Firebox is not a web browser, just in case you thought I'd made a typo. No, it got its name as a development of hotbox.com, which began life back in 1998 when everyone thought Geocities was a pretty cool idea and people used Yahoo to search the web. Things have changed, but one thing that hasn't is the sudden spending urge people have before the holiday season, for a pen that converts into a golf club for dad, an illuminated mirror that you can thaw steak out on for mum, and a toy car that transforms into a real nuclear weapon for little Billy. Fido the dog is already looking forward to one of those collars that translates him into English and then sends messages to Twitter, but since he hasn't yet got it, nobody understands him when he asks.
The rest of the family make a beeline for sites such as Firebox, which subtitles itself "amazing gifts" and which has the biggest range of stuff that you can only justify buying other people on birthdays and holidays, while you secretly hope they'll do the same for you. It's huge. It's like the toy shops of old, when you were only 5 and everything was a million times bigger than it is today, except now it's online, which does take something off the experience for anyone who can even remember toy shops. But it's presented in much the same way, with dozens of goodies on each screen, and if you want you can press your nose up against the monitor and pretend you're gazing in awe through the store window.
It's not all toys, oh no. There are gifts for teenage boys (the psychedelic Underwater Disco Lightshow will go down a bomb in the bathroom, but you'll need to get rid of that odd herbal smell, later); dads will be slobbering over the Moller Skycar, which clocks in at a cool £324,000 (free shipping), and you can treat the daughter of the house to a My Butterfly, a staggeringly realistic (it says) butterfly in a glass jar, which flies around exactly like a real butterfly in a glass jar would if it hadn't died of suffocation.
Lastly we come to the lady of the house, without whom the family wouldn't have been possible, but the site does find itself a little challenged to offer a major treat in this area when you select expensive gifts for her. The Power Gorilla, which does conjure up one or two potentially appealing images, turns out to be an emergency laptop battery; the "Wattson", which is for homes but not at all elementary, is a clever wireless device that tells you how much you're currently blowing on electricity; and the wi-fi bathroom scales, which store all your embarrassing data online for posterity, are going to leave a lot of mums expressing their gratitude with less than total enthusiasm.
However, for just about everyone, THE gift of the entire site, transcending age, gender, sexual orientation, weight, height and income, is the USB Snakescope Camera, which sells with the slogan "Stick it where the sun don't shine". For £29.99, you get a tiny USB camera, with lights, on the end of a semi-flexible tube about 18 inches long, which you can bend around corners and insert into all manner of previously inaccessible areas.
The people writing the copy for this are having a field day with it, and I quote:
"Thanks to its long, robust, semi-flexible insertion tube (no s$#*!ing at the back) and adjustable twin LEDs, it can explore all kinds of difficult to reach nooks and crannies, even wet ones because both camera head and cable are waterproof. It's ideal for shoving down your plughole! "
Now the bad news (heh) it doesn't work with a Mac, which makes Windows suddenly a whole lot more attractive. And you'll need to have it plugged in to a PC of some sort all the while, though being USB, that's not necessarily too much of an issue. USB cables and booster devices are widely available. And although we're not there quite yet, wi-fi USB is definitely on the cards, someday.
So there you are, all sorted for Christmas this year. USB snakescope cameras all round, then. I'll leave you to explain to Granny about what she could do with hers.