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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Need an antidote to ghastly Black Friday? Pop into a charity shop 

As Black Friday approaches – that grim festival of specious “bargains” and coerced panic-buying – I find my inbox crammed with promotions for “essential” items of almost surreal superfluousness. The effect of being urged to spend, spend, spend on expensive tat is to bring on an acute attack of shopping malaise: it is a malady for which there is now a remedy: Buy Nothing Day, an international day of protest against consumerism.

Satisfying as it is to make a tiny, pointless gesture of resistance against billionaire retail giants, a vow of shopping abstinence is hard on independent retailers, whose businesses were devastated by lockdown. But this year the British Independent Retailers Association reports that some 85 per cent of its members are boycotting Black Friday, instead making gestures in support of sustainable consumption – planting trees to offset packaging waste, or posting videos on repairing treasured items.

In the reconfigured local shopping environment that is beginning, post-pandemic, to emerge, charity shops – once regarded as the bellwethers of a declining high street – can play a role in attracting footfall. Customers flocked to the St Peter & St James Hospice shop in Lewes, East Sussex, when Virginia Lewis-Jones donated the vintage wardrobe of her late mother, Dame Vera Lynn. Earlier this month, local fashion students – themselves keen vintage shoppers – modelled the collection, styling Dame Vera’s silk cocktail dresses with their own Doc Martens boots, and sales have so far realised some £3,500.

In my own local market town, thriving independent businesses – jewellers, ironmongers, cafés, interiors and clothes shops – co-exist successfully with well-run charity shops, whose clientele seems to make little distinction between a vintage jacket from the British Heart Foundation or an original piece from the independent shop next door. As a keen shopper of conflicting impulses, Cavalier in my fondness for frippery, Roundhead in my attitude to spending, the high-low charm of the independent high street is more than a match for the dead-eyed ambition of global retail.

A Christmas pudding for the faint-hearted 

I write on Stir-Up Sunday, which takes its name from the collect of the day – “Stir up, we beseech thee, the wills of thy faithful people”, and is traditionally the day when Christmas puddings are made. It was a custom to which my mother faithfully adhered when I was a child, and long after I left home, she would make an extra pudding for me. The latest of these appeared three years ago, and was duly set to steam on Christmas Day. But our appetites failed, and the pudding cooled in its wrappings.

The same thing happened the next year, and the next – by which time the pudding had acquired the status of a festive holy relic, making a ceremonial annual appearance. This year, it moved house with us: I have it before me as I write, and I suspect its fate is to be handed down the generations, venerated but uneaten.

For unrobust Christmas appetites, Fay Maschler and Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cooking for Occasions offers an excellent alternative to pudding: a spiced port wine jelly – heat gently together 625ml port, 475ml water, 125g lump sugar, 15g gelatine with lemon zest, cinnamon and nutmeg. Strain into pots, chill. A useful standby if Stir-Up Sunday has passed you by.

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