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The Joy of Shopping

One of the greatest pleasures for me when on holiday is to visit the local market to wander amongst the shops and stalls, to try out the local produce; fish, meat or veg.

It is where we all try to get the real flavour of the country rather than the commercial tourist diet that is usually served up to the holiday traveller. A visit to Barcelona is not complete without a stroll down the Ramblas to get a sense of the bustle and life of the city. What is true of a visit to Rome, Nairobi or Paris is also true of our local shopping centres.

There is much publicity regarding the demise of our town centres which is usually put down to the rise of the internet and on line shopping. Is there a danger that our Town Centres will disappear and leave behind a concrete jungle inhabited by a few bin bags blowing in the wind while the concept of ‘going shopping’ means half an hour on the screen in a darkened room looking at glamorised pictures of succulent fruit and packets of biscuits?

I have a memory of waking on holiday in the centre of Rome and shopping for breakfast in the Flower Market and the joy of trying out my simple (and basic) Italian to purchase bread and fruit, smelling the bread and feeling the fruit. A visit to my local fish stall or patisserie may not be quite as romantic as the Flower Market but it still gives me a flavour of what is happening in the centre of Wimbledon or Putney and gives me a chance to communicate with fellow humans and possibly even exchange a little gossip, catching the eye of a neighbour (or possibly avoiding the eye!) This in contrast to the experience of internet shopping which is a lonely and even a rather bleak affair usually carried out late at night behind locked doors, where the option of a bargain offers no opportunity for a little old fashioned bargaining.

Christmas is approaching fast and many of us who possibly do not practise the gentle art of shopping very often, (other than for food) will venture out into the retail world in search of a present for girl/boy, friends, husbands, or wives. The department store offers a world of retail fantasy where the lights dazzle - it cocoons us in a luxury world of soft carpets and soothing music. Father Christmas usually lurks in the basement making cheerful promises to children that make parents grind their teeth at the need to invest in yet again the latest, expensive game set.

So long live our Town Centres with milky coffee, the seductive fashion shops, the betting shops, the flowers-sellers by the station, the Big Issue sellers, all the good and the not-so-good on offer which is the stuff of life. All this comes alive at Christmas with the urgency of the season. The annual promise of setting a present price limit for the family (we always agree to spend no more than £10 per person) is doomed to failure. Christmas is a religious and pagan festival that we all still enjoy - it gives us all a chance to fraternise and socialise once again and have a really good shop!

Tony Kane is founder of Time & Leisure Media Group and editor of the Wimbledon, Wandsworth and Putney editions of Time & Leisure Magazine.