I know, it sounds like it requires a topical punchline doesn’t it. But seriously, in a world where we’re rapidly discovering our every move will kill a penguin, what the hell are we supposed to ask for?
I’ll start by saying - as I have many times before - that it’s ok to want things. If you and your family ‘don’t do presents’, that’s fine. But I do do presents and that’s ok too. More than ok, I feel passionately that any gesture of happiness - no matter how big or small - is more important than ever in this often overwhelmingly bleak age of discovery. So I give presents and I ask for them too (from some people, not all!). And so back we go to the question: what on earth should I ask for?
I turned 36 recently and - as is customary in my family - that meant I was in line for some presents. Brilliant. I bloody love presents. I love giving them and I love receiving them. I love that someone has taken time to think of me. I love the thrill of unwrapping a gift. I love the thank you hug or kiss that follows and I love keeping my newly begotten treasures about me in the days that follow. It doesn’t have to be much, it could be as grand as new clothing or as diminutive as a charity shop book or tie that someone saw and thought of me. But since late last year my brain has kicked into overdrive where sourcing and packaging are concerned. The sad fact about this realisation that we have to do more if we want to save the planet is that it’s a one-way ticket. You cannot acknowledge that your discarded plastic bag may suffocate a dolphin and then then pretend you didn’t know, continuing to take bag after bag at every supermarket visit. So when I was asked this year “What would you like for your birthday?”, the question troubled me.
A quick side note - you cannot save the world with one birthday’s worth of gestures, nor can you expect to get it right with every decision, nor should we feel ashamed for what we’ve done. We are a product of the culture we were born into. But each little action could be a step in the right direction and we can’t afford not to try.
So let’s look at the products I wanted. The shortlist was: some new smart-casual boots, a little bit of bling (what can I say, I like shiny things) and some new cologne. Failing all of that, just some nice new ‘smellies’.
I have given up beef and cow’s milk and am seriously cutting down on leather and milk products. So that’s fucking helpful when it comes to footwear, cosmetics and…well, surviving. The milk and beef bit was easy actually, but the by-products are harder to eliminate. That is to say that remembering not to turn to leather by default is hard, however finding alternatives turned out to be the easiest thing in the world. It’s called google. I googled ‘vegan boots’ and tons of options came up. Now, the ‘leather alternative’ industry is still relatively young so there are some amateur finds out there but also some very cool, great quality pieces. Among the websites I found was nae-vegan.com, which was so good I filled a basket in ten minutes flat. However, KLF - my wife and chief adviser - reminded me that I’d been talking about reverting to my punk days and donning some Doc Martens, so when I remembered that the Doc also has a purely vegan range I decided to go old-school and visit the high street. I ended up opting for some fantastic, black ankle boots (guilt free!!) and I’ve barely taken them off since. Except at bed time.
Now, I’m a man who likes a ring on his finger. Every finger. I’m more Johnny Depp than…well, someone who wears less jewellery. I used to wear tons of it but many years in the corporate world has phased that out somewhat, so I’ve recently been on a mission to bring back ‘me’, complete with all the trappings. For me, jewellery is one thing that should not come out of an envelope in the post. If not given in giftwrap it must be something that I have held and perused. So you know what I did? I walked into another shop. Another actual shop, with walls and windows. This particular shop is called Ganesha and it can be found down one of Bath’s beautiful alleyways. Did I mention I was in Bath? Here’s the thing: I take that for granted. I live just outside Bath and I work there a few times per week which has been the case for around 16 years. But after a while you stop looking up at a city’s beauty and it exists merely to serve you when you absolutely have to visit. Well, this alleyway was a favourite of mine when I first came here and Ganesha has been on this corner for as long as I can remember, incense wafting out into The Corridor as you approach. There was a tray of chunky rings in the window so I went in, asked a human being some questions, had an actual conversation, laughed when I couldn’t get a ring off my finger (I wasn’t laughing inside, it was sheer terror). And I purchased two beautiful pieces, one of tiger’s eye and one of turquoise. When I put these rings on now I’ll be reminded of the sights, smells and plain happiness of that day.
Now I just needed to make myself smell handsome. This last part is fraught with earth-challenging obstacles because not only do so many beauty items come in plastic packaging but much of it also contains animal materials and/or is tested on animals. I’d recently managed to find some great world-friendly beard oil by Revered Beard but that was about it. I began googling ‘cruelty-free fragrance’ and - again, very quickly - found a website that had done the work for me (crueltyfreekitty.com) but unfortunately just about every brand I knew and liked was on the ‘we test on animals’ list. It turns out that China insists on cosmetics being tested on animals so all companies choosing to sell in China put themselves on the naughty list by default (come on cosmetic firms, the answer is simple!!!). But I was relieved to find that Molton Brown and Penhaligons were among the companies that have taken a stand against the baddies and are absolutely cruelty-free. Better still, they both have shops in Bath! So after much sniffing I opted for some Molton Brown ‘Oudh Accord & Gold’ which is absolutely stunning. When I arrived home, KLF presented me with the icing on the metaphorical cake: some cruelty-free smellies. I opened up a beautifully presented package containing a shampoo bar, soap bar and beard conditioner bar by Paper Plane, all wrapped in - you guessed - paper. Thou shalt smell nice and thou shalt not harm any precious creatures in the process.
So, a year older, a whole lot wiser (or so I tell myself) and all spruced up for the guilt-free ball, I am stepping into 36 a happy man. And it turns out that actual shops with actual people behind the counter are pretty cool. Who knew? Now I just have to find cruelty-free pressies for my sisters, brothers, nephews, nieces, dad, cats…