Consuming Issues: Free – and easy – summer holidays

Despite all the entreaties to lavish money on smart phones and Thai spa breaks, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy yourself without opening your wallet. While the summer holidays – and the recession – are in full swing, here are some free ideas:

Start a book club

Book clubs are a great way to catch up with friends and literature. You don't have to buy the books, though. Many libraries keep special lists brimming with engaging titles. Ruminate on the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce in Dickens's Bleak House, or share your misgivings about the spooky boarding school in Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

Join a live audience

Want to chortle at a comedy or soothe a furrowed brow with Beethoven? The BBC offers free seats for its shows at bbc.co.uk/tickets. Last week, visitors could request a ringside seat for the semi-finals of Mastermind, a Radio 2 Live concert starring Mika, and the BBC3 teenage sitcom Coming of Age.

Watch old films

Old gems often nestle in the afternoon schedules. Tape them and make an evening of revisiting a bygone era of wit, glamour, or chauvinism. This morning the First World War thriller Zeppelin is on ITV. At 1pm tomorrow BBC2 has the 1939 Howard Hawks classic Only Angels Have Wings starring Cary Grant and Rita Hayworth, and 10 minutes later, Five screens the 19th century India adventure East of Sudan.

Take a walk in the countryside

Why not stretch your legs while admiring the views from the 130,000 rights of way in England and Wales? The mountains, moorlands, meadows, woods and wetlands of Britain's 14 national parks demand picnics.

Visit a museum

Major museums and galleries are completely free. Gawp at the mummies in the British Museum, hunt the Tasmanian wolf at the Museum of Zoology in Cambridge, or inspect Vincent Van Gogh's portrait of the art dealer Alexander Reid at the Kelvingrove Gallery, Glasgow. See culture24.org.uk.

Go swimming

Few beaches charge. And children can swim free in 208 English council pools all year round, and in Wales during the summer holidays. Register your offspring at the local pool and make a splash.

Attend free festivals

Free festivals, talks and concerts take place daily across the UK. Today the Old Town Carnival in Hastings, East Sussex, climaxes with a flypast by a WW2 Mustang. This weekend, 113 hot air balloons reach for the sky at Bristol's Balloon Fiesta – Europe's biggest balloon festival. The Edinburgh Free Fringe this month has more than 200 free comedy, art and music events. Visit free-events.co.uk or londonisfree.com

Heroes & Villains

Hero: Smile

The Co-op's internet bank keeps winning plaudits. Which? Money says its current account is the best in the UK, with a £500 fee-free overdraft and five-out-of-five for customer satisfaction.

Villain: Peter Mandelson

A pre-emptive award. The Competition Commission has asked the Business Secretary to set up a supermarket ombudsman. The Dept for Business, Innovation and Skills was non-committal. Why do the words "kicked into" and "long grass" come to mind?

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