That really is the question many of us are toying with right now. We want to keep businesses in business, but we also don't want to put workers at risk. So how do we do the right thing?
My friend Carol (from number 22) and I were discussing whether or not now is the time to be buying and sending gifts to family and friends, in light of the extreme health and safety measures we need to take in the wake of Covid-19. People are still having birthdays, but should they expect to receive gifts?
My husband's 43rd birthday was last month. He was both surprised and disappointed, as he was sure he was turning 42. He usually flies back to France for his birthday so he can spend it with friends and family, eating pig's intestines and drinking until he passes out. If you were wondering why I don't go with him, now you know. This year, his plans were scuppered thanks to Coronavirus. Instead, I made him a card, cooked him a steak, gave him some fancy chocolate, a book I'd bought him for Christmas and forgotten about, a back scratch and opened a nice bottle of Pinot Noir. I also left him alone for the entire day rather than nagging him to clean the kitchen floor or put my hanging basket brackets up. He had a reasonably pleasant day, all things considered.
Do we work on the basis that our postal workers and delivery drivers are putting themselves at risk every time they go to the depot to pick up their parcels, or do we look at it like this: without us buying stuff and sending it to people, they would be out of a job. Royal Mail workers perhaps not so much, but franchisees of MyHermes, Yodel, DPD - well, it's quite likely. I asked Gill, the lovely lady who delivers MyHermes parcels in our street. She's as busy as ever, but said she'd prefer to be working than sitting at home worrying and not earning any money. Most MyHermes couriers just chuck parcels over people's fences anyway, so they've never had to worry about coming anywhere near the parcel's recipient, nor germs. I'm pretty sure their drivers are hired purely on their ability to throw fragile objects over obstacles. Gill, however, is the exception. She actually knocks at the door and hands you your parcel - imagine! So Gill wants your parcels, and our postman said the same thing, pretty much - he gets to walk for miles every day when the rest of us are being told to stay indoors, is able to say hello to everyone on his rounds and the only change he's made is to wear gloves and yell at me from the end of the driveway whenever he has a parcel for me. I made him some banana muffins in case he was fed up with yelling; imagine my surprise when I didn't see him for five days and began to wonder if I'd put ant powder in the cake mix instead of flour.
After much deliberation, then, Carol and I decided that buying gifts from small businesses was the way to go. To be honest, I always try to do that even in non-pandemic times. This is not the occasion to put more money into Jeff Bezos' pocket, even if Amazon sell pretty much everything you could ever want along with everything else that you really don't.
There are florists nationwide who deliver beautiful blooms in a box, straight through your intended's letterbox. I love Bloom & Wild; I've sent some to friends and family and they last for ages. You could always email a small business owner and ask them if they want to ship products right now, or whether they'd prefer you to buy an e-voucher or gift card. Some gifts will be small enough for the seller to pop them in an envelope and post in their nearest post box without them even having to set foot in a post office. Consider local brewers who can still ship beer, artisan gin makers, independent coffee brewers (such as grind.co.uk), potters - the list is endless, especially if they offer gift cards for use when they re-open.
John Lewis are doing e-vouchers for customers who are shielding so that they might pass them (via email) to the person doing their shopping during isolation. If you know someone who's shielding and struggling financially, I'm sure they'd find that gesture really useful right now. Any kind millionaires reading this, I'm shielding and would love some flowers delivered. Thanks! Hotel Chocolat also do a nice line in gift boxes of fancy spa products and, of course, chocolates, if you want to cheer up a friend who is shielding, with a box of dark chocolate ginger treats *coughs*
Etsy is also a great place to start for quirky, handmade gifts, in particular jewellery or even a one-off vintage item. Sellers will close their shops if they don't want to trade through lockdown, others will be depending on sales to keep them afloat. I found the most beautiful, not-for-the-faint-hearted earrings at www.etsy.com/uk/shop/sweetiepips which I turn to for friend's birthdays, my birthday and whenever my ears need cheering up. I own a huge, chunky necklace that looks like Liquorice All Sorts from the very talented www.suegregor.co.uk who makes jewellery from repurposed Perspex. Oh, and look at the fabulous sunglasses at www.palaeyewear.com - these guys do amazing, eco-friendly designs. I have the giant pink pair that make me look mad, which is fine by me.
My actual lovely earrings from Sweetiepips on Etsy
Bookshops will be desperate for sales now that people aren't wandering in and browsing; most offer gift cards, too. Another avenue is charity shops who have online platforms - many sell on eBay and another idea is to sponsor an animal from a local shelter. I've always done this for family members and small charities will be desperate for funds through this crisis. My favourite animal sanctuary, FOAL Farm in Kent have all manner of feathered and furry creatures for sponsorship. I'm rather taken by Biggles the sheep. If you're a big spender and really want to cheer someone up with the ultimate in-your-face gift for a big birthday, head over www.megtait.com and marvel at her fairground-inspired light-up signs. I am dreaming of the day I have the cash for one of her fabulous pieces; I will ask her to make me a sign saying, 'Idiot' and hang it above my desk.
Meg Tait's signs are the ultimate mood lifters - find her on Instagram at meg.tait_showpony
What we can do right now is make the effort to source local retailers, whether that's someone in your town who makes jewellery, a baker who delivers beautiful cakes (with disinfectant icing if you're ordering one for Donald Trump), an artist selling prints of their work or handmade crafts. What about a beauty salon or hairdresser who sells vouchers that can be used once we're free to tend to our frazzled locks and withered bodies again? And don't forget, most of them will still be selling hair and beauty products while they're closed. Cinema vouchers for movie addicts? If they have an independent theatre in their town, even better.
There has never been a better time to shun the retail giants and put your money where it counts. Hopefully it might just change our shopping habits forever. Here are some ideas: