It’s the end of November. We’re in lockdown (again). Most shops are shuttered even as the festive lights are flickering on. Barnard Castle blackly approached Dominic Cummings to conduct their big ‘switch on’ (an invitation he didn’t deign to respond to). And given the constraint many will have their online shopping fingers quivering over Amazonian clickbait. Now is the moment to resist, especially since Jeff’s profits have surged to £100M+ in the last quarter in the UK alone (a 37% hike, accompanied by a 3% rise in tax paid…do the maths).
Do we need any further incentive to radically rethink what might constitute a real gift to our nearest and dearest this year? George Monbiot famously wrote about the ‘gift of death’ a few years back, imploring us instead to:
“Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.”
So George. But also so true. Even Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis has followed his own plea two years ago about ‘stop buying unnecessary Christmas presents’ to ‘not buying any Christmas presents’ this year. Perhaps inadvertently also positioning himself as a planet saving expert like George in the process?
The pandemic has compelled us to focus on what really matters, so whilst I wholeheartedly condone George’s baking, writing and regaling suggestions, I thought I’d also share my own list of personal recommendations for possible gifts offered by people I love. Disclaimer! I know almost all of these people personally, and am offering their talents up here for your delectation and perusal because I think what they all do is authentically and genuinely beautiful, meaningful and powerful, and perhaps that’s what makes for a truly wonderful gift?
So here’s my list of festive suggestions for gifts of love…
Buy art. Buy something unique. Buy something created by someone’s intimate hands, lovingly crafting what they hope will stir your emotions as well as their own. It could be someone you know whose efforts deserve some modest reward and recompense, but my money will be on…
Sarah Thornton. Sarah and I met randomly in a pub in Cork in the mid-nineties and have stayed in touch ever since and her drawings, paintings and prints, from glorious birds, to fulsome hearts and iconic disco balls, are colourful, playful and irresistible.
Lulu Kitololo Studio. Lulu worked as a designer at my old agency and has since found much deserved international recognition and success with her powerful African-inspired sketches, prints, notebooks and t-shirts which are bold and striking.
Lucy Hinton’s Fireside Studio. Lucy and I worked together on the Earth Centre project in Doncaster around the turn of the Millennium and her drawings, prints and mugs of gorgeous wee reverential beasties are pure magic.
Buy something to eat or drink which comes with soul and purpose. Buy something that is really all about proper sustenance. That fills the belly and fuels the spirit (perhaps literally!). These are my favourite things to put in my mouth…
Hodmedods. My fellow East Anglian boy Josiah Meldrum and his partners are pioneering the revival of the Great British bean! From Fava to Essex grown Quinoa their range is brilliant nourishment for the foodies in your family, try their seaweeds and roasted peas, delicious and nutritious!
Fen Farm Dairy. More Suffolk types! Jonny Crickmore farms grass fed river valley cows to make raw unpasteurised milk. This is what loving stewardship tastes like in butter, milk and cheese form. Their Baron Bigod brie is to die for.
Small Beer Company. Felix and James are reviving awesome tasting beers that are all under 2.8% ABV, tapping back into the tradition of beers that are full of flavour but low on alcohol, and they are doing a bloody good job of it…
Nàdar Gin. Meaning ‘nature’ in Gaelic, Nàdar is the world’s first climate positive gin made from peas. With with a carbon footprint of -1.54 kg CO2e per 700ml bottle, it is a revolutionary spirit at the forefront of the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss.
Buy the gift of music. By musicians and singers adored by their fans, but whom you won’t yet hear on a mainstream radio playlist (give it time!). Help support one of the many talent pools particularly hard hit by the pandemic and bring some harmony back to the world with…
Hanna Mia Brekkan and I shared a stage in Stockholm when I gave my first TEDx talk in 2010. An incredible Icelandic/Swedish singer songwriter and storyteller, who once wrote a new song every day for a year, why not buy you and your friends and family an intimate, personal gig hosted by Hanna Mia? Or be greedy and buy a package of her three beautiful albums?
Spencer Maybe and I met through a mutual friend and we’ve been mates ever since. His latest album ‘Wait and Patience’ is a tour-de-force, written, recorded, produced and performed out in India.
Briony Greenhill. Described as ‘a Joni Mitchell for a new generation’ Briony’s voice will melt your heart. We met at Green Drinks in the mid-noughties, Briony recorded a version of Sam Cooke’s ‘Change is gonna come’ for a film on climate change I was making, and has since evolved into a stunning artist, coach, speaker and improvisation teacher.
Sam Lee. Sam and I both curate Shambala festival venues and if you haven’t heard Sam’s album ‘Old Wow’ now is the time to do so! Sam is the folk revival legend behind the Nest Collective and the absolutely ‘must do’ nature experience of 2021 ‘Singing with Nightingales’ is booking now — a priceless gift in every sense.
Buy a book. Not from Amazon! Try Bookshop.org. Gift some reading of inspiration and importance. I am a voracious bookworm and here’s my humdinger favourites of 2020 by some of my favourite people…
Nick Hayes — The Book of Trespass, Crossing the lines that divide us, Nick is an incredible illustrator and printmaker (we met when he created the cover illustration for my own book ‘Only Planet’) as well as a powerful and provocative writer and this Sunday Times bestseller is a masterpiece on the madness of property ownership, exclusion and our stolen birthright.
Jini Reddy — Wanderland, A search for magic in the landscape. I met Jini at the legendary Findhorn New Story Summit and this book was one of my favourite reads of the summer, an expansive exploratory adventure into reconnecting with the wild and wondrous across the UK.
Martin Shaw — Courting the Wild Twin. I have been fortunate enough to study with Martin at the West Country School of Myth and this book is an essential read for anyone attempting to fathom out that aspect or part of them that is felt to be missing. Magical, mysterious, magnificent reading.
And why not help make an incredible book happen by gifting a copy in advance? I met Sarah when she spoke at a festival venue I was hosting, worked with her on her ‘Mini Fashion Statement’ scrolls and now her ‘Craftivist Handbook’ is funding on Unbound. I have no doubt this will be a piece of artful literary and beautiful activist protest, as all her work is. A perfect personalised present for the campaigner in your life (spoiler: we’re all campaigners now, let’s be beautiful ones). Let’s make it happen together.
And finally, time to get clean and green (and serene?)
One of my oldest friends Laurence founded ‘Simply Soaps — the natural skincare delicatessen’ way back in 1997, and has been producing beautiful handmade natural and organic products ever since. Soaps that are (almost!) good enough to eat, when he first started out on market stalls Laurence had to label his soaps as ‘Not cheese’!
And if this whole post wasn’t already nepotistic enough (!) my brilliant brother George’s Gorgeous Gardens outlet The Plant Shop at Earsham Hall now has an online shop, where you can browse his lovingly tended selection of rare and unusual plants and also sign up for one his regular (and slightly riotous!) online auctions. A living gift is truly a gift of life!
So there you have it. Let’s make Christmas really meaningful this year by creating gestures of love and reciprocity through supporting those hard grafting and working folk who in their every action and effort seek to raise a little more joy in the world, in the best way they know how, with the consideration of positive impact at every step of the way. Made from love, forged in love, given with love.
This post is offered up as an entirely unselfish set of suggestions, a sharing of the people who have inspired me this year, and I am sure will inspire you and yours too. You will of course have your own ideas (please do make suggestions in the comments below!). This list is supposed to be provocative not prescriptive. But whatever you do let’s make this Christmas personal.
Ed Gillespie is a writer, speaker, futurist and poet. In 2007/8 he circumnavigated the world without flying and wrote ‘Only Planet — a flightfree adventure around the world’. He is a serial entrepreneur and an adviser to or investor in a number of ethical businesses. Ed is also a facilitator with the Forward Institute’s responsible leadership programme, a Director of Greenpeace UK and Co-Founder of Futerra