The other day a four-and-a-half-inch high plastic lemon appeared in our fridge. I asked my wife what it was doing there. "Oh that," she replied. "Lucy thought it would be useful for storing the lemon halves you don't use." Lucy has a habit of supplying us with solutions to problems that we did not know we had.
Call me slow on the uptake, but it only dawned upon me recently that I had been Lakelanded. I tend not to pay a lot of attention to kitchen and cleaning utensil purchase, my mind is on higher things (watches, cigars, tiepins and so on) so the fact that our household had joined the Lakeland Cult escaped me, but then that is the way with Lakeland. Like most addictions, it has a habit of creeping up on you, which is probably why a survey by Which? magazine discovered that it was the nation's favourite shop.
Lakeland is almost 50 years old. It began as a business selling plastic bags to farmers; after that it was but a short step into plastic haystack covers and silage sheets. But even in the 1960s Lakeland was showing its solutions-to-problems-you-never-knew-you-had side with "Lammacs", raincoats for newborn lambs. The Big Chill of the Seventies when Britain went freezer-mad gave Lakeland the chance to enter the domestic freezer bag market. With that came the Archimedean realisation that people who freeze food also cook it, and thus kitchenware entered the Lakeland universe. There are now 47 Lakeland shops around the country and a plastic lemon in my fridge.
What I love about Lakeland is that it shows there is still a Britain beyond the iPad, Twitter and Cleggeron consensus politics, a Britain that is unafraid to be cosy, clean (or spick and span as I daresay they say Lakeland) and – yes – house-proud. As someone who has suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder I find it hard to dislike a company that sells mini foam-ended sticks for cleaning beneath cooker knobs and inside plug holes.
Britons love gadgets and Lakeland has them in abundance, whether it is mini shelves on collapsible legs (no more double-stacking misery in the jam and tinned goods cupboard) or adhesive transparent bird-feeding kits to be stuck to windows (enabling Lakelanders to get up close and personal with our darling little feathered friends).
The Lakelander lives the not-quite-Nigella dream of domestic deification. Whereas Nigellaphants, would probably go out of their way to assemble a heterogeneous assembly of jam jars and asymmetrically cut pieces of greaseproof paper, the Lakelander knows that the best way is to go to Lakeland and equip oneself with everything from a Scandinavian berry picker to special sticky labels. On the website you see Lakelanders urging their favourite store ever onwards to greater heights, so I was particularly struck by one correspondent who wanted Lakeland to do its "stuff and blaze the trail" and sell wipe-clean pre-printed labels for "store cupboard basics".
With such products as its talismanic banana guard, Lakeland is entering doily territory. Unsurprisingly, it is a robust champion of the unfairly maligned ornamental filigree paper mats, which it describes as "by far the prettiest (and most nostalgic!) way to display dainty delicacies". Hurrah! In the 21st century, as our national identity is under threat of erosion, I find it extremely reassuring that there are people who still care about a pretty way to display dainty delicacies.
Nick Foulkes is author of 'Gentlemen and Blackguards – Gambling Mania and the Plot to Steal the Derby of 1844' (Weidenfeld & Nicholson)