Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004.
Hooked on classics: toys for boys – axes, fighter pilot's gloves...
Bill Amberg tells Justine Picardie where to buy fashionable gifts for men this Christmas
When I was writing my first novel a couple of years ago, I found myself perplexed over what Christmas present should be bestowed upon the hero, and as it was mid-December at the time, I was also trying, and failing, to come up with a suitable gift for my husband. In the end, both men got a cotton shirt - material evidence that I'm not very good at buying masculine presents.
Brora cashmere socks
Which is why I've decided to consult an expert - Bill Amberg, who manages to produce unquestionably manly leather accessories while retaining a quirky individuality (and making some very nice bags for women, as well). This year, he has come up with all manner of good things (see www.billamberg.com ), including beautifully finished leather gloves made by the same factory that supplies fighter-pilot gloves to the RAF. He's also full of ideas about other sources of unusual Christmas presents; indeed, he buys his throughout the year, with admirable originality.
"The thing to look for," he says, when I admit to my own inadequacies in this respect, "is something authentic and real that has true value, and will improve with use, as opposed to junky, frivolous stuff that holds your interest for less than five minutes."
So what should I buy for my 15-year-old son?
"A Swedish throwing axe," he replies, without a second's hesitation (the relevant website, if you're interested, is www.gransforms.com ).
Amberg assures me that Swedish axe throwing is a marvelously healthy and legitimate sport, but it sounds a bit dangerous to me, so he suggests I take a look at www.silvermans.co.uk , an East End institution that offers everything from army boots and rucksacks to a Russian pilot's helmet and flying suit - "proper action man equipment", says Amberg.
Bill Amberg gloves
As for his own Christmas wish list, "I'd love a wood-burning oven for the back garden. It's like an Italian pizza oven, but is also fantastic for roasting meat - you could cook your turkey outside on Christmas Day." This is exactly the sort of gift that my husband - a barbecue enthusiast - would adore, but unfortunately, when I investigate www.fornobravo.com , it turns out that the cheapest is Â£956.
So, back to the old familiars (socks, scarves et al), but before I give up entirely on my attempt to discover a more radical solution to the present conundrum, I ring Mrs Bill Amberg, otherwise known as Susie Forbes, editor of the soon-to-be launched Easy Living magazine.
"What are you going to give Bill for Christmas?" I ask. "An outdoor oven and a Swedish axe to chop up the wood for it?"
"Actually," she says, "he keeps stealing my favourite ivory-coloured pashmina to wear as a scarf, so I was planning to buy him one of his own, instead."
Cheap but cosy :cashmere socks, £20, Brora (mail order: 020 7736 9944, or www.brora.co.uk ). Ordinary socks may be boring but cashmere socks are a pleasure. These come in 10 different colours and four sizes, so no one need be uncomfortable. Or join the queue at Gap (0800 427 789): it has cashmere scarves for £29.50, with matching ribbed hats for £19.50 (both designed by Emma Hill, who came to Gap as head of accessories from Marc Jacobs; hence the fact that these look luxurious, and will sell out faster than hot mince pies).
Indulgent gifts :men's travel collection, £79, Elemis (01278 727 830, or www.elemis.com ). The latest male grooming products (far preferable to others) in a limited-edition Mulberry washbag - there are only 500, so you'd better move fast. Striped mohair scarf, £79, Missoni (from Matches, 020 7221 0255). Missoni makes wonderful scarves and this is suitably masculine, in white, grey and black. If you'd prefer a pashmina scarf, then Trevor Pickett does good plain ones, from £55 (mail order: 020 7493 9072, or www.pickett.co.uk ).
Over the top :fighter pilot gloves, £145, Bill Amberg (mail order: 020 7727 3560, or www.billamberg.com ). In cognac-coloured calfskin - what more could a man desire? Except, perhaps, a second pair of Bill Amberg gloves, hand-stitched in peccary leather, for £195?