home a warmer and kinder place to the touch than cold granite. This is where the advantages of hand-crafted traditional rugs and tapestries come in. Hang or spread some of these timeless treasures around your home and you’ll find that they are as good as any artwork and to boot they absorb a good deal of noise. Who wants another piece of carpet or wall paper hung in a frame in TV make-over style when you can have the real thing?

My first stop was Catherine Shinn’s shop in Well Walk. It’s the sort of small independent shop that one promises oneself as a treat, and a treat it is. It is filled with wondrous things, from hand-made blown glass decorations from Germany and Eastern European countries which had an age-old tradition of glass blowing. These are the same ornaments one finds in the sublime Christmas markets in Munich and Vienna each year. The advantage of these is that families treasure them and keep them safely stored after the Christmas season. Each year they add a few pieces so that a wonderful family collection full of memoires is built up. For this season there are angels galore, and gilded reindeer. The cushions too are rich embroidered affairs – one or two of them will enoble even the most shabby-chic sofa or armchair.

Catherine’s tapestries are simply divine. Some are on a medieval theme, others Flemish. There are rolls and rolls of them and it would have been impossible for me to look at them all. There is also an enormous choice of tapestry curtain sashes. In fact, just out of this shop one could make a home and live in total French, Venetian or Dutch 17th century-style splendour. When I came out of this shop I felt I’d taken a trip deep into Renaissance Italy. Absolutely fabulous!

In the same vein, I visited the Upholsterer Malcom Waldock in Henrietta Street. Here you can give new life to tired chairs, sofas or even to just a tiny foot stool. The place is overflowing with colour and samples of fabrics to die for. I’m sure you could order a pair of fabulous cushions to give your seating a face lift. The choice is huge and you’ll get expert advice.

The front of house so to speak is the domain of Nina Waldock who once worked for a well-known design store. She has a passion for Tiffany and Gallé style lamps. She has a a beautiful collection of hand made, acid etched glass lamps. Her other passion is for rugs, rugs and more rugs. Hand-knotted, from old Persian designs to current ones, Afghan and Indian, Kilim and abstract as well as figurative designs are all rolled up in the tiny front of the shop. Unmissable.

The Game Is On

‘Silverlit/Picoo Helicopters,’ Mr Morgan at Cheltenham Model Centre said when I asked what the thing was this year. They start from around £10 for the hand sized minis. They go up in size all the way to £100 or so for the bigger ones.Apparently the small ones have to be flown indoors, because they are so light. ‘You can fly the bigger ones out of doors on a totally windless day,’ Mr Morgan told me. They look spectacular, especially the one which looks like giant grasshoppers. Of course, trains and model cars are still the main stay of the model market, but with the new technologies now the modern items will one day become the classics just like the trains. Here you can aslo find books about model making which are not sold in the big bookshops in Cheltenham.

On the XBOX front there are new exciting developments too. The Game shop on the High Street tells me that this Christmas there’s only one thing - Kinect for XBOX 360 is the magic word. You may have seen them advertised on TV already. But there are other games on offer too, such as Playstation Move. I love Kinectimals.

On the front of the box there is a picture of a baby tiger and I think this will definitely appeal to animal loving kids, girls or boys. The baby tiger will come when you call, it’ll follow instructions and you can even stroke it, if only virtually. If this is hard to understand there is information on the net about this game.

Don’t miss Touch of Christmas. They are in the Regent Arcade just for Christmas and I found these lovely bears with a message for someone special in your life.

Still in the Regent Arcade the busy Hawkins’ Bazaar have thousands of items to amuse old and young. One of my favourite is an very clever one, The Incredible Expanding Rabbit. A rabbit sits on a disk with a spiral design and by spinning it an optical illusion is created making the rabbit look like it is getting larger.

Since the wild-life programme Meerkat Manor these little animals, who have a draconian,often cruel social life-style have become all the rage. Despite their mean habits they are totally appealing and funny.

At Hawkins Bazaar you can find a pair of racing wind-up meerkats which scurry around like demented. On the subject of meerkats, the well-known star of the TV ad, Aleksandr Orlov, will be on sale in Harrods in December, though not yet in here, as a talking toy. He will cost £19.95, and will say the popular “simples” catchphrase and make his famous squeaking noise.

The lovely Pied Piper toy shop in Montpellier have fantastic soft toy meerkats. Sadly it seems that this shop will close in favour of yet one more café. So hurry now to this wonderful shop before it’s too late.

Food, Glorious Festive Foods

Traditionally, Christmas has been a time for eating lots of the same sort of food our grandmothers cooked. But things have changed. When I first planted garlic in my garden in a remote part of Lincolnshire the entire village came to peer at it. The 85-year old local farmer had lived all his life on boiled cabbage and bacon twice a day, plus a digestive biscuit with half a glass of whiskey for tea. At Christmas he ate turkey and overcooked vegetables before resuming his daily routine of cabbage. This was not before the war but about 20 years ago. Through travel palates have become sophisticated; I’m sure his son and grand children tuck into pizza or spicy Thai foods - perhaps they are not as healthy and as lean as the old man was. This year it seems that turkey no longer rules the roost. Duck and goose have flown over the fence and are vying for the affections of the hot British ovens. There are hundreds of books and magazine articles telling you how to perfectly roast the contenders for you festive table.

In Cheltenham we are now spoilt for choice of the fineries that come from France and Italy which will refine even the plainest roast. What is important is that the turkey, duck, goose or chicken is of good quality to start with. I find that the organic ones have much more and better meat than those which simply proclaim ‘fresh British’, so it is worth ‘investing’ in your meat as it’s that main ingredient.

When it comes to the vegetables we have something to be grateful for – Woody’s, the greengrocer from the Thursday market in the lower High Street, has taken the bold decision to return a very good vegetable shop to our town. We should all give him a Christmas present, just for that. The previous green grocer turned into a sweet shop to add one more problem to the already endangered health of children. Woody’s bundled young carrots and soil-covered potatoes are especially good and you will need to make just one stop here to get everything you need, from the traditional to the more exotic vegetables (try Jamie Oliver’s perfect way of roasting potatoes).

You can also help yourself to the fruit and nuts to make pudding and deserts and avoid the mouldy packed produce in some supermarkets. I hope that you’ll all get out there and support this local shop instead of chucking packed fruit and veg into your trolleys.

Chaplais in Tivoli not only do great hampers filled with everything you choose for yourself. They also stock all the little extras for the perfect meal. Cheeses, terrines of venison, crab, boar and pheasant will add that sophistication to your meal. Perhaps you’ll even be tempted to indulge in some caviar or foie gras. It is tradition in my family to have a good fish soup on Christmas eve and Chaplais have a great range of fish soups of differing recipes. Maurice Chaplais is a master baker. He produces his own breads in his own bakery, The Flour Bag in Gloucestershire. Try his sourdough breads which you can definitely not make in a bread machine. Maurice trains people all over the world and teaches at the state of the art Foodworks Cookery School in Colesbourne Park near Cheltenham. Despite all that you can still find him in his Tivoli shop sporting a flour dusted apron. And if you’re stuck for a witty present and your budget has run out you can find a DIY-marmelade making set in a beautiful tin at Chaplais which I think makes a great present. Instructions are on the tin.

Good quality cheeses should be on the menu before pudding. CheeseWorks on Regent Street have very fine cheeses for every taste. They also sell wines, a good range of hand-made breads, fine chocolates and all sorts of delicacies for foodies’. Everything they sell is beautifully presented. They also produce beautiful hampers to order some of which can be seen on the internet.

For wines there is no better place than John Gordons in Montpellier. The man himself knows everything about wine and whiskey and you’re bound to get excellent advice, whether you’re buying Bourbon, malt whisky or wines. His vast knowledge was aquired when he ran a company supplying hotels and restaurants. Over a coffee or a glass of wine you can sit and have a look around the shelves filled with bottles end to end before you take the plunge to buy.

Hotel Chocolat on the Promenade is a paradise for real chocolate and truffle lovers. A visit to this shop constitutes an outing for me – it’s almost like a chocolate exhibition, rather like the chocolatiers in Paris or Rome. Once you have acquired a taste for quality chocolate you will find it impossible to tuck into a supermarket bar. Everything from themed chocolates to teacher’s gifts is here, even gluten free chocolate favourites. There are far too many wondrous items to list here, so put on your coat and visit the shop before they sell out.

If, when it’s all over you don’t know what to do with the left-over meat and vegetables, get a little inspirations from the India Cookbook.

Stocking Fillers

I spend a good few hours each week in the bookshop on the Promenade and one thing I have noticed is that it is the men who run around the shops at five minutes to six, just before closing time on Christmas Eve, crying, ‘I need to find a present!’ Men, as Kirstie Allsop says, don’t have the urge to prepare for Christmas as much as women do. Whether they don’t feel the sense of responsibility towards their loved ones or whether they underestimate the importance of finding just the right thing for the right person, I couldn’t say, but I suspect it is similar to the fact that men don’t seem to notice dirt in the house. So, to close our Christmas guide here are a few things which won’t be too much trouble for all those who do everything at the last minute.

There are books of all shapes and sizes and in all price ranges, for grown-up and kids alike. For the kids a good quality read would be Roald Dahl Collection. The stories are well written and are not just for the younger age group. Cheltenham by Stephen Morris makes a great gift. This is a large and absolutely superbe book which is now in the shops in numbers. Stephen Morris is from Liverpool but, as is often the case, it takes someone from outside to show us what is here.

The Cotswold Collection is equally beautiful. It shows just what surrounds us. The winter is a wonderful time to walk the country and this book will inspire anyone who receives it.

Many young men dream of adventure and extreme sports so Explorers, with a foreword by Ranulph Fiennes and an introduction by Michael Palin, is just the ticket. It tells of the adventures and endurance feats of some of the bravest men, many of whom perished during their expeditions, such as Cheltenham’s own Edward Wilson. His story is told in the book Cheltenham in Antarctica. Still on the travel theme, but in more comfort, there are some lovely cloth bound books on the major world cities in the Select series. They are beautiful enough to keep for ever.

If it is the coffee table books you’re after than you can do no better than Decade, a fat volume about the first decade of the 21st century. Never has recent history been so well documented. One can assume that the plan of the publishers is to produce one such volume for each coming decade. But for a real door stopper and to impress a must-have is a Taschen book about Michelangelo. The pictures are so large, one almost feels as if one is actually standing in front of the original works by the Italian genius.

One particular favourite, for those who seem to have everything, there are the vouchers and gift cards. But they needn’t just be the boring book tokens. If you really care about someone give them a membership to a health and fitness club, such as Fitness First in Cheltenham’s Brewery complex. They have issued a Gift Fitness for Xmas card and a daytime membership for only £30.95 pcm. This is ideal for some older people who have time to maintain their fitness and thereby their health when others are slaving at their desks. My mum is definitely getting one of these memberships. There is a good pool which is always warm, water exercise classes etc. (more in the January issue). For anyone who is happy to drive out to the lovely Bowden Hall in Upton Saint Leonards there is a beautiful pool. When I spoke to Colin Badcock, the manager of the fitness centre there he made an offer no one could refuse. In the New Year he proposes a membership for the older generation of around £150 pounds (that’s under £3.00 a week). Details of this will have to be confirmed soon.

Another type of gift vouchers is bound to be appreciated. Theatre tickets have gone up everywhere, so a Theatre Token would be just …well, the ticket. You can find them online under

Happy Christmas to all our readers.