Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tree Frog Tragedy, The Butterfly Effect, Breakfast etc

In our interconnected world every meal, nay every moment, is a minefield of possible moral complication. Our every apparently innocent action seems to have unintended consequences.

Take this morning. As I plucked a fairly traded banana from the bunch and went to chop it into my organic muesli (Yes, sometimes I read the Guardian!) I found a dessicated tree frog attatched to the outer skin. For all I know this was a rare species. Maybe it was the last tree frog in the Amazon? I prised it off with a knife and the poor little critter fell to the kitchen floor where my ever hungry feline friend Henry was lurking. Before I could act the frog was gone and my fat cat was licking his lips.

Moments later he was being sick on the bedroom floor!

Only in the 21st century...

Friday, May 26, 2006

Separated at birth?

Dawkins and The Special One

Favourite things pt 2

This is a reply to my post below about media and context and books but I can't put links in the reply box and I wanted to attract your attention to these two pieces about the future of books.

Times Online


I had another thought on why the book can't be allowed to be replaced. One of the biggest problems facing computer scientists is the issue of data retrieval and obsolete hardware. Already, there are computers from the seventies that are unreadable because we have no way of accessing their hard drives through a computing language no one knows any more. (Who out there still uses Basic? Remember that?)

An allegory would be the Dead Sea Scrolls. These papyrus texts were lost for 1800 years. When discovered scholars instantly knew how to decipher them and we now have their knowledge. Imagine in a thousand years after the next ice age a shepherd boy discovers an imac in a cave (it could happen) Assuming the components hadn't rotted/oxidised/melted the people of the future now have access to the computers hard drive and its 40 gb of fabulous knowledge. However, having no way of actually reading whats on the hard drive the people of the future re-invent the frisbee.

The point is that in a thousand years they would have to re-invent the imac to be able to read it. We didn't have to re-invent paper to read the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is simply impossible to invent a computer and software language that will last for an eternity. So, if we want the sum of human knowledge to be passed down the generations then we simply have to keep the printed word. Full stop.

Are you f***** nuts?

I live in a garden flat. I have recently discovered that my upstairs neighbour uses my garden as an ash tray. There are about a dozen butts in the flower bed.

To my mind there are only two kinds of people who think it would be ok to do this. a) Someone with an IQ hovering around room temperature and b) A sociopath. I wonder which one he is?

[sorry, I just had to get that one off my chest]

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Elif Shafak on Radio Four

Elif Shafak will be interviewed on Women's Hour on Tuesday 30th May...

We are thrilled to welcome her to Crockatt & Powell later the same day when she will read from her new novel, The Gaze, and speak about some of the issues facing women in the Middle East.

We expect a large crowd for what promises to be a great evening. If you would like to attend please send a brief e-mail to

To buy copies of Flea Palace or The Gaze go to

My favourite things

Firstly, if you're reading this Scott, I apologise but it is honest criticism.

One of my favourite things to do is go to the pub. One of my favourite websites is A fabulously simple yet enormous database of all the pubs in the country. You can type in streets, postcodes, towns and pub names and come up with opening times, services, photos and maps of the pub you're looking for but best of all you get a rating out of 10 and a list of user comments which may not all be entirely kosher but you soon learn to weed out the ones posted by the landlord and concentrate on the genuine comments. These can be abuse, praise or just reminiscences. You also get all the pubs nearest to the one you are currently looking at so you can compare and contrast.

Now The Friday Project is a new publisher that takes material from the web and erm, publishes it. One of its new titles is Beer in the Evening, a guide book taken from the website and what an overwhelming disappointment it is. No maps, No photos, No cross referencing nearby pubs and not as many comments as on the website.

I can see that they are attempting a kind of Zagat or Hardens style crossover here for pubs but the greatest thing about BITE is its free. You get all the restaurant reviews at but you have to subscribe. The second greatest thing about BITE and the reason the internet is a marvelous joy to behold is its fluidity. You can add comments, interact. It makes BITE a living database and the book by comparison feels quite lifeless and empty.

And it set me to thinking about all the talk in publishing at the moment to do with technology, e-books, blogs and the future of the book. And it seems to me there is space for all these things. As with film and television some things just belong on a big screen and some on your telly box in the corner. And with text some belongs on the web, some in a magazine and some in a book. It's all about context at the end of the day and you have to choose the right media to serve the context of your work. Macmillan publishers are making most of their money at the moment selling english language text books and work books to India and China. I can't think of a better use for the new e-books coming on the market than as school aids. They could be cheap, durable and interactive. But likewise a novel just feels wrong on an e-book. I can't stand reading large chunks of a coherent and finite text on a screen even if it is the new inky screen and I still like turning pages. Art and Photography work much better as lovingly printed books. But I'd much rather read a blog on screen than as a book, it just feels right on a screen it's something about the never-ending quality of blogs, their unfinishedness suits the world of the web.

I don't think this marks me down as one of the technophobic fogeys because I love technology. I just appreciate that different materials require different forms of delivery and that is why the book will never die.

ps I have just finished watching season 5 of Curb Your Enthusiasm (not broadcast here yet) and it contains some of the most unparalleled comedic genius ever committed to video. One episode manages to include unfeasibly large vaginas, Orthodox Jews, edible panties and a ski lift. It is possibly my favourite ever. I'll leave it to all you Larry aficionados to join the dots on that one.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Congratulations Mr Meek

James Meek has become the first writer to win the Ondaatje prize for his book The People's Act of Love.

He has also sold the film rights and Johnny Depp is to play a leading role.

Thanks again James for the great reading you gave in our shop! May you and your book win many more prizes...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Laptop Hot as Hell

I have been using this laptop for about an hour now.

My legs are hot. Indeed my entire nether region feels like it is going to catch fire any moment...

Excuse me while I run outside to cool myself in the bird bath!

While I am gone read this and laugh a lot. If you are a religious nut then you might not laugh. Most sensible people will!

And the Winner Is...

A form has arrived through the post, inviting us to nominate ourselves for the Bookseller Retails Awards 2006. Obviously, we would love to be named Bertram Books Independent Bookseller of the Year, though I would settle for the Random House Group Award for Oustanding Contribution to Bookselling ("an individual who has made a significant contribution to advancing not only their own business but the sector as a whole, not just in a single year but over a period of time... a dynamic, positive force in the business of selling books, setting the pace, driving standards and expanding the market" - yup, that's me, though not sure what they mean by "driving standards" - I am actually a very bad driver). Though perhaps we should be angling for Direct to Consumer Bookselling Company of the Year for our internet presence - "innovation, excellence, customer relationship building and high service standards" - OK we've only had our online shop for a week or two, but surely that describes the blog almost precisely? I mean, we did change the font for you, and stopped moaning, and everything. Then there is The Bookseller Manager of the Year - "recognising the huge contribution of store managers... from recruiting, training and motivating... to delivering outstanding levels of customer service, developing local initiatives and staging author events." And store managers can nominate themselves! BTTS - are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Still I think I'm going to have to dampen down my enthusiasm for this game. Even if we do nominate ourselves and WIN WIN WIN, we won't actually be able to make it to the ceremony. A table for ten costs £1399 plus VAT - we'd bankrupt the shop, plus we'd have to invite seven mates, which I'm not sure we can rustle up between us.

2007 it is, then.


If you were to come into the shop right now you would find me on the floor behind the counter in the corner, knees hugged into my chest as I rock gently back and forth muttering incoherently into my unkempt hair. No, maybe that's not where I am. Maybe I am standing on the roof wearing army fatigues and waving a sniper gun around as Matthew and Adam try to gently coax me down into the street. Or possibly I am nowhere near the shop at all as have run off down the road past the bemused market stall-holders rending my clothes and screaming and shouting at the insanity of it all.

OK, OK, so actually I am sitting behind the counter, a model of neatness and calm, tapping away at the computer. But inside I am all of these cliches of madness. I just tried to order a copy of 101 Dalmations and it has gone OUT OF PRINT.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Oh dear. Sorry...

I was wondering why nobody had commented. And feeling a little bit lonely and glum. And then I found out that you did. And I didn't know they went to a Special Place waiting for me to approve them. (In my mind, a bit like an asylum seeker holding station). Sorry about that. You are all approved. Carry on commenting... please...

Friday, May 19, 2006

& = ?

Crockatt & Powell.

It's a good name I think. Could be a detective agency. Or something altogether more Dickensian. But what of the &...

When people come in and it's Adam and I there's no problem. I'm Crockatt, he's Powell. If Marie is there it's always cause for flouncing (a speciality of our feisty half-French feminist) Crockatt, Powell & Phillips. Doesn't really work. Phillips, Powell & Crockatt. Nah.

And then it came to me. Marie is the ampersand. Crockatt & Powell


I'll get a slap for that I suspect but hey...

In fact I'm bitching because we had a lady in from Vogue yesterday who was doing a piece on small bookshops. She listened, made notes and asked questions as Adam and I talked the usual nonsense about the trade and our place in it. Then at the end she began talking about pictures. Yeah, of course you can take some photos we said. She looked shifty. Isn't there someone else who works here? A girl perhaps...A pretty girl? Then it clicked. Too scruffy for Vogue. (Puts me in mind of the time I was chucked out of Harrods)

But I think Marie will do us proud as the face of C & P. Till then, she's the ampersand...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sorry, a football post.

I like football because you know that no matter how successful you are at some point YOU ARE GOING TO LOSE. It's a real humbler and even though those players are on the mega-ist of mega-bucks I think they earn every penny. Sorry to blaspheme but it is almost as if they are suffering for our sins and in the absence of divine remuneration then 100 grand a week seems cheap at the price to me.

On football related topics there is some kind of big deal coming up in Germany in a few weeks. Whatever could that be?

(I was in Germany in '96 when we went out in the semis to the Germans. I have a German uncle. One of the few times Germans could use the word Schadenfreude in their own language. Painful memories. But I was in Prague for the final between Czech republic and Germany. There were 10,000 dancing, cheering, drinking czechs in the town square and a giant screen. They lost too but it didn't seem to matter. They were happy to be there. Good memories)

Anyway, I was doing a recce of a rival yesterday and noticed they had the new Pele biography and at £5 off too. The cover price was £18.99. It really should NEVER be that expensive but the price has been inflated by the publisher so the high street boys and the supermarkets can look like they are offering the punter a bargain. But It's not. It should only be 14 quid anyway. This of course means we won't be stocking it but thanks to the arse last night I have learned humility in losing this particular contest. There's always another game to look forward to.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Red Box - Consignment For Destruction...

Jargon, you gotta love it...

What am I supposed to think when I come across Red Box - Consignment For Destruction in my peaceful bookselling life. Any idea what it means?

I had visions of apocalypse - blood raining from the sky - flaming streets - Danger!

(It is in fact quite a dull little phrase to do with the most depressing side of bookselling - returns!)

Next thing you know a bloke comes in to collect a copy of Unspeak and comes out with a brilliant slang word...


Anyone in cyberspace have ANY idea what that means?

Monday, May 15, 2006

French women: do they or don't they?

Listening as ever to C&P's favourite radio station Radio Deliro (no, they don't sponsor us, I just love them and I have to mention them constantly in case they don't get enough listeners and have to shut down) - well, anyway, the following brilliant Charles Aznavour song came on, which I present in translation:

YOU'VE LET YOURSELF GO (Tu t'Laisses Aller)
(Charles Aznavour / Marcel Stellman)

It's funny, when I look at you
While not a single word is said
I know, I had a drink or two
But that's not what's gone to my head
I laugh and I recall our youth
Perhaps you'll say that I'm uncouth
But it's high time you knew the truth
About the way you make me feel
And what the future holds in store
For I can't stand it anymore

Why should I even try and hide
Whatever I may feel inside
You lie, you curse and you provoke
And then you treat it as a joke
You know, at times you go too far
Even in front of all my friends
How could we hope to make amends
You know that you've let yourself go

You look a sight, sure you look great
Your stocking seams, not even straight
And that old faded dressing gown
Your hair in curlers hanging down
What could I have been thinking of
Was it with you I fell in love
Are you the girl that could inspire
A heart with passion and desire
I gaze at you in sheer despair
And see your Mother standing there

In front of strangers you're the same
You don't mind putting me to shame
You contradict each word I say
Why, you would turn night into day
You like to hurt me when you can
I'm just a rug and not your man
I hit the jackpot, yes, I know
You've let yourself go

At times you're cruel, beyond control
Have you no heart, have you no soul
And as I take a look at life
I realise that you're my Wife
A little effort, not much more
And things could be just as before
You know, you'ld lose a little weight
If you would watch all that you ate
A little style, a little grace
And try to show a smiling face

I couldn't hate you if I tried
I really want you by my side
So try, try and be the girl I knew
Let's really start our love anew
I want to hold you in my arms
And then surrender to your charms
Let there be fire, not just a glow
Come close to me, let yourself go

Charles Aznavour is, lest we forget, French. By coincidence, this is the first book I sold this morning.

One of them is lying.

An Update

I spoke too soon. The new sandals have made my feet raw. Today, thank god, the forecast is rain, and I am in my battered, old (and hideous) Marks and Spencer footgloves. Relief...

Saturday, May 13, 2006

You've Got Mail

Have just been watching You've Got Mail on ITV2. I've seen it once before, a few years back, when I was still working in TV. That time I thought it was tedious, manipulative schmaltz. This time I realised that it was in fact cinema verite. When Meg Ryan (god knows what her character name was; as ever she was playing Meg Ryan) had to lock the door for the last time on her beautiful, quirky independent children's bookshop because it had been put out of business by the behemoth double-double-discounting chain book megastore that opened up down the road I nearly wept. Although I'll admit that the pathos of the moment was spoilt a little by intrusive bookseller thoughts like "I don't think much of those shelves", "you'd never be able to get a pushchair in there," and "hmm, we really need to get in some more Richard Scarry." I'm nothing if not a romantic. In any case if I followed this chain of thought to its logical conclusion, I would end up unknowingly locked into a torrid internet affair with Bookseller To The Stars so perhaps we'll leave it there.

By coincidence, over on BBC3 they were showing the far superior High Fidelity, of which one of the principal messages appears to be "anyone who owns or works in a small independent record shop is an irredeemable sad sack with no sense of ambition and a wasted life who would be better off as a DJ / singer / anything." Hmm. I think tonight I might snuggle down in bed with a copy of 84 Charing Cross Road and dream about the good old days. I quite fancy myself as Anthony Hopkins. With more hair. And full moons.

FA Cup Football Funshine and I'm Fugging Missing It!

Fed up with Marie's footwear fenanigans? Check out - home of the most brutal fashion police known to (wo)man...

I am bloody seething really.

Not only am I missing the FA Cup final (Is this the best FA Cup final in history? asks John Motson according to the radio coverage on BBC as Gerrard scores a cracking volley in the last minute pushing things into extra time) but it's a beautiful sunny day outside.

Oh well.

As I mused on passing (accidentally) through Slough the other day - it could be worse.

Oh bum. It IS worse. Regular readers will know of my general similarity to Larry David writer of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm though I'm probably less funny and certainly more liable to put my foot in it. (Q furious attack from the people of the much maligned and perhaps lovely Slough) I have just remembered that I have agreed to go to a wedding reception tonight. I don't know the people, they are friends/colleagues of my wife. I HATE going to things like that when I don't know anyone. I am anti-social at the best of times but these occasions bring out the worst in me. If I don't go I will piss off my wife. If I do go though I will be pissed off and probably behave badly thus leading to the pissedoffness of someone else...To make matters worse Mary (my wife) has just pointed out that she has worked in her present job for 18 months now and I have NEVER been to ANY social event involving her colleagues. I suppose this could work in my favour. If they already think I am an anti-social git my reputaion won't get much worse if I stay at home and read a book. Why did Mary marry me? This is a question I have asked myself many times. It is also something I suspect strangers of wondering. On several occasions people have responded to the fact we are a couple with obvious - OH MY GOD ARE YOU SERIOUS - looks of disbelief!

(I should mention that in the background I can hear cheering as the FA Cup is decide on penalties.)

It's over! (This post and the footie) Well done Liverpool, bad luck U Irons. Will I go to the ball? At the moment I am seriously considering the gutless but more literary stay-at-home option...

I have just bought some new sandals.

They aren't very nice. But they are comfortable, and will therefore stop me from complaining. Which, I believe, will make them extremely popular with my co-workers even if not with the fashion police.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Sunshine, lying on the grass in parks reading trashy fiction, lazy evenings drinking gin and tonics outside in the fading light. And blisters. Don't forget the blisters.

Is there anything more torturous to the female foot than the seemingly innocuous Summer sandal? (And don't start writing in with mention of Birkenstocks. I can't wear them; my second toe is freakishly longer than my big toe, a sign (a) of leadership qualities, according to the Romans, but (b) of not being able to wear curve-toed molded-sole sandals.) Of course it is logical that repeatedly rubbing leather straps against winter-sock-softened virgin foot skin would cause rawness, tears (of both kinds) and welts (hmm - sorry for coming over all Fetish and the Art of the Teese there), so yes, it's my own fault for wearing sandals, but this is the real world. A world where appearances count. I can't wear winter shoes with my floaty Summer skirts and I can't, can't, will not and won't wear socks and sandals. I would be an outcast, reduced to eating muesli out of folded up copies of the Guardian and muttering about sustainable transport policy on train station platforms. So I am forced by SOCIETY to wear sandals on my bare feet, and it is causing me pain. Ripped flesh. Bleeding. It is insufferable. And yet I suffer. My question is this: how come I am allowed to get hayfever remedies on the NHS and not blister plasters? I know which causes me more actual agony through the Summer months, and I speak as a relatively severe hayfever sufferer. Why do I pay tax and then have to buy plasters? What kind of a world is this?

Sorry, is that the sound of gentle bemusement I hear? Why exactly am I moaning about this on the bookshop blog? What does it have to do with books? Well, it's because I have to spend so much of the day standing up. Serving you, the public. Surely therefore a slice of the public purse should go towards my feet's alleviation? You know it makes sense. Oh, and also because today Adam is wearing super-smug-me trainers. NOT FAIR.

The White Stuff

We've only been in our new home for a few days and we've already had a complaint from one of our most loyal readers about the colour scheme. What can I say? We weren't having a very good day the day we picked it. I believe I had just been accosted by one of the Prophets, who told me that I was commiting a sin by wearing a low-cut top and displaying my "full moons" for the corruption of men and children. Blackness therefore suited the mood. Well, today the full moons are entirely eclipsed by a sensible navy blue v-neck, rendering me Prophet-proof, the sun is out, and Mani on the veg stall outside the shop is playing The Beach Boys, so I am happy to oblige and switch our blog over to a more cheerful white background which I trust will be easier on the eye. Apologies for the squinting.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Crockatt & Powell - The Future is Apple-Juice...

We ran into these really friendly people at the Booksellers Association annual conference and they offered to do a report for us.

It is all about our position in the book trade over the next ten - fifteen years.

Here is the report:

Crockatt & Powell is a new independent bookshop that seeks to buck the trend and stay in business for more than five minutes. When we met them at the BA conference they appeared a charming bunch but were clearly in need of thought leadership and knowledge venturing. After much persuasion we agreed to charge them astronomical sums of money to learn what they might have stumbled across over a couple of pints down their local boozer.

In other words - we brought the outside in by enlightening the dual managers as to the strategic impact of the e-book and the immanent transformation of their market from a "real" to a "virtual" consistency, the likely result of which was a paradigm shift of epic proportions leading to the total emasculation and corporate restructure device manipulation/re-orientation the likes of which has never been known (perhaps as relational to the present discourse as the invention of the printing press by Caxton) and that knowledge economies being primariliy funds of data serviced "robotic consumer" consumption patterning devices rather than anything remotely resembling an "actual human being" the result of which could be seen as, for want of a better phrase - a bit of a "bummer".

Notwithstanding the immense impact of these changes on the book trade (hence to be known as the e-book download business) with careful knowledge venturing analysis and other innovative techniques we read about in the bestselling book Freakonomics by Steven Levitt we came up with the following future defense strategy, hereafter described in this text as the FDS, the main thrust of which was that since it was agreed to be beyond doubt that the book "as we know it" was dying (a Barthesian description could be rephrased as the Death of the Book) that Adam and Matthew would be better advised to spend their time selling apple-juice or perhaps, as the nature of markets is their tendency to become ever increasing pits of energy and chaos, even, one might say, so that when the unpredictable happens (as is inevitable!) the best course of action is to "change" historically...

IE If not apple-juice then maybe buns? Or custard tarts?

So there we go. The future's bright. The future's apple-juice!


Apologies to anyone who's been trying to comment - for some reason the comments option was set to 'comments from team members only' when I know I put it on 'anyone can comment'. Hmm. Boys, anything to say about that?


I've been here some time. Just been whimpering in a dark corner waiting for someone to turn the lights on.

Oh, and Scott was in last night dispensing the usual pearls. Are Matthew and Pack destined never to meet??


...quiet...and DARK...

...oh Hi Marie, so you made it too - what a relief! Any sign of Adam? Last I saw of him he was still hurtling through the void...I suppose he'll turn up at some point. Maybe he's gone to B & Q again to get some wood for more shelving?

But will Scott Pack find us out here in the dark? Scott! Scott! Are you there mate?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A New Home

Ooh... quiet round here, isn't it?