Save our sweet shops

There are only so many times I can watch Lord Sugar swivelling in his chair and reusing put-downs from three seasons ago before enough’s enough, so I’ve dropped in and out of the latest series of The Apprentice. But one contestant that has caught my eye is Victoria Goulbourne, the flight attendant turned online sweet shop owner (note: not sweat shop, despite what one unfortunate online review might say) from Merseyside. And while I pass no judgment on her business acumen, it did get me thinking: what a miserable thing an online sweet shop must be. Victoria’s company markets itself as the ‘UK’s most Instagrammable pick ’n’ mix’. Quite apart

In defence of Waitrose

I recently had a call with my accountant, a miniskirt-wearing, swashbuckling bon vivant and wine connoisseur. To soothe myself before we rang off – tax is always depressing – I brought up Waitrose, saying by way of apology for my erratic finances that most of my money went in the supermarket, a large branch of which is between my nearest Tube station and my flat. She hemmed knowingly down the phone. We both agreed it was a good use of funds. Life’s short – or might be. If one can, surely one ought to eat what one wants? And if that means a pair of smoked salmon, pea and lovage

Stop harassing me to review everything I buy

The email landed in my inbox one afternoon, as I frantically sandwiched work in between feeding the dog and doing the school run, its subject saying: ‘A quick reminder for you, Antonia Hoyle.’ Oh God, what now? Had I forgotten to pay a bill? Missed a deadline? It was worse. I hadn’t left a review for a company I’d purchased skincare supplements from – and six days after their initial request, they sounded disappointed, adding reproachfully: ‘We would like to remind you that writing a review of your experience will help us improve our customer satisfaction.’ Presumably they were referring to customers other than me, because, having already forked out

Best of British: Christmas gifts for under £20

Christmas shopping has its challenges at the best of times. Oxford Street crowds and high street tat; Black Friday generating more excitement than a White Christmas. And this year will, for many, be more challenging than ever. Who needs the Grinch when the cost-of-living monster threatens to steal Christmas? When looking to keep down the cost of presents, gravitating towards well-known British heritage brands might seem counterintuitive. The ‘big box’ instinct sometimes kicks in: the bigger the package the more expensive it’ll look under the tree, we reason. And many of us are guilty of buying presents that are more gimmicky and flashy than genuinely likely to get good use.

The glamour and romance of London’s vanished department stores

There are two journeys I’ll need to make after reading Tessa Boase’s heartbreakingly poignant book about London’s lost department stores. First, to Mile End, to see the tiny Georgian building bang in the middle of the pillared façade of what used to be Wickhams and is now Tesco and Sports Direct. During Wickhams’s 1920s expansion, one neighbour, a German clockmaker called Otto Spiegelhalter, simply refused to budge, whatever the financial offer. He eventually agreed to sell his garden so that the store could expand round the back of him. But there, dwarfed by the clock tower, his two-storey house still stands, a monument to stubbornness. Next, Khan’s Bargains in Peckham

Why charity begins in shops

When everything re-opened after the first lockdown, I didn’t immediately head to a restaurant, bar or hairdresser. I went to the Second Chance charity shop on Blackstock Road in north London. It wasn’t that I was feeling particularly charitable. If anything, my visit came from a place of selfishness. I wanted to rootle around, alone, and find something unexpected — and probably pointless — in the piles of bric-à-brac. Out I came with a milk jug (£2.50) and a book titled Cool Names for Babies (50p) written by two women called Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz. I instantly felt better, as though the past few months had been a

I removed my mask and all hell broke loose

The girl in the posh soap shop put her right arm out, palm flat in my face, and shouted: ‘Stand back! Step away from me now if you are going to remove your mask!’ I had been advancing on the Vetiver handwash, having failed to make myself clear through my mask to the assistant in her mask that this was what I wanted to buy and, being prevented from picking it up myself as the shop had a no-touch policy, I was driven to the brink of lawlessness. ‘Vetiver!’ I had begun pleading through my face mask as the girl lifted the wrong product off the shelves, over and over

What are online shoppers most likely to snap up?

Price of protest Greenpeace was fined £80,000 for defying a court order and occupying an oil rig in the North Sea. What else have protestors been fined for in Britain in recent times? £750 for spray-painting a war memorial in Whitehall in a climate change protest. £430 for spraying slogans on a pavement against Barclays, accusing it of investing in fossil fuels. £400 for eating a raw squirrel at a vegan food market in Soho. £150 for chaining themselves to the gates of a nuclear submarine base. Travel money The tourism industry is opening up again. Who spends the most: Britons holidaying abroad or overseas tourists coming here? — In