Celebrate local heroes!
Caroline Quentin has something special in store for Christmas – she’s going offline and into the shops
Caroline Quentin on the joy of buying loved ones gifts in shops
I’m planning a traditional Christmas: turkey, mince pies, a REAL tree, and I’m going to browse for presents the old-fashioned way – in the shops! I want to hold, sniff or feel the gifts I’m giving before I wrap them.
Last year, I relied on the internet for presents. I’d been busy and it was convenient, but this time round I’m heading off to my local little town. It has a few well-known brand names but, like a lot of other farming communities, it’s struggled to maintain a high street that has anything other than charity shops and bookmakers.
When times are tough, the local shops suffer and superstores dominate. But a few years ago, local business people got together and revived a run-down under-cover market. It’s not exactly the Burlington Arcade, but once a week, it’s a hive of activity where I can buy all sorts of interesting and locally produced goods: chilli sauces made in Devon from locally grown chillies; a stall selling home-made cakes; and another offering handmade craft items – peg bags and padded coat hangers – all unique, beautiful and ensuring that a local charity benefits from every sale.
On Fridays, a mobile fish stall arrives, heaving with world-class fish and crustacea, all caught in the waters around Devon and Cornwall. There’s a stand that’s heavy with healthy plants and, because they’re grown locally, I know they’ll thrive in my soil.
The shops around the market are worth exploring, too. It takes time and effort to pootle and rootle, as I call it, but there are treasures to be unearthed; a bijou antique shop run by a husbandand-wife team and their Border collie, Poppy, always keeps me entertained for hours. There’s nothing hugely expensive for sale but because of the passion and enthusiasm of the owners, the trinkets are fascinating – silver thimbles, a cut-glass goblet, a porcelain pillbox.
I visit often, buy sometimes, and always learn something of value while I’m there. In town, there are a couple of great clothes shops, run by women with a good eye and knowledge of their customers, an independent coffee shop (yes, they do exist) and, at the last count, nine charity shops where I go to rummage through the bric-a-brac. Finding studio pottery and bits of 1930s bone china is thrilling, not to mention scarves and vintage costume jewellery. Admittedly, there are occasional pitfalls. I have a clear-out once a year to donate to these shops, but recently I returned home, delighted with a charity-shop find, only to be told by the kids that it was something I’d donated only a few weeks before!
Nonetheless, that’s precisely where
I’ll be this December, rummaging in my local shops, staggering home with bags full of hand-knitted jumpers and locally made brandy butter. Go on, why don’t you join me and support your local shops? We need to use them, not lose them.
‘Visiting shops takes time, but treasures can be found’