By Philip Hunt
“Christmas in July!”, said the editor.
“Christmas in July?” I repeated back to him. I knew about climate change, but really!
“No,” said the editor. “Christmas in July. It’s an event, especially for journalists. People like you.”
“So where is it?” I asked. “Finland?”
“No,” he said. “Bloomsbury. In London.” I looked at him. Had I missed a couple of days? Was it Friday afternoon already?
“Anyway, you and Davoh are going,” he said. “Both of you. It’ll be interesting.”
Well, if an editor’s determined to send his entire team to London for a press event, even something as unlikely as Christmas in July, who was I to argue? Even if it meant putting up at some awful central London hotel, with guests determined to spend the night poisoning their neighbours out of any sleep.
So we went. And it wasn’t interesting. It was actually fun, in a kitsch kind of way. Held in Victoria House, an imposing London structure built apparently to promote overseas trade, I thought the location was appropriate, given Britain’s coming post-Brexit emphasis on trade.
The exhibitors were an eclectic bunch, from the kind of upmarket food suppliers you’d expect to find in Bloomsbury, through techno gadgets to the National Trust. I ticked off a few boxes beforehand; the National Trust was always worth talking to, plus there was the National Art Fund, a membership charity dedicated to supporting Britain’s art community (which spends 75% of its budget outside London apparently). And we’d probably get offered a few choice bits from some of the foodies.
A couple of hours should do it, I thought. Then we could swan off down the river, find a decent pub and relax for the afternoon watching Wimbledon.
It didn’t quite work out like that. Once we got past the rollerblading elves on the door, we were ambushed by one exhibitor after another, all keen to show off their new ideas for Christmas. To someone who normally starts thinking about this in December, it was all mildly shocking.
But the editor had spoken – so we duly did the rounds. After a couple of demonstrations from Maplin of their latest drone technology at £1K a pop, I looked at the new Philips Hue lighting, which, thanks to some awfully special lightbulbs, enables you to adjust the lighting inside the home to suit your mood. And it even works without an internet connection, so that was something the mighty Google didn’t necessarily control.
From there to the East India Company, an upmarket foods supplier and inheritor of the name of the original East India Company founded in 1600. I made the mistake of telling their chocolatier Raffaella, a very nice Italian lady, that I preferred the Belgian stuff. At which she insisted I try two or three exceedingly small but exceedingly rich chocolates that seriously dented my appetite for lunch. I also learnt from her that all the best pistachio nuts come from one small village in Sicily, which is of course where they source their own.
Well, you learn something every day, I thought. But before I could escape the next stall hove into view and, would you believe it, another chocolatier, this time ‘R Chocolates’ of Rothschild fame. Yet more Belgian standard chocolate, but “better than Belgian” insisted Dilou, the French director.
After a few more samplings like this, I’d quite forgotten that I missed breakfast, and Davoh was looking like he’d woken up at last. So, now that we were both fully functioning, who else to see?
I was impressed by the Pavara sink tidy, a deceptively simple gadget about the size of a kettle that stands on the edge of your sink, holds all the usual dishwashing paraphernalia and rotates 180 degrees to present a clean, uncluttered surface to the world. I admit I had a problem understanding the point, since my kitchen sink is, as you’d expect, normally littered with all the usual items, not to mention the odd plate or cup that probably should be washed sometime soon …
But I was assured that there are some clients with kitchens so beautiful that dishwashing brushes, clothes and liquid are an offense to the eye and that this device is essential for that clean look that is the finishing touch. Well, you learn something every day, I thought again. Did they make any other useful gadgets? The bathroom is next, apparently. I started to feel guilty.
What else do people need for Christmas? Pickled walnuts of course. Really? Yes, just the job on a slice of Stilton for that winter afternoon. But not just walnuts. Opies foods from Kent have been preserving and pickling fruits and nuts for over 100 years, and supply their locally sourced foods to the likes of Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Tesco at Christmas. “Just Google ‘pickled walnuts’ and you’ll find us,” they said. It’s the kind of thing you remember, I thought.
Many more exhibitors were present, too many for one or two humble journos to take in properly. But names like Crabtree and Evelyn, Moonpig, Teapigs, Prezzybox, Wright Bros and Dropit (shopping delivery) were present, as well as an interesting knitting-kit supplier called Stitch & Story, and others too numerous to mention.
But me and Davoh were reaching mental saturation; it was time to call it a day. Now if I could just remember where I put my bag. “If you had the stick-on ‘tile’ chip,” suggested a kind woman, “you could find it with your mobile phone.” It seems those bright people in San Francisco have invented a chip that will chirp wen you call it via Bluetooth (range of 25 metres).
Another gadget, I thought. Yet when I saw one stuck to a builder’s tape measure (useful things, builders’ tape measures), I suddenly saw the point. I could stick one to Davoh’s gadget bag, so when he loses it just before a photo session, we could locate it fast. The market must be there, because they’ve sold 10 million of them already!
Meanwhile, outside it was still summer and the sun was still shining. It was time to say bye-bye to Christmas and hello to July.
© Philip Hunt, 2017.
Images by Nicholas Newman at nicnewmanoxford.com