can't shop? don't shop! the last-minute xmas

Still haven't done your Christmas shopping? Fear not. What are petrol stations and all-night chemists for? Annalisa Barbieri goes shopping on Christmas morning

CHRISTMAS shopping, like revision, should be left to the last minute. As it is, you will buy things no one wants, for people that you do not like, so you may as well spend as little time as possible doing it.

Not everything shuts for Christmas. This is a useful fact to remember even if you have smugly done all your Christmas shopping, as there will always be someone you forgot, someone who gives you a present for which you have no reciprocal offering. Or the Christmas spirit may simply get to you a little late and you suddenly find yourself getting all festive and decide to get just a little something for the aunt/brother/ parent you've disliked all year.

This is one time of year when living in town bears fruit. In London most of Chinatown is open, so for perhaps a rather kooky present you could buy a take-away (just pretend you are eccentric) or a pair of chop sticks (great fun when you're drunk as you can invent the hitherto undiscovered pleasures of ``101 things to do with chopsticks''). Open all hours mini- supermarkets such as Bestway in London's Westbourne Grove should also be open on Christmas Day. With a little imagination those everyday grocery items that you pass all year can become Christmas Presents of Great Originality. Who wouldn't be delighted with a spare pair of rubber gloves (did you know that Virgos apparently like making love with them on?) or 10 packets of someone's favourite fags, or a year's supply of Always Ultra (it shows you care).

Equally those most boring of places, petrol stations, suddenly become Christmas oases. Yes, a pint or two of milk may just be the most boring present but it will, I guarantee you, also be one of the most useful (heck, festive ribbon will transform anything). Some of the larger ones also sell great CDs that no one will listen to, but at Christmas this doesn't matter. Thus Johnny Cash at Christmas seems ironic, sweet and witty all rolled into one, whereas Johnny Cash at any other time of the year would induce vomiting. You can pick up car-care kits for the uncle you only ever see at Christmas, a can of Pal will do for the dog and there are tights (all American Tan no doubt but this is a shade which is on the ascent) for any female relative of the older generation (they were well brought up then so will be too polite to say anything other than ``thank you, lovely'') or for any cross-dressing male friends (American Tan is a great shade for hiding leg hair). Nappies for the baby, indigestion tablets, batteries and rolls of film for just anyone. See, it's easy when you really think about it.

One great place that is open on Christmas Day from 11am-2pm is Pamela Price's deli (26 The Pavement, Clapham Common, SW4, tel: 0171 622 4051). Here you really could buy all your last minute Christmas pressies and they would all be fab for discerning lovers of food. In this scrummy 20- year-old deli you can pick up chocolate stuffed croissants (sounds much nicer than pain au chocolat) from 45p, lots of veggie things (good for the veggie person you forgot about who is coming to lunch and, let's face it, there's always one). There are Aga-dried tomatoes for ``Aga louts'', baby mince pies, bigger mince pies (30p), Mont Saint Michel biscuits (very nice with morning coffee) and if Pamela can get it together there will also be some of her home- made brandy butter. Her neighbour makes ``Clapham pot pourri'' which is made from the flowers in her garden and a local barrister makes honey from his own bees (there are also ``royal'' honeys from Sandringham, Windsor etc; they cost about pounds 4 and would make excellent gifts for visiting foreign folk). Stocking filler bouquet garnis (a good little gift for the chef) are only 45p.

There is something utterly decadent, festive and stupid about doing all your Christmas shopping on Christmas morning. It is also great fun. Working against the clock your adrenalin goes into overdrive and you become more imaginative, more alive. And maybe a little bonkers. It may be too late for this year, but next Christmas try having a kamikaze Christmas and leave it all `til the last minute. After all, what's the last minute for?

8 The Capital Radio Christmas Line, run by Capital Radio, LWT and Carlton is a 24-hour telephone information service providing support to Londoners over the Christmas period. Tel: 0171 484 8484. For deaf people there is a Minicom service on 0171 388 7588.

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