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!


Crusader Vouchers to the Rescue!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope, just shopping I’m afraid, but a marvellous idea to help small businesses locally!

With a striking superhero comic-book themed corporate identity, a small group of marketing agents from Westbury have donned cloaks and set up a voucher system in support of our local high streets.

Claire Rowlands runs Fundraising in the Community, a local company dedicated to supporting businesses in Wiltshire, whilst helping schools, groups, charities and organisations raise funds. They plan to launch Crusader Vouchers as a subsidiary to FITC Media. As it sounds, it’s a voucher-based concept akin to the website Groupon, but for local small businesses, the ones hit hardest by the lockdown.

Fundraising in the Community is a quality, professional service that offers a unique platform with a tailored audience to help drive prospective new business through the doors of local companies; whilst helping schools, charities, clubs and organisations within the community fundraise for their good causes.

Their voucher idea launches this October, and asks you to “put on your mask, grab your vouchers, support local businesses and bag yourself the best deals in town!” They have a website, but the majority of action is via Facebook, so like their page, where you’ll be able to access monthly vouchers for independent shops and small businesses throughout the South West.

These crusaders of independent shopping say, “the offers that we provide are free for everyone to enjoy, no catches, just straight forward vouchers to take advantage of each month for local small businesses and independent businesses. Due to Covid-19 our businesses need us more than ever so we’re appealing to you to put your mask on, grab your vouchers, buy local and bag yourself the best deals in town!”

Since the successful IndieDay in Devizes, I’ve noticed many similar schemes in local towns but here’s something truly original but like any new scheme, it’ll only work if people get behind it. So please do, everyone loves a voucher!


Eat Out to Help Out, Locally, Independently

I am listing local restaurants, cafes and pubs who are participating in the “eat out to help out,” scheme and encourage owners in the Wiltshire area to contact Devizine, to be listed freely. Although you know me, have to have a little rant beforehand, so scroll past my waffling if you wish to get direct to the list! Note the list will be updated, so check back in August.

For information on how to apply for the scheme, see here. Note the scheme comes with restrictions. Only available on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from the 3rd to 31st August 2020, and offers a 50% discount, up to a maximum of £10 per person, for food or non-alcoholic drinks to eat or drink in.

Eat-Out-to-Help-Out-poster-2571185


“I believe I dust my broom.” Robert Johnson sung that, the bluesman who sold his soul to the devil at the Mississippi Delta crossroads, in exchange for faultless musical flair, so he must know what he’s on about. Although, to dust your broom actually means to make change, derived from the expression “get up and dust,” or get out of town fast. I didn’t need to do that, just get out of B&Q!

Had my old outdoor broom for decades, but timeworn, it finally gave up the ghost. Sunday, I nipped into B&Q and returned home proud owner of a new broom with a screw-on handle. Too loose, one swipe and the head fell off, tighten it and it passes the thread and…. the head falls off. Time passed and my patience caved by numerous attempts to secure the handle on the head. I came to the forgone conclusion, it’s either fate; star alignment’s fault, since NASA claims I’ve moved from Pieces to Aquarius, or, more likely, it’s mass-produced shite.

After hand sanitising, queuing and following the one-way circuit around the entire store, I returned it, swung into town, parked dead outside Mainleys and picked up a far cheaper, better broom. By very design, glued and stapled, it’s old-fashioned, but a coupling method which has worked for centuries. If it’s not broke…. A lesson learned, then; should’ve shopped local.

porkypigeats

Make no mistake, I consider this soundbite “eat out to help out” nauseatingly haughty, coming from a government who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to provide basic meals for school children. Guaranteed, this is yet another move to line the pockets of big business, the mass-producing restaurant chains.

Never forget Boris’s bum-chum, Tim Martin and how he refused to close during lockdown, refused to pay his staff and suppliers. If a Frankie & Benny branch sadly closes, the staff will be the only ones to suffer; that’s sorrowful reality, I’m afraid. Note the variety you think you’re getting with a parade of Wagamama, Frankie & Benny’s, Chiquitito, et all, is false, they’re all the same company and will subside each other; different sauce, same old chicken, pal. If the government are going to open taxpayer’s wallets, I urge the small business and independent eateries, who would otherwise close, lock, stock and barrel, to dip in before the fat cats.

big-mac

Unfortunately, I’ve experienced the rubber chicken which bounced off the floor of Wetherspoons first hand, lost teeth on Hungry Horse waffles, and felt famished twenty seconds after eating an air-pumped big mac. Like my broom experience, I’m at my tether’s end; best to shop local.

Not that I’m trying to persuade you, the choice to eat out is your prerogative and risk; many pubs and restaurants are continuing to provide takeaway services, many established takeaways are delivering and continuing to provide an excellent service too. Sometimes though, it’s nice to be able to eat out, remember your mask. If you can, here’s a list, then, of local places participating in the 50% off “eat out to help out” scheme; let’s support them.


If you missed my social media requests for participating places to be included, do not worry, I can update this if you twist my arm with some love…. and remember the best way to a man’s heart! Ah, insert laughing emoji here; only kidding, cheeky blagger that I am. Just message me and I’ll get your café or restaurant added! Do take heed though, while we’re here, overflowing with banter, our foodie reviews are the most popular articles, and we’d love to do one for you.

You can find more participating eateries via postcode search on the Gov site here.  


Devizes

Massimo’s Ristorante

For twenty-seven years Francos was the finest Italian restaurant in Devizes, but with the departure of Sicilian chef, Massimo Pipitone things were never quite the same. Two years ago, Massimo returned to Old Swan Yard to recapture the restaurant’s reputation and with a name change, has succeeded in putting it back on top. Still operating the takeaway service, it begun during lockdown, they’ve now reopened the restaurant, excellently observing social distancing regulations. They serve traditional Italian and Sicilian cuisine, and the pizzas are awesome!

Take it from me, one who loves his tucker, you will not find better service, quality and tastier food this side of Roma!  Booking at weekends is essential. 

The Pelican:

Splendid inn situated at the Market Place, known best for its roast dinners, which can be takeaway too. The Pelican have various cuisine events and has a scrumptious bar menu. An example from this weekend’s roast option:  Slow Roasted Leg of Lamb. Chicken is always an alternative every week with a beautiful Home-Made Vegetarian Option. Vegan or Gluten Free diets also catered for with advance booking. £8.95 per person, £5.95 per child, £4.50 per Home Made Dessert. Please telephone 01380 723909 to book.

pelican bar menu

 

New Society:

Sitting somewhere between glorious pub grub and restaurant, New Society in the Market Place was quickly established as one of our best eateries. Our review last September has always been one of our highest hitting articles, and they were glad to announce reopening on 3rd July. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, or perhaps a coffee stop, New Society is a comfortable setting and serves a large selection.  Operating usual daytime opening hours, but currently evenings are restricted to Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It is advisable to pre-book for these nights (01380 722288).

newsoc1

1Spice

One of the newer establishments, it did not take long for 1 Spice in Maryport Street to earn the jewel in the crown of Indian restaurants in Devizes, and rightly so. It’s my chosen place for a knees-under, and is often cited top of majorities’ list. Conventionally, Indian restaurants convey an aptitude of exceptional customer service and etiquette, and 1Spice is of no exception. Expect to be welcomed, but what is more, expect a wide and gorgeous selection, mixing the flavours and spices of India with the finest seasonal ingredients the West Country can offer. It’s driving my appetite for a Ruby just typing this, and I’ve had my dinner already!

The Hourglass:

Tucked away at Devizes Marina, the Hourglass is a perfect location and serves a high-quality pub menu. Options have been restricted since reopening on 4th July, but expanding now, and takeaway service is available. Booking is advisable for food. Subject to change, opening hours are 11am-9pm every day, with food served between 5-8pm, Thursdays through to Sundays. Book online here.

hourglass

Tea Inc

A cup of Rosy-Lee for me, I’m not a coffee guy. Still, I’ve not been in Tea Inc in the Ginnel (just off the Market Place) and now in Marlborough, sovereign of tearoom towns. This must change, I’m coming for you guys, ensure you have some custard creams! This humble teashop throws off the doily and delicate fingertip-cup-hold stereotype of tea rooms and prides itself with an eclectic, quirky environment they affectionately call “The Shoppe.”

Serving crumpets (fnarr, yurkk, yurkk) sandwiches, salads and soup, this could just be the essential shopping stop-off for tea drinkers; get away from me with your X-L vanilla Nespresso dripping down your MacBook!

Times Square

Central to Devizes Market Place, Times Square is simply the perfect little coffee shop for a light lunch. Cakes and ice cream, say no more. As the name suggests it may have started by being inspired by American cuisine, yet only in the best possible taste. Times Square is no stranger to hosting the odd event, and is a welcomed shopping stop off.

  Brogans Café

Brogans Café in the Brittox is one I confess I’ve yet to try. Outside space, ice cream, cakes and milkshakes and smoothies, Brogans prides itself on its vegan options. “Vegan Jaffa Cake style cake” as pictured below, might just twist my arm!

Bengal Bite

Throughout my years here in Devizes, Bengal Bite in Sheep Street has always been the tandoori kitchen of choice. The Bengal Bite offers contemporary Indian and Bangladeshi food. It’s comfy and hospitable, a romantic place to woe a prospective love with a mild Korma, or equally a place for you and the lads to blow your pants off with a blistering Vindaloo! The Bengal Bite has been voted the best restaurant in Wiltshire by the readers of the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald, and 2014 finalist for Small Business of the Year in the Wiltshire Business Awards.

The Fox & Hound

A little out of town but worth the trek down Nursteed Road, The Fox & Hound is an inviting family pub, offering romantic carriage rides followed by lunch or candle-lit dinner, and successful horse-drawn ghost and historical tours of Devizes start and finish at the Fox.

Jeffersons

The most down-to-earth café you’ll find in Devizes, this is Monday Market Street’s gem; great service, gorgeous homecooked breakfasts and lunches at affordable prices, never had a bad fry-up there yet!

The Bell on the Green

Always a favourite for the location in its title, The Bell has reopened with times and obvious restrictions. Here’s their menu….

Bradford-on-Avon

 

Coffee Etc:

Marvellous little coffee shop in Lamb Yard, just off Kingston Road, serving hot and cold beverages, breakfast, lunch and afternoon teas with great homemade cakes, and vinyl records too. Comfy hideaway this place, perfect for a stop-off when strolling town. I reviewed it a long time ago for Index:Wiltshire, but the site has been taken down now, so you’ll have to take my word for it! Facebook page here.

coffee etc