Simon Hoggart's week: handshakes, Christmas gifts and party planning

Do twin girls really want electric toothbrushes for their birthday?

• My colleague Kevin Maguire on the Daily Mirror reports that Ed Miliband has been told by advisers to develop a firmer, more manly handshake. Until now, it seems, it has resembled a flaccid haddock.

It's a difficulty for politicians: too firm and you leave the victim trying to restore circulation; too weak and you create an impression of feebleness. Too short is rude; too long creates suspicion. Anything other than the full four fingers, stretched out, makes people think you must be a Freemason.

David Cameron has got it spot on, with the right length and grip. Margaret Thatcher naturally used hers as a weapon. In a receiving line, each poor sod would be seized by a hand that could have cracked walnuts. She would then steer them behind her, so they were crisply dismissed before the next victim came into place.

• Books for Christmas: Boot On The Other Foot, by Nat Pottinger. The most celebrated manager in the BluTack League takes aim at all those who have crossed him. Proof that scandal, tantrums and high drama are by no means confined to the Premiership. Here is the definitive account of the notorious 1989 linesman incident in the Johnson's Paint trophy semi-final, and three chapters on the feud with his top player, Horace "Hozza" Flannery, who finally won his battle for a transfer to more glamorous Raith Rovers and sponsorship from MacSween's haggis canapés, which really exist.

I, by Shard. The autobiography of the lead singer in the Glum has been awarded a Vintage Landmark imprint by the normally conservative Leatherhead Press. Printed as a single chapter, without punctuation or capital letters, these 900 pages are not an easy read. However, devoted fans will find something revealing every few hours in I. Nobody who ever annoyed Mr Shard escapes his wrath, whether the manager who rooked the group of millions or the teacher who was sarcastic.

The Margaret Thatcher Who Knew Me, by Sir Daryl Postillion. Think that the tidal wave of books about our most controversial premier has come to an end? Think again. Sir Daryl has recorded every time that he met The Blessed One and is in pole position to tell us the advice he offered at the time: "Falklands? Not worth a fight." The unions? "Never take on the Vatican, West Ham fans, or the NUM", and the poll tax, "Stick at it my girl!" A fascinating insight into the mind of one backbench MP, if not into Mrs Thatcher herself.

• The grumbling row between authors paid nothing or peanuts for performing at literary festivals where audiences have paid thousands to hear them may be coming to a head. At Southwold last week, Jeremy Paxman insisted that only people who had already bought his book could hear his talk. Nice try, and good luck to him, but it probably wouldn't work for us non 'slebs.

• Maybe the recession is ending, even if temporarily. The number of genuine but utterly useless Christmas gifts is greater than ever, and many thanks to those of you who have sent them in. Minutes of fun with the miniature desktop roller coaster (£19.99)! How often do you imagine you would enjoy a rousing board game, Dog-opoly: "buy dogs, build kennels, and trade them in for big bones!" (£24.99). Once if at all, I suspect.

And what wine lover won't adore the loo brush holder, disguised as a full-size bottle of wine: "both functional and fun" - £16.99. Or the "wonky wine glass", where the stem is on a slope. "Even stone cold sober, one look is enough to make you feel tipsy."

For those who want to splash out more, the new UK edition of Vanity Fair has a gift catalogue which includes an easel on which you can place your TV, making it look like a work of art rather than "an ugly, space-consuming lump". £3,524 – worth it to impress friends with your grotesque lack of taste.

They also offer a monster upright Scrabble game, which you can order from the US for $12,000. So when your opponent plays QI, with no idea what it means, you can brain them with one of the tiles.

Finally, the gift that goes on coming. For £4,999-plus you can enjoy the mile-high experience. Your private jet will take off from Farnborough and fly around for an hour, while you enjoy cocktails, nibbles and nookie with a discreet pilot at the other joystick. The website ( warns that you have to provide your own partner. This offer too is real.

• John Smith writes from Brighton: "Just received a booklet from nPower, entitled 'Important changes to your terms and conditions'. It's 44 pages of tiny print, with a glossary that has two parts, A and B, and runs from item 1 through to item 31E.17. I reckon they're hoping we'll keep the lights on long enough to read it and they'll make a fortune."

• And a fresh horror: the round robin letter about children's parties which, as we know these days, are expensive and demanding. An anonymous reader has sent this: "Hi, mums! Some of you have asked about the twins' presents and whether you should buy for one or t'other … In order to avoid the undesirable situation of one child having more pressies, please could I ask that this year, single presents are 'sharing' and addressed to both Grace and Molly. Or team up with another child's parent to buy a separate pressie for each to keep it fair. Unless you are indulging in 2 separate gifts, which is also fine! They both want electric toothbrushes (?!), voice activated diaries (!?), PJs, Slipper socks/slippers (Size 3), watches, games and money (saving for iPod touch etc) and a heart-shaped swimming pool in the garden. I hope the fun and games of the various parties will more than make up for our demanding requests!"

No they won't.


Simon Hoggart

The GuardianTramp

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