Devizine Christmas Shopping Challenge!

Too early to even mention the big C? Yes, I accept, but needs must with four weeks of lockdown at our door. The gauntlet laid, the challenge: to seek out Christmas shopping items suggested by our Facebook readers within a two-hour limit, including an obligatory breakfast, by shopping in Devizes, using independent shops as much as possible. Can it be done, will I get a soaking, will I remain relatively sane?!

A Tuesday morning in earliest November, I’m confident and at a steady pace. It’s overcast but dry, the sun attempts to peak through, and surprisingly, there appears to be no rush or panic buying with three days prior to the lockdown sequel. Is there any point to all this, one may ask? Yeah, I said I was going to do it, despite my general loathing of shopping (retail therapy is an oxymoron to me.) We still have three days, and fingers crossed all will reopen next month. I did make a point of asking the relative shops about their online presence too. All is not lost, Devizes is a wonderful little place to shop, but million dollar question, can you get everything you want there?

This list then, lets have a look. I have only six items suggested, therefore added something of my own. Got to look after number one after all. So, added to the list is a new jumper, and a cuddly elephant; note I’m a grandad now, it’s not for me!

Items on the list as follows: Clair Goodwin Figes wants a spatula spurtle, of which I had to Google. Jenny Moore wants a tagine, yep, that too. Ema Waterman wants an electric whisk, or, failing that a bottle of whiskey. I guess with enough whiskey inside you an electric whisk is unnecessary. There seems to be a running theme of kitchen utensils here, but I was prewarned popping into Ma Cuisine and scooping the whole bundle in one would be frowned upon.

Other, non utensil items were a Galileo thermometer for Leannie Cherry, a specific album for Catherine York, Nine Below Zero’s Don’t Point Your Finger, and Teri Stout wanted some gouache paints; I hope you’re all on the good list ladies.

Result, I think, was fair. Did I manage it in two hours? Well, I didn’t get a parking ticket, let’s put it that way. Inclusive of laps around town trying to find a parking place, I was dusted well within the time limit, and survived to tell the tale.

First port of call I figured was easy, Teri’s gouache; there’s an artist’s shop in St Johns near the Vaults. Yeah, I govern my way around by pub names. In fact, as I do, I fail to notice changes to our shop fronts, and found a nice-looking tearoom come Chinese restaurant called the Mayflower. Though it was closed, I was like, oh, never seen that before. Much was the nature of my start to the challenge, as what I figured would be easy, was not. The artist suppliers kaput, who knew? A picture framer and décor supplier, Original Glory stood in its place. Not so original as its namesake, as it used to be an artist’s shop, and had been for as long as I can recall. They were however friendly and recommended Devizes Books.

It’s plastic gloves on at Handell House, and Jo there to great me. I could spend eons in this cathedral of all thing’s literature and art. Devizes Books is wonderful, always has been. Alas they only sold watercolours and pastels. I was diverted to WH Smith, in which doubtful about as it broke the rules, and anyway, they only had watercolours and acrylic paint. Sorry Teri, item one; failed.

Down Maryport Street I marched unperturbed of my failure. I spotted an electric whisk in Mainlys, Ema, that shop which has got everything hardware and a whole lot more; I took a snap through the window.

Detour Clothing was the destination to fulfil my own want of a new jumper. The only men’s clothes shop in Devizes has been on scene for twenty-four years, once situated down Swan Yard. The thing is, and I put it to the chatty shop owner, people drift by assuming as it’s breached a gap in the market, it must be pricey. “We get more tourists than young local people come in,” she explained. When really, prices are reasonable, there’s jumpers on racks, a steal at £15. The notion you need to travel afar to obtain new threads, guys, is proven wrong by this great little store.

Now, I did promise myself a breakie, I love a bit of New Society, you know that, and was recommended Brogans and Soup Chick in the Shambles. Time pushing on, I’m heading for the back of the Shambles for a sample of soup, but it was closed. “People shutting up early,” said a trader, “before lockdown.” A sign of the times, perhaps. Maybe they were simply out of croutons. 

Biddles it was, a warming and hospitable alcove of the Shambles, after the draft of the doors. Biddles supplied me with a mug of tea and a tasty bacon roll, cooked just how I like it, all in for £2.50. You’ll not get that in Costa. I’m not one for delicate a’ la carte when it comes to breakfast, I want good honest grub at a steal, job done at Biddles.

Refreshed, I’m on my way to sort Cath’s request out; rather like Highlander, there can be only one. Vinyl Realm, under their new roof in Northgate Street is just how you remember a record shop being. I dragged my daughter in just last week, flicked through vinyl and told her that’s how we made a Spotify playlist back in my day. Pete brushed his hand over his record deck, for people to use and try before they buy. “Kids come in and play the vinyl on here,” he smiled in reminiscence, “just how we did.”

They sold a copy of Don’t Point Your Finger not so long ago, but assured me they had other albums by Nine Below Zero; so, I half-met the agenda. Thing is though, I’m in there now, browsing, and could be some time. What Pete and Jackie don’t know about music you could write on the back of a matchbox, with space for diagrams. And they’ll happily chat about it till the cows on a Pink Floyd album come home. Man, I noticed an original Atlantic 7” of Wilson’s Picket’s In the Midnight Hour, for a mere fiver. But I spent my pearl on local band Mr Love & Justice’s 2009 CD, Watchworld. Pete and Jackie are dedicated to our local music scene and will sell unsigned bands’ wares in abundance.

But there’s more to the activities happening here in the yellow gem on Northgate Street. Pete showed me out back of his new digs, where I was greeted by a wall of sound, and a guitar lay on a desk ready for new strings. Whether it’s instruments or simply a band t-shirt, Vinyl Realm got it down, and PA hire to a vintage hi-fi, it fits any bill. What is more, lockdown is no worries, Pete explained he was still busy during the last one, as they have a website, ordering service and will deliver what you need if you ask them.

Time ticking I’m hopping out of there and down the Market Place. The Ginnel, that little pathway of ever-changing indie boutiques and tea rooms is a must. Tea Inc is bustling, but I’m on for a cuddly elephant here, I can feel it in my bones. Handmade gift shops are plentiful in town, Beezes is a beauty. Next door an extension for children, Little B’s is simply delightful, lots of crochet and knitted cuddlies, wooden toys and books await you there; a cute little elephant awaited me. For less than £13, he’s a steal and would warm any child’s heart. I took his mugshot on the desk; he deserves a loving home. Beezes set up a website last lockdown and so will continue to trade, they warmly informed.

But I’m still in the dark with all the kitchen utensils from the demanding girls! Oh, and Leannie’s Galileo thermometer; please, can’t I just go home now?

What the heck, Ma Cuisine it is. Never been in there before, but it’s a maze of kitchen goodies stacked to the ceiling. A small chain based in Bath, it’s glorious. I sauntered the aisles, assured I’d find them all here. Amidst spatulas a-plenty I couldn’t see a spurtle, but nothing was “man-labelled” and I confess, I didn’t have a Scooby-Doo what it looked like! Trouble is, I felt like a mere peasant in the Queen’s chamber, and scared for my month’s pay, to knock so much as a kettle off the shelf, I made a sharp exit.

Gloomy outlook, I failed, I spent too much time lapping up my bacon roll and gassing in the Realm. I’m homebound, grab some teabags from Iceland which is what I came out for. There’s the very misconception though; residents nip to town to grab a necessity, save a big shop for a larger town. But walking through Devizes is a delight, and though we may’ve not made the outlandish requests on the list precisely, there’s plenty to purchase here, and little need to venture elsewhere.

Example, and hole-in-one. On my trek to Iceland I pass through the Little Brittox. There, at number 3, is the Giving Tree. What a wonderful name for a gift shop, and so, as name suggests it, I give it a last go. Whoop bang wallop! No, I didn’t smash anything. The lady inside sprung to order when I told her the nature of my visit. I noted a fine wood spatula, that will have to do Clair!

A tagine, for Jenny, yep, right above it, she told me. I tried my luck and inquired about the Galileo thermometer for Leannie. “Yes,” came the reply, and she hurried to fetch this wonderful workable charm. Placed together it was the perfect ending; result! Three in one, done, thanks to The Giving Tree. And yep, just like the others, they trade online, and you won’t find customer service like this at a sprawling blot on the landscape retail park.

Even the name gets my goat up, honestly, “Retail Park,” “Shopping Village,” doesn’t fool me, call a spade a spade, it’s a shopping centre, nothing like a park or a village at all. You’ve been had by the name alone, how can you trust them further? Ak! Shop local!


Our IndieDay at Brogans!

Images by Gail Foster

Coming from Essex where shopping is religion, you’d think I’d be impartial to the duty. But no. To be bluntly honest, as I believe I mostly am, I find nothing entertaining or enjoyable in sauntering a continuous stream of mundane chain stores aimlessly, other than to spend money I haven’t got on crap I didn’t want or need in the first place. Blessed we are then, in Devizes, with an array of original, charming and interesting independent shops, which make shopping endurable for whinging cronies like me! An ethos celebrated, kind of, this Saturday by the group Devizes Retailers and Independents who, in order to return commerce to our wonderful and lively town, held an “IndieDay.”

MP Danny Kruger opened the event, I missed that, loads of shops got involved and opened their doors to a festivity-fashioned celebration, missed that too. Donkeys and more, I missed. Far better for me to contribute by loitering outside Brogans café, munching on a bacon roll and taking credit for Mike J Barham’s hard work!

I arrived late, The Devizes Rotary Club arrived long before to lend us a grand gazebo, and Mike too, he set up a PA, he managed the PA, he hosted the event with his charming and entertaining charisma, and everyone came up to me and thanked me; result!

Honestly, as I’ve said, I have to give a massive thanks to everyone involved for making it such a special day, and in this day and age it was indeed even greater. Mike Barham for one, aforementioned contributions, but two, for rocking both the opening and finale with a plethora of his own work, such as the lively Bowser’s Castle, and thoughtful prose through downtempo blues, to the thundering satire of a west-country-styled Top Gun theme, Danger Zone! The guy is a one-man machine, the best of the best, of the best.

So yes, breakfast to a late lunchtime at Brogans got lively, as people filled the plot outside and the carpark, in the sunshine. It was something until late last night I feared would fail, with gapping gaps between the confirmed acts. Sadly, and for various reasons, Archie Combe and Tom Harris had to cancel, and our opening act, Pewsey singer-songwriter, Cutsmith was also unable to attend. The worry took me until 10pm when I unleashed a masterplan; Tamsin Quin cropped up on the book of face, to thank me for reviewing the new Lost Trades single, and so, whammy, I dispatched note of my concern and asked nicely if she would be able to grace us with her presence, and naturally, sing us a song or three.

I highly suspect they’re secretly superheroes, Tamsin, Jamie and Phil, and if not, they certainly saved my skin, more than once before. Tamsin dragged Jamie R Hawkins along, and as their alter-egos with no need for superhero costumes, they did it again. Thank you both so, so much. Tamsin gave it her all, which needs no surprise, her confidence and professionalism doesn’t preside her charming grace and skill to entertain. Jamie accompanied her brilliantly on cajon, claiming to be “getting into it now!” after just two songs in.

Then Cath and Gouldy rocked up on their way to the Southgate, to play as their folk duo Sound Affects, which was, as ever, blindingly awesome. All originals and finishing on Mr Blue Sky and Come on Eileen covers, it was superb. So, a massive thanks to them.

The finale then, was rocked by Mr Michael J Barham, which I’ve said already, but needs another mention. Thanks to everyone who turned up and made it really special day, including our photographers, Ruth, Nick and Gail, writer Andy and all the supporters. Thanks to Brogans for having us, I trust we behaved, least it could’ve been worse, believe me! It’s times like this which make Devizine feel more than me clonking on a keyboard, and rather a thing of community, of spirit and substance. Though now I’m back clonking, vainly bigging up our own gig, which I justify by noting it’s not about me, or my bacon roll, and more about the good folk who regularly contribute to make this website function, the musicians, writers and photographers, and supporters. Here’s to more, I want more!

This is not an act of vanity, but a condition Gail set forth in order for me to get permission to use them! Thanks Gail, it takes a highly skilled photographer to capture me smiling!

Devizine’s IndieDay Outing!

Well blow me down, cover me in peri-peri sauce and call me Natisha if we’ve had a Devizine event recently. Understandable all things considered. Annoying though, being I passed on the idea of holding a second birthday bash last autumn thinking we’d host or co-host something better in the summer.

Crystal ball smashed, see? Face bothered? Yeah, a bit, y’ know. Hits to the website has taken a blow, yet that informs me just how many people were using it as a what’s on guide in times prior to lockdown. And anyhoo, for me it’s a hobby, like trainspotting, just without the trains….and spots. I still don an anorak for formal appearances! For businesses and performers alike though, it’s been a rough ride.

What was waffling about before a class 55 diesel locomotive chugged past me? Oh yeah, events. Well, you may/may not be aware town centre will be alive on Saturday, 5th September, when the Devizes Retailers and Independents group hold their Indie Day, celebrating our array of independent shops and cafes. There’s fun to be had, shopping and eating and stuff, with lots of prizes to be won, etc. Original idea was to have buskers around and about, but I believe that’s not so easy to do with current restrictions.

So, we plan to be in presence, centred in the rear garden of Brogans in the Brittox, purveyors of a fine breakfast, nice tea or coffee and scrumptious lunches and cakes. In which we will have some live acoustic music running throughout the day from, I dunno, 10ish till 3ish; that sound good?

Check dis out; Vegan Jaffa Cake style cake @ Brogans, say no more!

Rather hastily put together at short notice, due to getting approval on our proposal to observe social distancing, so if you come along, it’s essential you abide by them. We will track and trace, advise you to wear a facemask if wandering outside of your “bubble,” and Brogans has measures already in place too.

I think it’s important, the day as a whole, being local business have been hit hard by the lockdown. Yet equally is our side-stall, gigs were the bread and butter for musicians, sadly missed by the punter, desperately reducing performer’s revenue. That said, the budget I’m working on is zero and I’m asking the acts to come for the love of it. I sincerely hope if you come along, you can show your appreciation when I badger you with a bucket, thank you.

I also encourage them to bring their wares, CDs and any merchandise they have for sale on the table; and this goes for anyone passing by also, who may have a creation for sale. Make sure you drop past by 3pm to pick up any earning. Any earnings are 100% yours, I might get my arm twisted if your offer me a bacon butty, other than that I’m asking for nothing!

Said tip bucket will be shared between all participating performers at the end. Shutdown is around 3pm, giving us time to finish up and head to the Southgate where the amazing Absolute Beginners will play from 4pm, and I’m getting a round in for all the performers. That’s the plan anyway, subject to change as ever. In fact, I’m delighted to say Cath and Gouldy of Absolute Beginners are pencilled in to drop by around 1pm, before the gig at the Gate, so you can see for yourself how damn good they are.

Everything is in pencil at the moment, just wanted you to give you plenty of notice before you start planning a shopping trip to the Greenbridge retail park, or anything wildly hedonistic like that. Colour pencil though, rainbow; on the cards we have the one-man army, Mr Mike J Barham, who’s kindly to offered to setup a small PA while I rub my stubble, and pretend I know the technicalities he’s referring to.

Also, hopefully dropping by will be our brilliant Tom Harris of the Lockdown Lizards, Pewsey’s finest Cutsmith, and London-based Archie Combe, a classically trained jazz pianist, composer and musical director. I’ve not given them timeslots as of yet, but we’ll play it by ear, which will be a beautiful thing given the wealth of talent. There might be room for one more, if you’re up for it, let me know, or just drop by with a guitar on the day and I’ll try fit you in; can’t be any vaguer than that! But vague is my middle name (actually, it’s Lee, but c’est la vie, Lee.)

So yes, it only leaves you to browse past and enjoy the day. Danny Kruger is coming, and if he can make it so can you; don’t believe the hype! Let us know you’re coming on the book of Face.


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