Preview Country Living Christmas Fair

Christmas shopping begins in earnest when the lights go on in Oxford Street next week, but if you don't fancy the retail jungle of the West End then the Country Living Christmas Fair offers a civilised, one-stop shop.

From next Friday the Business Design Centre in Islington will be given over to the serious business of arts and crafts and it's a great place to get ready-wrapped ideas for recipes, decorations and gifts. Foodies can pick up truffles or cocoa-dusted walnuts, pick up a smartly packaged Melton Mowbray Pork Pie or buy freshly aromatised olives from Provence. For the lazy gourmand there are traditional mixed hampers, or baskets of Devon ice-cream.

Kitsch fetishists will be able to gild the lily with plaster cherubs, candleholders and table decorations. There are even workshops showing you how to decorate picture frames with gold leaf, sequin cards or learn "original ways with tassels, ribbons and bows". Exquisite gifts for children include strawberry-shaped shoes, classic rocking-horses and mohair teddy bears.

If all that sounds too chichi, get back to basics with the traditional present - socks (all right, these are hand-made) or arrange delivery of organic food such as fresh Cornish fish. After this four-day marathon of seasonal generosity, treat yourself to a "witty, wearable" headpiece from Coco Hats or a sumptuous velvet scarf (to wear on your next shopping expedition).

`Country Living' Christmas Fair, The Business Design Centre, 52 Upper Street, London N1, 8-11 Nov, 10am-6pm daily, pounds 10; special rate of pounds 8.50 for `Independent' readers. Late-night shopping on Friday, 6.30pm-9.30pm, pounds 6. Tickets on 0171-288 6888.

good thing

Toffee Apple Kit, pounds 1.95

What can you do with sticks, cellophane, ties and "a recipe to produce eight in minutes"? Sounds like an S&M dream come true - and this little DIY kit offers plenty of sticky fun. Now you can arrive at Bonfire night with your own personal stash of home-made toffee apples, created to your own specification (loads of toffee). Come to think of it, as long as you can hold it on the end of a stick, cover it with toffee and wrap it in cellophane you could make toffee anything.

mad thing

Celebration Candles, pounds 3.75

A cake decoration pack for that celebratory feel. These candles take the form of miniature top hats and champagne bottles to put the icing on the icing on the cake. Very cute, but it actually looks like a lot of very small people have got married on your cake, drank themselves silly, slipped through the icing and torched the place.

Both items: Lakeland Plastics Limited, Alexandra Buildings, Windemere, Cumbria, LA23 1BQ (015394 88100)

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