Shop till you drop - in Xmas spirit

WHEN Ipswich Central phoned and offered Lynne Mortimer £500 to go Christmas shopping, she was cock-a-hoop -but that wasn't quite the whole story.

Lynne Mortimer

WHEN Ipswich Central phoned and offered Lynne Mortimer £500 to go Christmas shopping, she was cock-a-hoop -but that wasn't quite the whole story.

It turned out the offer of £500 had strings attached.

First, everything I bought would be given to a charity to raise money and second, it was to be a one-town shopping experience in the Ipswich Business Improvement District (BID).

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Could I buy presents for everyone without heading off to another shopping centre?

We would find out and, in the meantime, I swallowed my bitter disappointment that I wasn't about to get that gorgeous dress, a snip at £350.

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Ipswich has a mix of famous high street names and independent stores and, if you're looking for something different - or even something the same - it's a fair bet you can find it here.

Happily, Ipswich Central, the company that administers the BID, assigned me a local bearer in the shape of Ben Collins who cheerfully lugged round perhaps the largest single load (by weight) of shopping the town has ever seen.

First stop is St Nicholas Stores, a deli in St Nicholas Street where hampers can be made to order. I ask for a £40 selection - intended for some older friends - and, arranging to pick it up later, we process to Music World where it is a decorated drum (£34.99) that attracts my attention. It isn't just any old drum, you understand, but a djembe from Africa and it is an ideal present for the young son of a friend.

Every child needs someone to buy them the noisy presents.

I am getting into my stride now.

At Waterstones, Eliza Shaddad, is extremely helpful. She tells me the three best-selling books and I go mad and buy them all - Dawn French's Dear Fatty, Paul O'Grady's At My Mother's Knee and Michael Parkinson's Parky are an absolute bargain at £28.98 the lot.

For another £1.50 I add a map of Ipswich - handy for an out-of-town visitor who might want to find all the shops I'm visiting.

Ben looks relieved I haven't added the weight of the fourth best seller, the impressively large Guinness Book of Records to the haul.

Enterprising Art, in the Thoroughfare, has an amazing array of designer art and craft on show and, as I go in, I'm thinking it might all be a bit pricey but actually, I was entranced by a set of beaded salad servers that are just £19.98. It is an ideal present for someone who does a lot of entertaining and they are gift-wrapped for me.

Moving up into town centre, the market on the Cornhill is heaving but the beautiful cut amaryllis won't keep till Christmas so, we move on to some of the best known high street names.

In Debenhams, a gift pack of Yves St Laurent Elle is the most expensive purchase so far. It costs £50 but it comes is a posh YSL carrier bag and looks very classy indeed. Dani Tostevin, who talks me through the purchase, sprays a little of the fragrance on to my wrist and although men don't literally throw themselves at me, a small voice from behind the stack of bags and boxes says it smells really nice. It is Ben.

I am starting to get a bit concerned about him. It's a cold day and he doesn't seem to be wearing any warm clothes.

“Have you got a vest on?” I ask.

“No… but I'm not cold,” he insists.

“Mm… we'll see about that.”

Next stop is Marks and Spencer and although we're heading for the “3 for 2” Christmas Shop, the first stop is the top floor, men's underwear department where I find Ben the ideal vest (see picture) to see him through the winter months.

After this small diversion, Ben and I look at the 3 for 2 toys and select a big raggedy doll, a Paddington Bear and a science starter set. Each item is priced at £20 so we were expecting to pay £40 but a further reduction means we pay just £31.20. The task of spending £500 is starting to look a bit tricky. There is still a long way to go and Ben is barely visible behind the shopping bags. Will he make it to the end of the exercise?

At Memorable Cheeses, Peter and Sarah Forster are keen to show off the local produce they stock and so a boxed set of Ipswich beer, from St Jude's Brewery in Cardigan Street, and a whole Suffolk Blue cheese (total £20) are added to our purchases. These are the definitely the gifts that have had the least distance to travel.

Memorable Cheeses have been trading in the town centre for 12 years and the shop has introduced me to many new and wonderful cheeses including Suffolk Gold, Single Gloucester, Lincolnshire Poacher plus great accompaniments to cheese - biscuits, chutneys, beers.

We move on and, in an energy-saving exercise only go as far as next door to Cusp, a wonderland of ethnic-looking carvings, stone and crystals. I am immediately attracted to a giraffe, carved in Bali from a soft wood. He is a snip at £28 and I have a young couple in mind who will certainly find somewhere prominent to place him in their new home. We call the giraffe Ben in honour of Ben who maybe doesn't look as thrilled as he ought as he tucks the four feet high carving under his arm.

Next door at Berridges, the jeweller, I force myself to look away from the diamond eternity rings (not a hint) and concentrate on the task in hand.

A range of designer jewellery called Sabo is reasonably priced and there's a bead bangle for around £25 that charms can be attached to. The bracelet and two charms amounts to our most expensive - but possibly most desirable purchase of the day.

The idea is that you can attach different charms to suit your mood or the season. We chose a heart and a snowflake to reflect the warmth of Christmas and the chill of winter.

Moving on, Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe is a tribute to sugar rush. Rows and rows of traditional boiled sweets, toffees, liquorice treats and bon-bons take me back to my childhood when my 6d (for anyone aged under 35 that's 2.5p) pocket money would be blown on lemonade crystals that turned my fingers yellow and made it look as if I was a seven-year-old chain smoker.

Bill and Sue Longman run the business with daughters Heidi and Cherry. They've been in Ipswich just a few months but the region has such a sweet tooth that they're opening another branch in Bishop's Stortford and are hoping to have another in Suffolk.

The best-selling sweets include blackcurrant and liquorice, liquorice comfits and toasted teacakes (a coconut confection) but the overall best-seller is rhubarb and custards. These two tone boiled sweets are made to a recipe that is over a century old and they are traditionally fashioned.

We'll have a jar of those, I decide and Ben looks a tad worried - how is he going to manage that as well as the umpteen bags and a giraffe?

A timely coup de grace comes from the Longmans, who offer to look after the shopping, while we complete the challenge. As we leave they give Ben a Mega-Sour Black Death to sample - apparently they are popular with local firefighters.

At the Candle Store, an extravagant candelabra plus six teardrop shaped candles in different, beautiful colours is added to the haul and, feeling suddenly Christmassy, I buy myself a big Advent Candle.

The Entertainer toy shop is the next port of call and here we buy one of the toys of the year - a Star Wars Clone Trooper Voice Changer (don't ask) and some sort of Transformers zapper and finally we drag our weary bodies and much-used credit card into JJB Sports where we pick up a red England Away shirt.

We haven't quite spent £500 but, had the books been full price and if Paddington Bear had not been knocked down, we would have been up to our limit.

Most of the stores told us that trading was steady and picking up and Bill Bethell, owner of the Candle Store reckoned things are up on previous years.

The shopping experience itself was painless. At the independent stores in particular, we were given an enormous amount of help and information and many of the shops offered to look after our purchases so that we didn't have to lug it all around… I'm afraid I didn't tell Ben that.

The service was excellent in every single store and, I would say, if there is anything at all you need to know, don't be afraid to ask.

Now I just have to go out and do my own Christmas shopping… Ben? Ben, where are you? Come back, Ben…

- The purchases Lynne made have been shared between two charities, St Elizabeth Hospice, Foxhall Road, Ipswich and The Princes Trust, Princes Street, Ipswich. Both charities are supported by the East Anglian Daily Times. The Princes Trust will be putting the items into auction in the New Year and St Elizabeth Hospice will offer some items as raffle prizes and some will be distributed as Christmas gifts for hospice patients.

Ipswich Central is online at

Lynne's total spend:

Shop item spend

Berridges bracelet and two charms £65.85

St Nicholas Stores hamper £40.00

Music World drum £34.99

Debenhams fragrance £49.00

JJB Sports England away jersey £39.99

The Entertainer Transformer and Star Wars toys £44.98

The Candle Store candle holder and candles £57.93

The Cusp Ben the giraffe £28.00

Memorable Cheeses beer and cheese £20.80

Enterprising Arts Ltd salad servers £19.95

Marks & Spencer toys £31.20

Waterstones three books and a map £30.48

Mr Simms jar of sweets £29.70

Total: £492.87

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