It's back! The annual London Christmas Shopping Guide from The Daily Constitutional!
This year I'll be including museum gift shops and markets for gift ideas.
As well as gifts I'll be pointing you toward local London shops for the best in Christmas food and drink. Where relevant, I'll list the London Walks tour that finishes near the shop in question.
As usual, you can drop me a line with your own tips by emailing the usual address, by leaving a comment below or via Twitter.
GIFTS THAT DON’T SUCK – By David Tucker
Ok, this one’s a laser-in job.
Nor is it cheap.
You only get it if you know – and love – someone for whom you know it’s right.
That someone is someone who likes to swim – swims lengths – but at the same time finds it boring. Would like some way of relieving the boredom of swimming lengths.
That someone’s me – but don’t worry, I’m not fishing for anything here. I’ve already got mine.
It’s been a 15-year-quest. That’s how long I’ve been trying to crack this one.
I’m there. I’ve done it. Cracked it. At last.
This post gives you the particulars.
“Underwater audio” devices have been on the market for a long time now. They don’t work.
Well, until now.
I know because I’ve tried them all. That’s how frantic, how desperate I was to get some relief from the tedium of swimming lengths. “If I could just listen to music – or, better, a book – while I’m slogging away in the pool.”
In principle they work because they are waterproof. As are their earbuds. But once water gets in your ear – and it always does (or did until now) – fuhgeddit. The sound goes or gets impossibly wonky.
(I even tried the bone conductor ones. You know, no “buds” in your ear, the sound “vibrating through” your cheekbones. In theory, great. In practice, a dud. Why? Because the sound is pretty much passable when the conductor is submerged. But when you turn your head to gulp in a breath of air the sound is crap.)
So, yeah, a lot of experience. Been knocking on this door for 15 years.
And now I’m there, quest is over. I’ve cracked it.
It’s not one device, it’s a components job. A patch together.
Four components which have to be assembled, have to be put together.
1. the waterproof Ipod shuffle. I’ve got several of them. The one in the winner’s circle for me comes from a company called AUDIOFLOOD. They’re in America. You can get the device through Amazon. Their website is www.audiofloood.com
Waterproofed ipod shuffles are all much of a muchness. AUDIOFLOOD gets the nod because it has what for me are the best “headphones.” Well, the best “lead-in” to the headphones. I like their “True short cord” as they call it. See the photo.
What I don’t like are the earpieces they supply. You know, the rubberised tip, the “buds” – that “fit” into the ear. The business end that has to do the job or the whole things a bust. AUDIOFLOOD supplies various sets, including the ridged ones that sort of look like a chess piece pawn wearing a ruff collar. AUDIOFLOOD describes them as “Ridged to Stay In and Seal Water Out.”
Don’t you believe them, they don’t.
So – so far, just about ok. The device itself is ok. As is the “true short cord.” As are the little speakers themselves.
Everything’s got to work, though, for Mission Accomplished.
The earpieces – despite being “ridged” – don’t work.
But despair not, the 7th Cavalry is coming to the rescue
2. The AUDIOFLOOD waterproof Shuffle comes with a swimming cap, which is important. It’s the second of the four components. AUDIOFLOOD supply one. Their competitors don’t.
3. The third component is a swimming headband. See photo. It comes from an company called Ear Band-It. www.earbandit.com Again, this is an Amazon job. As Ear Band-it puts it: “Keeps Water Out, Ears Dry.” They weren’t designed with waterproof ipod shuffles in mind – they were designed for kids and adults for whom water-in-the-ear when they go swimming is a problem. But they go a long way toward solving the problem that plagued those of us who want to listen to Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend while we’re chugging up and down the pool.
So, yes, just about there. But not quite there. And not quite there is falling at the last hurdle. Even with Ear Band-It and the swimming cap the thing didn’t quite work. Or work to an acceptable standard. I was forever having to stop after a couple of lengths. Get the water out of my ears and out of the speakers, readjust the headband and the swimming cap, etc. BORING. I want to be boring through the water listening to Toby Stephens reading Flashman, not being bored to death – let alone resentful and frustrated – fiddling around trying to get water out of everything in my ear world and then having to refit the contraption. BORING. BORING. One for each ear.
4. The eureka moment. The fourth component. The catalyst that cracked it. Call it Harley Street to the rescue. I went to a professional audiologist. They make earplugs for professional musicians. And swimmers. And earbuds for people who want better – a whole lot better, massively better – than the off the shelf models that come with the headpieces when you buy an Ipod shuffle (waterproofed or not waterproofed). It’s a production. They have to get the wax out of your ears. To get a perfect fit. They make a model of your ear canal. All 12 billion ear canals in this world (six billion earthlings times two ears) are unique. Think snowflakes. Model – together with the AUDIOFLOOD speakers, the earpiece set – gets sent to Germany. A couple of weeks later you get a call from Harley Street. “They’re here. Come on it and we’ll show you how to fit them into your ears.” For the record, the Harley Street audiologist I went to was Harley Street Hearing – www.harleysthearing.co.uk
The tailored, made to order, just-for-my-ears buds did the trick. They did the trick because they’re a perfect fit. The seal is as waterproof as a seal’s skin. It’s the last line of defence. And it holds. Does the job. Water – even intrepid water, the few sturdy, never-say-die individual sappers who’ve managed to get past the swimming cap and the swimming headband fall at the last hurdle. Hit the door of the tailored-to-my-ear-canal earbuds and are left out in the cold. They don’t get to crash the party. It’s me and Dickens and Our Mutual Friend and those saps outside looking at each other and saying “what the hell’s this, some sort of evolutionary natural selection step that’s deselected us?”
So, that’s the story. That’s how you do it.
And if you’ve got a special somebody who swims a lot and would like to listen to Mozart or Credence Clearwater Revival or Pride and Prejudice while they’re knocking off their 75 lengths – well, this is the perfect gift. A gift that doesn’t suck and especially doesn’t suck water.
It’s not cheap.
The Ear Band-It headband is 17 dollars. Not sure what the Amazon price is.
The waterproof AUDIOFLOOD Ipod shuffle is $125. Again, that price is from their website. Amazon will of course do the dollars-to-pounds conversion for you. And maybe – I don’t know – come with a slight “volume” reduction.
You’ll have to put out about £90 for the Harley Street Audiologist’s input which you put in. And of course you have to be here, have to go into the clinic for the ear wax removal, measurements, fitting, etc. They ain’t off-the-peg, you can’t order them from Amazon. If you’re in Kansas, well, surely Kansas City has an audiologist.
So that’s a couple hundred quid. But if you swim 300 days a year for five years, works out at 5 pence a swim. 5 pence for listening to Dickens or Austen or Shakespeare or Alan Bennett or Anthony Beevor or Beethoven or Credence Clearwater Revival. Gets my vote.
Final tip, fitting tip – fitting indeed – when you put the headband on put it on so it fits slightly low (rather than high or mid-range) over the ear. The swimming cap will seal off perfectly the top edge of the swimming band. That means you can wear the headband just slightly lower, get more of that neoprene in the way of water trying to get in via the southern route, i.e., go up past your ear lobes.
Final word. This is a fab present. Something your swimmer pal or mate or son or daughter will use every time they’re in the pool. And be beside themselves with delight at what you’ve done for them. And unusual? I mean, who gets for a Christmas present a gift certificate for some action at a Harley Street audiologist?
Here’s the photo gallery.
The orange thing on the left is the neoprene headband. In front, the swimming cap. In the middle, the waterproof Shuffle. On the right, the "short cord" speakers. "Short cord" speakers tipped with unique ear buds. One in six billion unique. Unique to one pair of ears and one pair of ears only - mine. For purposes of comparison I've put in a pair of off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all, ribbed ear buds (the black ones). Notice the size and shape difference between the one-size-fits-all jobs and the-size-that-fits-David's-ears jobs. Plus mine are a jolly orange as opposed to a funereal black. And in case you're wondering, yes, that's The Harvard Concordance to Shakespeare in the background. For some light reading poolside.
Christmas 2016 With London Walks…
On Christmas Day there are TWO London Walks:
Walk up an appetite with The Christmas Morning 1660 Walk – meet at 11:00a.m by the big tree in Trafalgar Square
Walk off the pudding with The Christmas Day Charles Dickens Walk – meet by the big tree in Trafalgar Square at 2:00pm
A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.