Why Vernissage in Ismailovo is the best place to buy souvenirs in Moscow

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a foreign tourist in Russia, whether or not in possession of a fortune, must be in want of a matryoshka doll.

And this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding Muscovites, that it is not at all difficult to find one’s rightful aide memoire in the various souvenir shops, stalls, or by walking down the Old Arbat, albeit at a price.

But if you want more of an experience, Mama’s top tip for the best place to buy souvenirs in Moscow is to travel a bit outside the centre to Vernissage in Ismailovo, next to the idyllic Ismailovsky Park. There you will find the largest affordable souvenir market in Moscow along with arts, crafts, antiques, and a flea market. Which also has the advantage of being part of the very attractive wooden Ismailovo Kremlin complex.

Art Market at Vernissage in Ismailovo Moscow

Look, ‘a kremlin’ is a fortress in Russian, OK? There are quite a lot of kremlins dotted around Russia.

In fact there are two of this one alone, as it is the second replica of the Tsar Alexei Michailovich’s summer palace in Moscow. The other one is a bit closer to the original location in Kolomenskoye Park.

Palace inside the Kremlin in Ismailovo Moscow

The Ismailovo Kremlin doesn’t really pretend to be anything other than a complete tourist trap, not that there is anything wrong with hanging out in a Slavic theme park in Mama’s opinion.

Inside you will find various small museums on crowd pleasing themes such as folk art, bread, vodka and child delinquency, many with the potential to attend master classes in… what? Matryoshka painting, bread eating, getting tiddly and the correct way to stick chewing gum on the underside of a school desk? Or something. I dunno. I wasn’t there, and Mama and Papa weren’t going to find out, having seized on Babushka’s offer to look after us at the weekend to get up at 6am and go and stand around in freezing conditions in front of tourist attractions that weren’t open yet.

Great time to get some uninterrupted photos though. Fabulous buildings, huh?

The Kremlin in Ismailovo Moscow

Being there so early and winter also meant that there were no brides wondering about looking photogenic – the other thing the Ismailovo Kremlin is for, aside from having a lot of entertaining space for hire, is hosting weddings. There is even a registry office inside and dedicated, suitably decorated buildings to retire to afterwards. If gawking at brides is your thing, Mama recommends coming in summer, when there will be queues of limos and big white dresses.

Mama missed out too on the live action blacksmithing and whatever else they do in the courtyard that leaves behind straw and a brightly coloured stage.

But that was OK. Mama and Papa were not really there for the Ismailovo Kremlin, not actually being tourists.

No, Mama and Papa were there to recreate their pre-children youth looking at the more pre-loved items on display in the upper sections of the market next door devoted to random second-hand tat likely to bemuse the foreign tourist, genuine antiques in the form of things like silverwork, samovars and icons, and other items of rather obsessive interest. Like stamps. Or coins. Or badges.

The flea market at Vernissage in Ismailovo in Moscow

Or, in Mama’s case back in the day, Soviet porcelain figurines, the idle collection of which she would have been considerably less blase about had she known what eye-watering prices they go for now. Still, at least you all know what present to get her.

Flea Market in Ismailovsky Market Moscow

Mind you, her most memorable purchase was a double bass. Look, it was minus 15 that day and she felt desperately sorry for it. Yes, the joinery did all spring apart as soon as she got it inside and it warmed up. It’s more a decorative item than actually something you can play when you live in a flat with paper-thin walls anyway.

More recently, Papa bought her a toaster for her birthday here.

Love is not dead.

Anyway. This Vernissage is the authentic heart of the complex, and has its origins in the makeshift flea market and informal hobbyist swap meet on the grounds of Ismailovsky Park proper that sprang up when perestroika both ushered in a more relaxed attitude to, well, everything and also tanked what was left of the Soviet economy to the extent that selling off your prized possessions became a necessity.

Or your paintings. The name Vernissage is actually French for ‘varnishing’ and is what you call the pre-exhibition showing of artworks, presumably because you are walking around sipping champagne while the pictures are still tacky.

At this time in the morning, then, everyone knows each other and its a toss-up whether it’s all the fascinating little items on display that are the main attraction or people watching the camaraderie of the stallholders as they catch up with friends, do a bit of inter-trading and see what new acquisitions everyone has brought along this week, along with getting set up for the day.

Enjoy, too, wandering around the winding alleys which curve here, there, and down and back up over each other, surrounded by carved wooden structures such as the souvenir sellers’ huts, a windmill, galleried verandas and covered walkways.

Vernissage in Ismailovo Moscow

It may have started in a very modest way, but it’s definitely not a temporary set up now. Although you’ll still find people spreading out their wares on the ground rather than specially provided tables.

Should you actually be wanting to buy a little something to remind you of your trip to Russia, however, then you want the lower sections of Vernissage in Ismailovo, where you will also surely be able to find the perfect gift from Russia for people back home.

There are, of course, fur hats with ear flaps aplenty. Every possible colour, many with a little star on the front and probably all made out of rabbit. It will still keep your head warm, of course.

Soviet kitsch is a lot less evident than it once was, which means that either visitors to Russia have finally decided that having small busts of mass murderers like Stalin and Lenin humourously perched on their mantelpiece isn’t as amusing as it was in the 90s, or they have cleaned out the former Soviet Union of such things already. Not completely disappeared though, and anything Red Army related is still quite popular, so never fear, hammer and sickle stamped items are here.

Red Army memorobilia at Vernissage Souvenir Market Moscow

But what Vernissage really excels at is showcasing the full range of traditional Russian decorative arts, many of which are actually either practically useful or genuinely attractive in their own right beyond just being a way of remembering your trip to the Wild East.

So what are the best souvenirs from Russia?

There are the aforementioned matryoshka, or Russian nesting dolls, of course. Practically compulsory. But you can choose between very small sets or giant ones, between rather simply painted ones and ones decorated with infinitesimal delicacy, artistry and patience. You can get ones with your football, hockey or basketball team immortalised, or the full set of Soviet/ Russian leaders. Or, if you commission one in advance, your own family.

Matryoshka dolls at Vernissage Market in Moscow

Whatever kind of matryoshka you want, you will be able to get it here at Vernissage in Ismailovo.

However, this is not the only handicraft available.

On the more practical end are the soft, so soft cobwebby Orenburg shawls, made from goats hair, and splendidly warm for those cold Russian winters. Mama also recommends the woolen socks and gloves, and these days they are even making highly decorated felt slippers in the style of the traditional felt boots that were once so ubiquitous on the feet of Russian babushkas.

Russian Felt Slippers at Ismailovsky Market in Moscow

I am pretty sure I know what Granny and Grandad are getting for next Christmas to add to their already vast collection of gifts from Russia.

Lace is still crafted by hand in parts of Russia, and can be found trimming linen tablecloths and napkins, tablecloths which Mama possess at least three sets of, but cannot bring herself to use in case someone spills red wine on them.

She does regularly bring out her sets of wooden napkin rings, painted with various scenes from Russian fairy tales though. These are riffing off the more traditional lacquer boxes, where the colourful scenes overlay a strictly black background.

Lacquer boxes in Ismailovsky Souvenir Market in Moscow

More wooden tableware? Try the cheerful Khokhloma spoons, bowls and trays and so on where red and gold flowers are painted over a black background (see the theme here?). Or more delicate porcelain cup and saucer sets from the Lomonosev factory, which also makes animal figurines. And teapots.

Fancy something a bit more frivolous? You will notice necklaces, bracelets and rings made from various stones throughout Ismailovsky Market. Russia is famous for its orange amber and green malachite, but almost any colour is available, and in a variety of styles.

Amber at Vernissage Market in Moscow

Is you house looking underdecorated? Then if you don’t share Mama’s taste in figurines, you could try the blue and white designs of the Gzhel factory, or the colourful, naive style of  Dymkovo. Which look a lot like children’s toys made out of clay and then painted because before the advent of plastic, that’s exactly what they were.

You can, of course, get actual wooden toys, handmade fabric dolls, and outfits in a traditional Russian style for kids. Who can resist those fabulous headdresses?

And at any time of your you can find some lovely carved wooden Christmas (New Year) tree ornaments, including large Father Christmases (Ded Morozes), who are designed to sit under your tree and guard the presents. Do not be alarmed if they are not dressed head to toe in red, this is normal. Think of it as an interesting Eastern quirk.

If you go to the flea market section you might be able to find some of tree decorations from the fifties too, which have their own unique charm. Mama’s pride and joy, which is inherited rather than sourced from Vernissage, is an ornament in the shape of a pickled cucumber.

There will also be all sorts of things, including pictures, made from silver birch bark, and there is always the fine arts market at the very top of Vernissage if you want to take home an actual painted picture imitating the works of great Russian artists, countryside scenes, urban landscapes and lovingly depicted flora.

And if all of this crafting activity is inspiring (and Mama has really only given the highlights), you will also be able to buy all sorts of supplies in order to have a crack at it yourself, a hangover from the days when Vernissage was, along with the flea market, a wholesalers market where the people who sold the items more directly to the public met the artists who produced them, and the artists met the people who produced turned wooden eggs.

Whatever you decide to get, have a go at haggling. It’s expected. But do also be aware that many of the items on display are not mass-produced and take time, effort and skill to produce. So they stallholders will resist past a certain point.

A word of warning if you are thinking about buying an antique – there are rules about taking items out of Russia that have both age and cultural worth, and you need a special chitty to be able to do so. If you really want an old icon, therefore, it might actually be better to get one from the more established shops on the Old Arbat. It is also prohibited to buy or sell medals of any age.

Icons at Vernissage Antiques Market Moscow

But that’s OK as you can get a magnet instead. They are plentiful. Although you won’t find much else made of plastic. If you want a model St Basil’s it will probably have to be painstakingly hand crafted from wood and lovingly painted. Sorry.

By this point you will probably be hungry. Luckily there are any number of snack selling kiosks dotted about, who will also be sending carts around the walkways if you can’t last until you find their permanent location, as well as cafes and restaurants back in the Ismailovo Kremlin. And if you fancy trying out some street food, there are people cooking up some plov and shashlick near the entrance.

If this doesn’t sell the place to you or if you are not convinced by our recommendations about the best things to buy as gifts from Russia, or that Ismailovsky Market is the best place to shop for souvenirs in Moscow, the best place to come to relieve the pressure of high culture sightseeing, AND the best place to discover a fascinating new line of collectibles, perhaps you will be tempted by the news that the same team behind the trendy Flacon art and design complex have purchased land right next to Vernissage. They seem to be planning to turn it into the sort of up market hipster hangout that is proving popular elsewhere in the capital.

One can only hope that this doesn’t send the whole place too far into tasteful blandness.

Just make sure you get off at the right metro stop on your way in. Oddly enough, Ismailovo Kremlin and Market is not at Ismailovsky Park.

Want to know more about what to do and see in Moscow? Check out Mama’s comprehensive guide to Moscow here.

More information

The Kremlin in Ismailovo’s website (in English. For a given value of English).

More about Flacon’s plans for Vernissage.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about tourists.

Address: 105187, Moscow, Ismailovsky Shosse, 73

Opening: Vernissage is best to visit on Saturday and Sunday after about 10am and before about 6pm. The market is much reduced during the week, especially the antique, art and flea market sections, but if you must go then go on a Wednesday.

Admission: It’s free to get into the market and wander around the Kremlin in Ismailovo territory.

Getting there: You need the metro station Partisanskaya (dark blue line) NOT the one called Ismailovsky Park. It’s a five-minute walk, tops, from this station.

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We think the best place in Moscow to buy affordble souvenirs in Moscow is Vernissage in Ismailovo and we also explain what makes a perfect gift from Russia

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MummyTravels

Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka, Moscow: more than just a department store

Mama is turning into an unbearable big city snob, much like Papa, who simply cannot imagine ever living anywhere other than the capital of any given country.

The way you can tell this is that Mama considers Hamleys in London one of the least pleasant places to while away a few hours in a long list of unpleasant places to while away a few hours. She has, in fact, been spoiled by the availability in such a large metropolis of many many more interesting places to hang out, and if a visit to a toy shop is actually necessary would far rather spend the afternoon wandering around the always empty ToysRUs than brave the heaving mass of small shrieking bodies fighting over a broken demonstration remote-controlled car or the last half-inch of kinetic sand. Her children’s delight in getting to actually touch an extremely limited number of the toys on display, in Mama’s opinion, is not worth the hassle of trying to keep an eye on her over-excited and increasingly frustrated kids in one of London’s tourism scrums.

Gagarin and Laika out of Lego

Luckily, because inexplicably we, her children, do not entirely share Mama’s hatred, we now live in Moscow, where there is the Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka.

Yes, it is a bit of a mouthful. There’s a story behind it. Let me explain.

The Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka is not so called because Soviet people had no need for this pig-dog capitalist nonsense of snappily memorable brand names. Back in the day it used to be called Detsky Mir, Children’s World, and it was glorious (Mama tells me).

Central Children's Store Detsky Mir Moscow

It was this giant warehouse of a place, with an aircraft hanger-like open space on the ground floor giving way to open plan balcony effect floors going up and up and up, each one with their own child related product theme. It was so big that the full-sized carousel in the centre of the main hall looked dwarfed. Mama used to particularly enjoy going and standing in front of the walls of a thousand million Barbie dolls. Papa preferred the acres of model train-sets. And they both used to travel to the pushchair section, pre-children, because you haven’t lived until you have seen the massed ranks of every possible make and model of four-wheeled baby carrier stretching far far off into the distant horizon.

Crowded and cramped it wasn’t.

Unfortunately just as Mama acquired actual children to go with her general love of wandering around it, Detsky Mir closed for renovation. And did not reopen for many many many many many many years. And sometime during that time, the name Detsky Mir became attached to a chain of children’s toy and clothes shops in and around Moscow. So when it reopened, the original shop needed a new moniker.

Of course, this doesn’t explain, quite, the utter lack of an interesting choice of name in the Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka’s bid to muscle into the lucrative Moscow what-do-we-do-with-the-children-when-it-is-minus-10 outside market. But then perhaps they are rightly resigned to everybody calling it Detsky Mir regardless of copyright whatever they did.

Anyway. I bet you are desperate to know what it is like inside, yeah? Mama is starting to take the piss with these long rambling introductions, isn’t she? I’ll get her to shake the format up next time, OK?

Inferior to the old version is Mama’s grumpy old woman verdict. Nooooooooo, I don’t want to go, you are the worst Mama in the world, let’s just stay for a bit longer, is mine, when anyone attempts to prise me away from it. You decide who is right.

Basically they’ve kept the galleried effect, but expanded the floors themselves so that the open area is much smaller and the available space for selling stuff much bigger, which means it feels much less spacious than before. This, of course, is the source of Mama’s grumpiness. She has had it with urban space squeeze after ten years in London. Papa is just outraged that the new commercially-minded brand has replaced the old iconic clock of his childhood and given the new one (say it with me) the biggest mechanism for any timepiece in the world.

Giant Clock Central Children's Store Detsky Mir Moscow

But what a ground floor it is! There is a STAGE and regular free performances throughout opening hours. If you like people dressed in giant foam heads resembling your favourite TV characters jollying your children along into singing, shouting, crafting and mild exercise, this is the place to hang out. Sometimes they even show cartoons!!! It’s great!

Inside Central Children's Store Detsky Mir Moscow

But it’s not the main event. The rest of the five floors are split between places selling toys, places selling children’s clothes and accessories, places to refresh yourself with child-friendly food, and places which offer other child-oriented entertainment opportunities.

The main toy emporium is provided by… Hamleys!(This may well be Mama’s other source of grumpiness as her face starts to twitch at the mere thought).

Biggest Hamleys in the world in Moscow at the Central Children's Store

Of course, this being Moscow, this Hamleys is much more spacious than the one in London even after the renovations (apparently, wait for it, it is the biggest Hamleys in the world, which should surprise you not at all), so as well as all the many toys to gawp at, there is much more room for the interactive play opportunities. These include, a large indoor climbing frame, giant slides, one of those pianos you can leap about on and make loud plinky noises with your feet, huge numbers of Lego building stations around an interactive Lego model of Moscow, racing an go cart round a track, having a go on a working carousel (smaller then the original, Mama sniffs, mainly because it’s not for adults) and SINGING WITH THE EQUESTRIA GIRLS!!!

The Kremlin out of Lego at Central Children's Store Moscow

Oh, and people demonstrating flying toys, the opportunity to handle the squeaking jumping dogs and more kinetic sand. Naturally. Yes, it can get a bit busy, but we’ve never had to wait that long to get our go on things. And if you are used to the London one, it’s practically empty.

This fabulousness can occupy us for as long as you like, but there are other things to do. First and foremost is to boggle at how many other brand names familiar in the UK have managed to set up shop in the Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka. Mothercare makes a certain amount of sense in a child themed department store, but Mama is mildly amused that BHS, the rather down at heel Marks and Spencer’s knock off, has an outpost here in the dead centre of overpriced boutique shopping that is central Moscow, albeit a usually empty outpost.

We, however, do not do our clothes shopping here (we go to the other Detsky Mir). But we do allow Mama to take us up to the top floor where there is a food court with any number of coffee dispensing outlets, a stained glass fairy-tale depicting roof and a large free indoor play area on the topic of space. We take our shoes off, Mama sits down with her vital caffeinated refreshment and we are all happy for half an hour or so. If the usual fast food joints are not something you could consider feeding your children at, the still reasonable but slightly more respectable Grabli café is on the same floor.

As is the access to the roof. Yes, you can go and stand on the top of this tall building and gawp over the rooftops towards Red Square and the Kremlin. It’s very very cool and there are free binoculars for even closer up aerial sightseeing. Follow the signs for the viewpoint (in English as well as Russian). There is also a free toy museum on the same floor, which we have yet to explore but which is on the list.

As are many of the other entertainment options. For the other reason why the Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka has squeezed its former space a bit is to fit in things like a cinema, a number of stages for robotics shows and the like, an anamatronic dinosaur experience we are TOTALLY going to for my birthday, and Kidburg, one of these amusements which involves children pretending to make like the adults, go work work, earn money and generally prepare themselves for the daily grind ahead. My Jammy Big Brother and Papa have been as part of a school trip. Mama and I have not. We are sulking and therefore not prepared to say anything about it whatsoever until we have our turn.

(‘IT WAS COOOOOOOL!’ says my Jammy Big Brother, ‘I HAD FUUUUUUN! But I kept choosing jobs that didn’t give me much money and I couldn’t buy a toy at the end.’ Which just goes to show you that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But Papa was not as scathing as he sometimes is when he has had to part with money in order to keep his brats amused, so it couldn’t have been that bad).

Central Childrens Store Detsky Mir Moscow at Christmas

Some tips. There is a cloakroom on the ground floor. Use it. Says Mama. Yes, I know you will have to queue when you want to go home, but you do not want to be the one schlepping everybody’s coats, overtrousers and extra jumpers around in the winter months.

Unsurprisingly, the Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka is much quieter just after it opens at 10am than at other times of the day, so if you really want uninterrupted access to all the interactive opportunities, this is an excellent time to arrive.

And also, those little ice cream selling carts dotted around the ground floor? Make use of them – along with eating an ice cream in GUM, eating an ice cream in the former Detsky Mir should be on every Soviet-inspired traveller’s bucket list. Plus, they are pretty good.

If you are travelling to Moscow with children, Detsky Mir, sorry, the Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka is a bit of a must. An indoor themepark in the middle of downtown Moscow? What better way to bribe your children when you want to fit in a bit of cultural and historical sightseeing? I know Mama is quite prepared to trade a visit to a museum with popping in here on our way home. From my point of view this is entirely the right attitude.

What else is there in Moscow that is interesting for kids and adults alike? Read THE guide to Moscow to find out.

More Information

The Central Children’s Store’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the seven deadly sins of electronic toy design.

Address: Teatralny Pr-d, 5/1, Moscow

Opening: 10am to 10pm, every day.

Admission: Theoretically, it is free to get in. Getting out without spending any money when you have children with you is another matter.

By public transport: The metro stations Lubyanka (red line) and Kuznetsky Most (purple line) are actually in the basement. How convenient is that?

By car: There is also a car park in the basement. Usually with a queue to get in too.

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The Central Children's Store in Moscow is more than just a toy shop, it's truly a Detsky Mir, or Children's World.

Packing my Suitcase
MummyTravels

Homebase, everywhere in the UK

There’s a place near our house where Mama and I often go to while away time on the way back from dropping off my Brilliant Big Brother at school, or when waiting for him to finish sitting on people at JuJitsu, or just because its sheer brilliance calls to us and it is raining. It’s a huge cave of wonders full of shiny things, exotic plants, thrilling computer games, colourful soft furnishings, thoughtful short films, well maintained race tracks, beautiful samples of crafting paper, giant wendy houses stuffed with really cool furniture, none of your cheap plastic tat, and it even has a thrilling fairground ride.

Its name is Homebase and I really love it.

The first thing that makes Homebase the perfect preschooler hangout is that on a weekday it is almost deserted. As long as I don’t go mad and try to break the land speed record for someone on a Minimicro, nobody seems to mind me puttering around its acres of splendidly wide aisles to my heart’s content so Mama’s normal ban on such things is relaxed.

Even better though is that Homebase has the kind of professionally smoothed plastic flooring that means I can glide with the merest of featherlight pushes. Delightful.

Aisle at Homebase

Another thing I like are the funky interior decorating games on the touch screens. You pick your room, select your paint colours and go wild! Lately I have also been getting well into selecting my flooring and pimping the furniture too. Perhaps one day I will persuade Mama to bring in pictures of our actual house, just like the game suggests, for me to have fun with. I am sure we can do better than Mama’s current choice of mainly mushroom throughout.

I’ve managed to get her to pick up a few samples of wallpaper before, but what usually happens is that Mama suffers a crisis of confidence in our choice of teal with pops of scarlet and turns it all into a craft project.

There is a reason why this is not a home and interiors blog, and the other one is that Mama has been trying to choose the right floor standing lamp for about eight years, but despite numerous excursions around the section of the store that is forever celebrating something with its joyful mishmash of all possibly lighting designs, she hasn’t been able to settle on one yet.

The only niggle I have with the computers is that for some reason these play stations have been placed inconveniently high up from the point of view of a four year old. However! This problem is usually solved by means of a handy chair to stand on. Or there’s always Mama to pick me up. Still, you’d think Homebase’d find it easier just to put them where its main customer base could easily get at them.

Touchscreen at Homebase

When gaming palls, there is always… the lift! It’s one of those ones where you get to operate the elevation machinery yourself, which always makes for a fabulously exciting ride, even if it is also extremely slow. Actually, I think that the building anticipation of getting to the top brought about by travelling at roughly the speed of a very tardy snail crawling up a wall is part of the fun. I am ready to explode when we finally get to step out!

Lift at Homebase

And I am rewarded! At the top of the lift are the full sized toy kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms. Amazing number and wonderful variety of drawers to open and close, open and close, open and close! Mama really gets into the play opportunities alongside me here. She seems fascinated by the doors where you can pull out double the number of shelves from inside a seemingly small cupboard. It’s her love of Doctor Who and the TARDIS I expect, although she also enjoys gazing wistfully into the really giant fridges. I can see why. There’s never anything in them! That would make anyone sad.

Cupboard at Homebase

That said, I am always a bit disappointed that the experience of finding a whole bunch of sweets waiting for us up there has not been repeated since the mince pie, mulled wine and chocolates excitement of Christmas. I thought we’d struck lucky again last week, because there was a large vase full of marshmallows in exactly the same place the Quality Streets were yuletide. It turned out that you were not supposed to eat them but guess how many there were inside. Huge let down. No idea what prize could possibly be more exciting than getting to eat the squidgy goodness, preferably with cocoa.

Not that I will be getting any cocoa as Homebase inexplicably does not contain a cafe. There is a hot drinks vending machine, and a burger van in the carpark too, but somehow this is not the same, especially as for some reason you are not able to make use of all the lovely sofas, armchairs, breakfast bars, garden furniture, dining rooms sets or even the large number of broken toilets that litter Homebase in order to have a nice sit down when you consume your purchase. This is a great shame in my opinion.

My Tremendous Big Brother likes the documentaries that are shown on screens scattered throughout Homebase. He was particularly taken by the one about the nifty new invention you can use to wash your feet while in the shower without having to do any bending. It’s a plastic slipper! But it’s also a brush! And more! You can buy them in Homebase! How cool is that? My Tremendous Big Brother was insistent for weeks that this was what he wanted for his birthday. In the end, the slipperbrushes lost out to more soft toy animals. It was a close run thing though.

And we do buy some things at Homebase, although that’s obviously not the main purpose of the place. Especially at Christmas. For some reason, Homebase celebrates the festive season two weeks in advance of everybody else, and takes away all its decorations down straight after. That’s OK, because they practically give away all their fairy lights, holly shaped banners and glass baubles at exactly the time when Mama is just thinking about putting our shiny things up, and so we invariably find ourselves with a large bag of new Santa shaped items for what Mama describes smugly as mere pennies.

But Mama really likes their outdoor garden area too and so too do our balcony window boxes. Bulbs, herbs, tomatoes and lots and lots of small mixnmatch flowers are what we are into. Every year we buy more and more. I think Mama is going for the record of how many plants she can cram into one small terracotta trough. It probably would just be easier to get Mama an allotment, but that might require her to learn more about gardening than just the ability to shove things other people have grown into compost and water them regularly. I do not think that is going to happen, frankly. Mama can barely cope with indoor houseplants requiring a year-round commitment.

I am prepared to tolerate the living things section because there is quite a high possibility that when we go there, somebody might be spraying water around. And my Tremendous Big Brother, ever the art lover, likes the animal sculptures. Not quite as much as he likes the door stopper shelf though. Massively heavy cuddly toy heaven!

Homebase, then, has a wide variety of attractions for all the family and deserves your consideration as a going out venue, not merely a place to pop to if you are in need of some mouse traps, cement, sand or a replacement peace lily. Go for it!

More Information

Homebase’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the real cost of improving your home.

Address: A big box retail park near you throughout the UK.

Opening: Typically, 9am to 9pm Monday to Saturday and 11am to 4pm Sunday. Some stores have slightly longer hours.

Admission: Free! To get in.

By car: Even in London, Homebase stores have decent amounts of free parking.