Family travel with flair

11 British gifts to give Americans

TweetA couple of years ago I wrote a post about the 8 British gifts to get Americans (that I would never give to a Brit). Whoa! People went crazy for this post. It was the Strictly Come Dancing, the hit record of posts. Styles and tastes move on, so this year I’ve updated my (modestly) blockbuster post. These days so many gifts are the same no matter where you are. Living in London, that means I’m exposed to a whole different range of gifts that really feel novel and different to my American giftees. Only the most patriotic of Brits would want these under the tree, but Americans love them. 1. Revels – These are on my brother’s Christmas list every year. I once forgot them and he pouted for half a day. British chocolate is different from the American kind. I think it’s something to do with the sweeteners and pasteurised milk. In the UK, it says, “I got three packets of these for £2.” But in America, a gift of Revels says, “Have a Merry Christmas with this treat you only get once a year.”   2. Beach hut artwork – These sweet/twee/pastel images on this side of the pond sometimes bring up uncomfortable observations about the people who buy eye-poppingly expensive ones and commute to them via their vintage style VW vans. Yet for the vast majority of Americans, they are incredibly exotic. In the U.S. you have mere beaches, but in the UK you have the seaside, which is full of charm, 99 Flakes and these little beach huts. Also for Americans, the idea of a tiny hut on the beach, sitting check by jowl with a bunch of nearly nude people is utterly incomprehensible. Especially if it sits on a beach where cold weather and rain is a given for most of the year. Only the British would do this kind of thing, and do it with aplomb. Images available in posters, trays, tea towels, bird houses and other things they’ll find absolutely essential.   3. British-style toiletries – There’s nothing quite so lovely on a dressing table or in a well-appointed bathroom than an elegant bottle or container with olde worlde style writing that harkens back to the heyday of the British Empire. For real hardcore lovers of the English image, I’d love to give Penhaligon’s Maduro Leaf Candle, which fills the home with “a scent reminiscent of a smoking room in an elegant gentlemen’s club… wood panelled walls, soft leather armchairs, a fire...

The pre-holiday beauty routine

TweetPreparing for summer holiday makes me feel like nothing if not a trophy wife. Not because of the exotic destinations we visit (usually just a tour of the family in Texas) but because of the extreme summer holiday primping beforehand. I wax, pluck, spray-tan, file, shave, clip, lacquer and highlight. I’ve done a thousand situps and contorted leg lifts so I can hold my head up on the chaise longue, looking utterly toned while I simmer gently in 100-degree Texas weather. I’m not alone in wanting to look passable in a swimsuit without my usual blinding white and blancmange-texture thighs. Yet it strikes me as particularly strange that I work so hard to present a me on holiday that’s so different from the everyday me. It’s as if only the optimal me can go on holiday and really enjoy it. I know it’s silly to let a preoccupation with how I look impinge on my enjoyment of time away with my family. But the truth is that it does. I feel less self-conscious and enjoy hitting the pool more with the kids if I feel confident about the body that’s bouncing off the diving board. The appearance of glossily painted toenails in sandals pleases me and makes going out for Tex-Mex that much nicer. I wish a little that the holiday me I always aim to attain stuck around all year long, but the truth is it’s hard work maintaining. There is always something to scrub or epilate or tighten. Alternatively, I wish I could rush out into the ocean or don a pair of shorts without critically examining beforehand the expanse of flesh laid bare. I’d like to think more about my inside rather than the outside. At least my tan comes in a bottle, not from the sun. At least my slightly slimming profile comes from exercise, not a crash diet. As for the pedicure: There are no health benefits to the polish I’m painting on. We’ll just call that one of the pleasures of a hot summer holiday. After all, every body likes to doll up once in a while, trophy wife or not....

The best holiday ice skating in London

TweetOver the past several years my family and I have criss-crossed the city trying out different ice skating rinks. I’ve loved it since childhood, when I would force my mother to drive from 2 1/2 hours to the nearest ice rink so I could pretend I was an ice princess. (I have a great picture of me trying to do an arabesque on ice — the minute my mother hit the shutter, I hit a chink in the ice and she captured me on my way down.) This past weekend we went to a press preview of the Canary Wharf ice rink. We’d visited this one before in 2011 while reviewing a family weekend at the Four Seasons Canary Wharf. I keep hearing that the Wharf is transforming into a destination great for visiting with families. Just in the course of a year it’s become more bustling with children and parents and fun things to do. This year, the Canary Wharf rink has changed from a big square skating space to a smaller main square and a little route – an ice lane that winds around a sculpture by Ron Arad that looks like a giant flying saucer, past the windows of the cafe (a pop-up Boisdale) and back to the other side of the main ice section. While there’s less space for a triple salchow, going “round the lane” kept the kids entertained for most of our session. I like this part of town on the weekend as well because you’re not battling huge crowds. On Tuesday nights there are live jazz sessions, and you’re just above the big underground shopping mall, where you can also visit a Santa’s Grotto. “I’m not going in to see Santa!” both kids kept saying as we queued to see the jolly one. “Oh yes you are!” my husband and I said firmly. Helper elves worked the line, entertaining the children. Eventually we were ushered into a small room decorated in a homey style with a tree, wooden toys and Father Christmas in an old fashioned white-trimmed robe.   He invited the children to sit on the bench and chair and had a good line in friendly patter about their names, if they’d written a wish list and if there was something they really want. There’s always the chance that an encounter with Santa is a forced cheer moment, but this one had a very nice feel and the children got age-appropriate books as little gifts after their visit. The Olympics got...

Yesterday v Today

TweetYesterday in Texas: Baking cookies on the dashboard of the car. (Yes it works, but they tasted a little funny. Turns out “new car smell” isn’t the best secret ingredient.) Today in London: Rainstorms til the end of the week....

When it's time to leave the beach

TweetGiven the old choice of mountains or beach, I'll choose beach every time. The sun, proper surf for wave-jumping, bodyboarding or surfing, and sand in places my doctor's never seen. Bliss. Every year we visit the same resort in Texas, Port Royal in Port Aransas. I hestitate to even mention it by name. As unlikely as it might seem that a bunch of Brits would turn up on this lightly developed section of Padre Island in the Gulf of Mexico (oil-free, I might add), it's such an idyllic, trapped-in-the-'70s vibe here we hold our breath on the ferry ride over every year, wondering if it will be "ruined".  Here we bounce between the beach and the biggest pool in the state. There is a swim-up bar and slides and little waterfalls that the lifeguards don't discourage you from jumping off. Yet a funny thing happens after a couple of days. Suddenly you notice the unappealing slick of suntan oil on the surface of the pool. The fact that there's just a little too much rubbish sticking out of the sand here and there. The floating plaster as you get out when the sun is going down. We're all a little bit sunburned and a little bit sore from jumping into waves and whizzing down the slides at funny angles. We've had another great visit. Now we're at the final stage of a good seaside hols. There's nothing quite so nice as that feeling that you're ready to go home....

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