A newsagent is the name given to a particular type of shop. The name seems to be in use in Britain and Australia, although I suspect similar shops exist elsewhere.

Unsurprisingly, a newsagent sells newspapers; that's its raison d'être. But if it only sold newspapers it wouldn't be a newsagent; you'd probably call it a kiosk or something. No, it does more than that.

You'll find all manner of magazines here, from Women's Own to FHM with PC Format in there too. There will normally be obscure interest stuff, and of course the top shelf of soft-core pornography is totally essential.

There will be chocolate. At the least, this means a few bars by the till, but normally it's a whole shelf-thing, with all manner of Cadburys and Nestle products, as well as the less 'mainstream' confectionary; the liquorice bootlaces and exploding candy of this world. There will also always -- always -- be chewing gum on the counter, in a sort of stand-thing. In fact, until you're about twelve years old, you'll probably know your local newsagent as the sweet shop

Cigarettes. That's the next piece of the puzzle. Newsagents are tobacconists too, with the cancer sticks safely tucked away behind the counter so anyone wanting some has to ask the shopkeeper for scrutiny of age and worthiness; the sign TOBACCO PRODUCTS ARE NOT FOR SALE TO ANYONE UNDER THE AGE OF 16 proudly displayed to ward off evil spirits. It doesn't work.

A newsagent may even have some alcohol. Now, they aren't off licences or anything. Most likely are a few bottles of spirits and dodgy wine, there for show and dinner party emergencies.

Most newsagents have greetings cards too. Now, these have got weird in recent years; it seems to be a legal requirement that every birthday card has to have at least one sexual innuendo in it. Anyway, they normally have an alphanumeric price code on the back, with a lookup chart pinned on the card-rack. Make sure you get an envelope.

Nowadays, you don't have to work for money, either. You can win it all by buying a National Lottery ticket or scratchcard from your newsagent. If you win a small amount, they'll pay out too.

And how do you find stuff out? The Internet? Rubbish, no such thing. The local newspaper is crap, and gossip ain't what it used to be. Well, there's always the newsagent window. There will be little cards stuck there advertising rooms for rent, cleaners wanted, private maths tutoring, PCs fixed, and 'discreet personal massage'.

And finally, everything else. The boundaries begin to get blurred when you realise some newsagents sell packaged food, maps, books and pets.

The newsagent is a shop apart; it is an institution; It just is.

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