Posts Tagged shopping

Doing the retail roomba

Bank Holiday Monday, no campaigning for once, so a chance for a bit of shopping.

We got the bus nearly to Victoria, then a stroll through Belgravia. Islington has some very rich people, but the borough feels real. Belgravia feels unreal. Perfect window boxes and improbably symmetrical shrubs flanking immaculate doors; and nobody on the streets but us.

Belgrave Square is embassy land: where else would you find Turkey next to Malaysia? Then we walked up Wilton Crescent, past the Berkeley (complete with bowler-hatted doorman) and out onto Knightsbridge.

First stop Harrods. I am not a Harrods fan, plus it was absolutely packed with people practising for Slow London Week, so I went for another stroll outside while Rich went hunting for jackets. Scanning estate agents’ windows in Beauchamp Place is a glimpse of another world – £500k for a studio, anyone? – so imagine my surprise when there was an ad for an Islington boozer: the Lord Nelson on Holloway Road, its lease for sale at £120k. A bargain!
Rich & I then met as agreed in Harrods’ basement pub, the Green Man. Half a pint for £3. Not a bargain…

After our drink, we cut past the rising towers of One Hyde Park. Then into the park, and we strolled past the Serpentine towards Oxford Street. Quick lunch in St Christopher’s Place, then having gazed in the window at Paddy Campbell, I was on my way to Debenhams. Himself headed for HMV, another pub rendezvous agreed. An hour later and I was flushed with success – suit and two tops all in the sale – when a text arrived: “we have a roomba”. And there in the pub was Richard looking sheepish with a big John Lewis bag.

The Roomba is a robot carpet cleaner. It looks like a grounded flying saucer, and zooms around at the touch of a button. And it has long had a fatal attraction for Richard. The first time he saw one, he couldn’t resist testing it. That Roomba was last seen heading for the designer duvets. Anyway John Lewis have now lifted the ban, so he went back and got one of his own.

I was a bit sceptical. After all we have a perfectly good Dyson. But we do have the constant battle with cat hair, and the moulting season is just beginning. Was the Roomba just another boy’s toy? It does run off rechargeable batteries, themselves charged from our green electricity, so not too extravagant. Yesterday I left it pootling around the living room while I was working. It’s virtually silent, apart from the occasional chirrup. It did pick up an impressive amount of cat hair. And the carpet is looking much better.

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Mosaic going into administration

More bad news for retailers, as the various Mosaic group stores go into administration.

Islington is relatively chain-free but we do have Oasis and Karen Millen in the N1 Centre.

So far we’ve escaped the curse of empty shop units. When Diva moved to a smaller shop, for example, an opticians soon moved in. Is that about to change?

My colleague Ruth Polling wowed a recent party with her fab shoes from Karen Millen. Hurry while stocks last…..

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Is marketing better in black and white?

Very clever ad from First Direct.

They show clips from old films of people getting treats from friendly retailers – a buttonhole from the florist, a bone for the dog from the butcher, a lollipop from the corner shop – all part of the nostalgia for traditional customer service in an uncertain consumer world.

(They are not alone: other current ads using old film promote products as diverse as baked beans, yoghurt and energy suppliers.)

The punchline – ‘banking is better in black & white’ – plays on First Direct (or rather trendily lower case first direct) branding.

It’s a great ad. And it cunningly ignores the fact that as an internet bank, one thing first direct is not about is old-fashioned, face-to-face, high street service.

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Return of the killer puffballs

Just been looking at the French Connection sale online, courtesy of Brandalley.

Culottes? Puff-ball skirts? Memories of 25 years ago!

I had a pair of dark green wool culottes, bought in France, which I took to uni with me. They lasted for ages, despite being more Prisunic than Printemps, and I loved them (brilliant for cycling). Not sure where they ended up, and not sure I’d wear them now.

And certainly no more puff-balls….

Most of the time I was a dull dresser. My student library card shows me looking moody in a beret. But I remember one summer outfit I was very proud of. At the time – now I’m just glad no photos survive.

My wardrobe included a lovely green print dirndl made by my Gran, which I made a bit more puff-bally by snagging the hem. Worn with a crop yellow jacket with white polka dots (nicked from one of Mum’s 60s suits), Woolworths pearls diagonally like a sash, and lace-trimmed ankle socks.

I topped it off with a green scarf tied in a giant bow round my head. Think Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. Desperate was certainly the word. I abandoned the scarf after one tutor kindly enquired if I was suffering from a head injury.

The French Connection versions are, as you would expect, sleek and contemporary. But I won’t be puffballing again.

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Christmas is coming

As the ad says, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

The postman is bringing real post not just junkmail. Quiet houses are suddenly covered in festive lights – like 2 Rocliffe Street which is brightening its corner near the canal. So are Islington’s shopping streets, thanks to the Council: blue lights for a cool Yule.

The Christmas party season is in full swing. On Sunday night we celebrated after a happy carol service with drinks in the Crypt at St Mary’s. Last night was Islington Lib Dems mince pies & mulled wine do. And there’s still my work party to come. Will we make it to Christmas Day?

Richard wrestled his way home with the tree last weekend, and Percy has been getting used to this strange arrival in the living room. We have to wait until he’s stopped trying to climb the tree before we can decorate it….

There’s still some presents to buy, final cards to write, and holiday food to organise. Not to mention negotiating the logistics of who’s travelling where and when. But with a week to go, and a Ceremony of Carols on the radio, celebration is starting to take over from stress.

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Buy once, give twice

I’ve come across another good gift website.

Buy Once Give Twice ‘recycles’ donations to charity auctions. If the auction doesn’t go ahead, or the buyer gives back their prize, then this website sells them on to benefit the original charity. There’s all kinds of lots – from days out to celebrity-signed items – for a wide range of charities, often the less well-known ones.

The twist is that the selling is by an online ‘silent’ auction; at the deadline for each item, the highest bid above the reserve gets the goodies. While some of the items are expensive, there’s some bargains to be had. And all for good causes.

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More from the Mall

Earlier this year I blogged about the battle to keep Camden Passage special. The new owner of the Mall (LAP) has been trying to get rid of the small traders who share it, despite the Council and the community fighting the changes all the way.

Having lost their planning application, the developers were expected to appeal.

The latest news, according to the Islington Tribune, is not good. Instead of waiting for the planning appeal, the owners are moving straight to eviction, something the Council has no power to stop.

Trader Jan Van Den Bosch told the Tribune: “I think Islington Council have been brilliant and supported us to the end. At the end of the day we need new powers from the government to fight developments like this.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Meanwhile, LAP are so interested in our community that their website seems to think we’re in Dagenham….

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Wait a minute, Waitrose


Hot off the press is the news that Waitrose has taken over some Woolworths sites, including one in Islington. I’m assuming that this is the big Woolworths in Chapel Market/Liverpool Road at the Angel, not the one at Archway.

Everyone loves Waitrose don’t they – all the lovely food, ethical sourcing, partnership schemes, and relatively uncrowded stores. What could fit better with the outside world’s perception of small l liberal Islington than a Waitrose. Surely good news? Maybe not.

So why am I worried? Firstly, the Woolworths site is already sandwiched (no pun intended) between an expanded Marks & Spencers foodstore, and a large Sainsburys. Any independent food vendors, whether shops or the stalls in Chapel Market, who’ve survived competition from those two may yet fail with Waitrose on the scene too. Do we want that?

There is already a perfectly fine Waitrose at Nags Head, Holloway, a short bus-ride from the Angel, with a large car-park. Waitrose have obviously decided their business can survive with a second outlet in the borough, but what about their Nags Head neighbours? If Waitrose shoppers from N1 no longer go to Holloway, then the other shops there will lose out.

And what about Woolworths? It’s not Waitrose’s fault if Woolworths chose to sell up this site but not everyone in Islington falls into the Waitrose demographic. Woolworths is always heaving because it provides a lot of goods that Islington families appreciate: popular toys, kids’ clothes, home ware, music and DVDs, all at affordable prices. Their pink fairy wand with a flashing star wasn’t exactly my taste but proved a big hit for my niece’s birthday. I’ve picked up everything from tea towels to tools there, and while I can afford to switch to Waitrose; not everyone can. Where are those customers supposed to go when Woolworths closes?

So yes, I may enjoy the occasional bottle of Waitrose bubbly. But no, I won’t be opening any to celebrate this particular development.

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Business as usual?

On Saturday we went for a stroll in Islington.

Instead of leaflets to deliver, we had Eggs royale at Med Kitchen, overlooking Islington Green; bliss. Then on to Camden Passage, where we bought something lovely & vintage for my sister in law Ros (a belated birthday present). I’m not going to say what in case she reads it before she receives it...

Camden Passage is seeing the arrival of more chains (albeit upmarket ones – Reiss, FrostFrench, LomBok) replacing some of the independent antiques traders that give the area its unique character. Now there are lots of reasons why London’s upmarket international antiques trade has been suffering; weak dollar, fears of terrorism, modernist decor, economic downturn etc. And if an individual trader chooses to relocate or retire that’s their privilege. But there’s a specific threat in Islington.

The Mall, home to dozens of small units, has changed hands, and the developer has applied for permission to knock out the internal partitions, effectively evicting them. Two or three of the units are already vacant as traders have anticipated the worst and moved elsewhere. But Islington Council is having none of it; last week the South Area planning committee threw out the application. They had to do it on historic building grounds; there’s no planning law protecting one type of retail over another. That’s something the Sustainable Communities Act could let communities change, but despite a waffly bit of guidance, there’s no sign of action to implement this from the Government yet.

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Division of labour*

I finished [paid] work at lunchtime and it’s now the countdown to the arrival of parents for Christmas lunch. This explains why I am blogging (flagrant displacement activity) instead of cleaning. I’m very blessed in that Richard shares both the domestic chores and my untidiness threshold. My mother’s threshold is however different, so parental visits bring on a mini spring clean at any time of year.

Now I’m working from home, I anticipated extra hours in the day to prepare for Christmas. Ho ho ho. I had reckoned without the December FOCUS and Christmas card delivery. So for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been up with the lark, deliver a round of FOCUS, back home to work by 9am; repeat same at lunchtime and after work. And delivery all day at the weekends. I’m so grateful to my fantastic campaign team all doing their bit at the busiest time of year.

I do sometimes wish we had the big bucks needed to post the cards. Especially on the rainier days and chillier mornings. It is however great to get out and see so many people. And delivery has a couple of advantages over Christmas shopping. Not least that the bags get lighter not heavier as you go.

But the big plus for me is that I have delegated virtually all the shopping to Richard – with some anxiety. Revelation: he is brilliant.

Rich doesn’t enjoy shopping enough to prolong it pointlessly. I used to trudge round an extra hour on the basis that as I was there I should go round every department ‘just in case’. Just in case what? A family member is born or gets engaged while I’m shopping? I grow an extra arm to carry more things home?

He sticks to the list. I have a terrible habit of wasting time & money on ‘generic’ presents. I’m not sure if it’s because I so rarely shop that I suddenly overdose, or if it’s false prudence, a kind of insurance in case I don’t find the perfect present for people later on. All I know is come January; I have various objects – photo frames, bath towels, travel gadgets, candle holders – which are definitely hefker. Not this year!

Richard doesn’t agonise. I have been known to spend so long dithering between which of two scarves was better, that the store detectives had me in their sights. Richard sees and buys; and if in doubt, phones me with a shortlist. I’m halfway up a tower block “Bath stuff: Strawberry or mango?” Ten minutes later, “Calendar: Cezanne or Klimt?” On Saturday, he went out and came back with first turkey, then tree, all before 10am.

It is fantastic. I have a personal shopper. Richard has a job for life.

*for those of you expecting a political posting about the divisions of Labour, well it’s the season of goodwill. Until at least Wednesday.

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