Stumped for a Christmas present? Sick of identical products offered by identical chain-stores? Local suppliers can provide a rich mine of original gifts.

Christmas Stocking? Try some local treats

A long-standing illness, compounded by a clutch of ancillary disasters presented me with a huge challenge when it came to Christmas shopping this year.

Yes, I know – you can get it all on line. But nothing beats buying presents over the counter.

I remember a hilarious episode in a London store when an inexperienced sales girl, decked out in a Santa hat six sizes too big, tried to gift-wrap a present for me.

It was my lunch-hour and I was buying a present for my boss. If you work in a City law-firm, the term ‘lunch-hour’ doesn’t actually equate to 60 minutes, but rather to the time taken to cram a sandwich down your neck and scald your throat with a cup of over-priced coffee in a fancy paper cup.

However, I pushed the limits that Christmas – with the help of Santa’s Little Helper! It was quite a simple present – or so I thought – being an oblong box. But Santa’s sales girl was unversed in the art of festive origami.

“Would you like it wrapped?” She asked hopefully, her hat tilted over one ear.

“Yes,” I said.

I realised my mistake when her mouth drooped slightly. I had misinterpreted the signs. She was hoping I would say “No”.

After that, we jointly endured a 40-minute ordeal while she tried to persuade the box into an increasingly rumpled sheet of wrapping paper, the Santa hat tilting crazily over her eyes so that she could barely see, her cheeks reddening until they glowed like Rudolf’s nose.

As soon as she squeezed the present into one end of the paper funnel, it shot out of the other. It soon became clear that I was going to be very late back to work. I was torn between a desire either to giggle hysterically or cry from frustration. However, I decided Santa’s Little Helper was in need of moral support.

To leave with an unwrapped present would signal defeat. To turn on my heel and dismiss her valiant efforts would have been heartless and I could not bear the thought of the disconsolate elf, snuffling into her hankie in the stock-room.

It would have taken a braver person than me to wave the white flag; such was the look of determination on her face as she wrestled with scissors, paper and reams of Sellotape that stuck to her fingers rather than the parcel.

At last, triumphant, she presented me with the mangled package, her hat slipping jauntily over her nose in a final salute.

That was some time ago. I am no longer able to defy the crowds and shove my way to the counter of local stores. And, while I miss experiences such as that of Santa’s Little Helper, there are others I would prefer to forget – such as the time when a man spat at me in a shop. To this day, I have no idea what sparked that act – or the torrent of abuse that followed – but it was surreal and disturbing. All the more so, because it took place in Tunbridge Wells!

Afterwards, shakily drinking a cup of tea provided by a sympathetic sales-woman, I reflected that times had, indeed, changed. No longer content with literary fulmination, ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ had evidently abandoned letter-writing, preferring to air his views in a more primitive fashion. 

Recently, my inability to withstand the hurly-burly of the Christmas High Street has provided a revelation. There are alternative sources of presents – close to home – which provide not only a stress-free shopping environment, but a hugely enjoyable experience.

Hotels can be a fruitful hunting-ground. For instance, The Grand Hotel at Folkestone provides a real taste of Edwardian Christmas with its glass-fronted Palm Court, formerly the haunt of King Edward VII who brought both his wife and his mistress to stay.

The Grand has a carefully-chosen selection of gifts which include jewellery, ornaments and CDs as well as books on local subjects or written by local authors. It also holds an excellent antiques fair once a month (1st Sunday). Having made your purchases, all you have to do is totter into the Palm Court and revive yourself with coffee or an indulgent high tea while staring out at spectacular views of the Channel. At week-ends, you will also be soothed by the playing of the resident pianist. All far more civilised than the unholy push-and-shove of shopping malls.

Hotels can offer a diverse range of products including sports equipment, gym passes, cosmetics and locally-sourced produce. For instance, Eastwell Manor, near Ashford, has a beauty salon which sells many of the products offered in leading stores – and some that are not so easy to find elsewhere. The hotel also offers a comprehensive range of vouchers which cover anything from afternoon tea to golf-packages (starting at £25 for a day with breakfast) and romantic week-ends for two (click here). Vouchers also allow you to pamper friends and family with treats from the Dreams beauty salon (click here).

In fact, vouchers redeemable from local suppliers not only offer a vast range of choice but also infinite flexibility with regard to price.

So, if you cannot face the horrors of rugby-scrum shopping or the Internet has lost its charm, consider going local. Shopping can still be a treat and you may be surprised at what is on offer.

Here are some more suggestions for sourcing local Christmas presents:

Local authors: Kent has masses of literary talent. In 2012, Canterbury’s talented SaveAsWriters group printed a second anthology of their members’ poetry entitled “Where Words Rub Together”: a steal at £5 a copy [+ £1.70 P&P]. To buy a copy, write to:

For short stories with a decidedly Kentish twist, seek out Maggie Harris’s modern take on Chaucer’s classic. “Canterbury Tales on a Cockrow Morning” is priced at £10. To buy, go to:

Local artists: Kent has a dazzling array of artists – and you can find unique, hand-crafted gifts at very reasonable prices. The best place to find these is at local arts and craft fairs. Although this year’s event has passed, I can thoroughly recommend the annual art fair at Godinton House, Ashford (around late November).

For garden lovers: Annual membership to local stately homes or gardens can supply year-round pleasure. For instance, a membership ticket to Godinton House gardens costs £17. A variety of on-site courses – including horticulture – will also be available next year priced at around £55. These

can be paid for in full, or partially, by gift vouchers. To find out more, telephone: 01233 643854.

Brogdale, home of the national fruit collection at Faversham, has a wealth of shopping possibilities. It has an easy-access retail courtyard with shops offering locally sourced Meats, Cheeses and Foods as well as a Florist, Gift Shop and Garden Centre. Or why not buy a fruit tree as a special surprise?

Food heaven: Faversham is also the portal to foodie heaven in the form of specialist delicatessen food hall Macknade. Fantastic for all sorts of unusual and authentic food items.

Apples and Pears: Why not treat your friends to a box of Kentish coxes, some locally-made cheese or some game for the freezer? Here are some sources:

Farm-shops: My nearest is the excellent Perry Court Farm, Canterbury Road, near Wye. It grows its own apples and has an extensive shop which sells almost as many specialist food products as a top-class supermarket.

Farmers’ markets: Try Wye (outdoors) and Whitstable (indoors).

Kentish wine: Chapel Down vineyard, Tenterden. Of course! They produced the wine for William and Kate’s wedding which, incidentally, is also available at The Grand, Folkestone. My favourite? Chapel Down Flint Dry white wine.

Local garden centres: A small propagator and a packet of geraniums makes a great present – even for people with no gardens. The seed companies are now targeting those with restricted space. For instance, Suttons Seeds is offering a line of window-box vegetables.

Christmas cards: I picked up four packets of local charity cards from my osteopath’s surgery! 80p in every £1 goes to the Pilgrims’ Hospice, Ashford. A nice way to spread the love!

And finally ... T. Thurai’s novel, The Devil Dancers, is available in paperback from The Grand Hotel, Folkestone at a special promotional price. Ebook versions are available from Kindle (Amazon) and Kobo (approx. £3). For a summary of the novel, click here. For more information on how to buy, click here.