Sunday, December 24, 2006

Finn Uncovers The Secret Of Christmas...

Something was going on...

A small tree that used to grow in a pot in the garden now sat in the front window, covered in sparkly stuff. Over the past week mum and dad had placed lots of objects around it, all wrapped in tempting crinkly, crackly paper. Dad had been in the bookshop ALL THE TIME - or so it seemed to Finn.

Then, in the middle of the night, Finn was woken by a strange noise coming from the living room. He leapt over there right away. What did our tiny hero find but a large man, with a jolly face, chuckling to himself.

"Oh hello little man" he said. "I hope I didn't startle you. I just find it so amusing the way people get confused about Christmas."

Finn stared at the man with his big blue eyes. He didn't blink.

"All this fuss about gifts, all the talk of wise men and babies and stars..."

The big bloke picked little Finn up, tucked him under his arm and went outside. It was frosty, foggy and dark but Finn could see a funny shaped car with a furry back seat. They climbed in and the big man zoomed them off into the sky. Up and up they sped.

"See that?" The big man pointed at a bright cluster of stars. "That's my digger!"

Finn gazed in the direction the big bloke was pointing and yes, if you looked close, that group of stars did look rather like a digger.

"Every year, round about 25th December, I have to get my star digger running and then I have to re-do the foundations of the sun. Otherwise it would fall into a black hole and go out - that would be a bad thing. In the very old days people understood things a bit better. You'll probably learn all about the places they built to worship the sun and the things they did to try to keep it happy. These days people have electric light and tend to forget the bleedin' obvious. They take the sun for granted."

Finn said nothing. But he widened his eyes a little.

Next thing they were climbing into the cab of the glittery digger. Instead of chugging like a normal engine there was a sort of vague throbbing sound. Then the star digger lumbered off towards the sun.

Finn had a great time with the big bloke. He was not like dad at all - not daft. He knew all about digging in space and produced some quite complex equations that ordinary people hadn't managed to think of yet that showed how to dig foundations beneath vast hot things like stars. He was so good at explaining things even small brained Finn could understand.

"So you see all this fuss about presents, babies, food - it's all a bit of a distraction. But I don't mind. I just do my thing every year. Make sure the sun keeps on rising."

When they were done they climbed in the strange car and zipped back down to Camberwell.

The big bloke put the small chap carefully in his cot. Mum and dad were snoring away next door. Finn watched with his big eyes as the large bloke put a finger to his lips. With a final jolly chuckle he left and Finn drifted off to sleep.

Christmas Eve - Thoughts Etc

It's been an incredible year.

From nothing Crockatt & Powell has been born.

Marie has a book deal.

I have a baby son.

I would just like to give thanks - liberally - to everyone that has been involved with C & P in any way.

Now I would like to give thanks in general...


All the best for the festive season and see you next year.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Nearly there... pt 2

This is my last day. Tomorrow, Heathrow permitting, I'm off here and then onto here. Two weeks of total vegetative, monosyllabic relaxation. My poor mother and father will of course attempt to talk to me but I'm afraid the responses may be on the limited side. Marie is off to family in Africa and Matthew is spending 3 days in Glastonbury on a crazed Cowper Powys quest.

We will go safe in the knowledge that there is enough in the kitty to pay all the bills when we open up again on the 8th january. Hooray.

We set ourselves some targets for december. Yesterday we were just a few pennies short of the point marked 'wildest dreams'. So a big thank you to all down the 'Loo who helped us punch well above our weight. This week we did between a quarter and a fifth of the sales of my previous bookshops at the same time of year (if memory serves) yet we only have less than a tenth of the stock. Our shop mantra of 'Less is More' appears to have paid off. The other shop chant, 'If you build it they will come' also seems to have worked! Of course we do only stock the finest books...

However, 2007 is a whole other story. The twin pitfalls of Hubris and Complacency cannot be allowed to bedevil our minds. Still, if we don't big ourselves up no bugger else will. So once again...


And, A Bientot.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Nearly there...

...just a couple more days...

(bookseller falls to the floor with thin dribble of drool running from corner of mouth)

On closer inspection is found to be smiling.

She hasn't left really...

Ok, so Marie's been given her very own corner of C&P on the web. It's a bit slapdash at the moment but I'm busy, it's christmas. Will update as soon as we get the gen from the lady herself. Might even be adding some links and stuff. Who knows. Open forum on this one methinks. Any ideas? Would be quite cool to build up a sort of Marie wiki site (how web 2.0 are we!?) until it's a towering slab of internet tomfoolery. Watch this space...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Kulcher, 'innit

The shameful cultural admissions list started over at Scott Pack's blog spread like wild-fire eventually finding it's way to the Guardian's Comment is Free page. Everyone and their dog had a pop at their own list including my very own, humble offering a few posts below.

On a recent post of his Scott was musing on the whole brief phenomenon,

'I don't think we can declare any lessons learned from the whole experience, but it has been great fun. Hope you enjoyed it.'

Here's what I found myself thinking. Amusement, Interest, Amazement, Confusion, Dismay, Depression and Annoyance. In that order.

The thing is it didn't take very long before some genuine spleen and bile gurgled it's way out. I HATE Shakespeare. I LOATHE Ballet. I REFUSE to ever see an Opera. I'd NEVER read Proust EVER.

It pretty soon became one big infantile, self-justifying, self-serving circle jerk of people who suddenly felt emboldened by the surging of the mob to cut loose and get their own back on all the 'cultural elites' who had spent years putting them down. It was like everyone is patting themselves on the back for sitting back with what they know and turning their noses up at anything 'difficult' or 'unpalatable', like babies and toddlers with 'yucky' food.

Particularly depressing are the comments like, 'I saw an opera in 1953 and I never want to sit through that again' and 'I did Twelfth Night at school and was so bored that it put me off for ever'. This is NOT alright. It's NOT ok to be unembarrassed about this. You CANNOT pat yourself on the back just because there are people out there like you.

Take opera. I've seen some real turds in my time. The Handmaid's Tale at the ENO for one but then I saw Tristan and Isolde at the same venue and was amazed. Janacek at the ROH blew me away too.

I've sat through some very ropey plays, particularly Shakespeare - Twelfth Night in Bath 19 years ago sticks in the mind. But then I've yet to see a bad production at the National Theatre - Measure for Measure being a real stand-out.

I've tried difficult books. Occasionally I'll admit defeat but only in the battle not the war. I'll always give something another crack, even Cormac Mccarthy! (Who knows, in my dotage I might start to appreciate his punctuationless prose) But occasionally I'll try difficult writing and perservere and it WILL pay off. A few years ago I had to read a short essay by Heidegger. First time, didn't understand a word. Second time, nope, still nothing. Third time, mmm, that was an interesting bit. I must have read that bastard essay 30 or 40 times and eventually, slowly, almost painfully, an image and an idea of such startling beauty and clarity was revealed that I can still picture vividly. I would not give up that revelation for the world. And it was bloody hard work.

So, it's not ok to say NO, NEVER, WON'T, WOULDN'T. There is such a thing as exellence and there are good reasons why these things survive. Ok, it may be a little tricky or not 'fun' or 'enjoyable' (whatever they mean - a bit like gourmet food being not as 'tasty' as crisps or Mcdonalds). No, the only NEVER allowed is that you should NEVER GIVE UP!

Here endeth the rant.

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

Yesterday was my last ever day at Crockatt & Powell, but it was too busy to blog about it then. It feels very weird, since, as Adam and Matthew will tesitfy, I had started to think of the place as partly mine, and would stomp around as if I was in charge, telling the boys (you know, the actual owners) off for failing to tidy the children's section, or not stocking enough Margaret Atwood novels. Now it's just another bookshop, and I wonder how long it will take before I am emotionally capable of purchasing my reading matter from the Stoke Newington bookshop (5 minutes from my house) rather than C&P (an hour and ten minutes, though as we know, they do deliver.) Possibly never.

Here's what I will miss: The boys. The customers. (When I left my last bookselling job, I couldn't wait to see the back of most of our customers, as they were patronising and rude and given to assuming [to give a genuine example] that I had never heard of Picasso. At C&P the customers are, without exception, lovely. I have come to think of many of them - of you - as friends. My favourite part of the job is talking to them / you, if I could do nothing else all day I would be happy. And nobody ever begins to spell Ian McEwan for me when inquiring about which of his books we have in stock.) Being able to go into the other room and tidy the children's section whenever I am feeling agitated about something. (Rearranging the bookshelves at home does not have the same effect.) Meeting loads of interesting authors at our events. The girls and the food at MarshRuby, Lower Marsh's and London's best curry place and my daily lunchtime stop. Manny. Our friendly delivery drivers, reps, and postmen. Free proofs. Being surrounded by books all day. Talking about books all day (may have already mentioned this.)

Here's what I won't miss: The loo - so dirty, so cold, so terrifyingly positioned under the stairs to the flat above us so that every time you're sitting there, there's the fear that someone is going to come crashing down through the ceiling and onto your shivering lap. The cellar (though I did start refusing to go down there several months ago.) The endless phone calls from people trying to get us to change our phone, gas or electricity supplier. Opening the shutters in the rain. Closing the shutters under any circumstances - they are too high for me to reach without balancing on the 1cm-wide window ledges outside, and many is the time I have fallen off whilst trying to grab the edges of the shutters, giving myself blisters and bruises on my fingers as they scrabble on the hard metal. Adam's cycling outfit. Matthew's taste in music (see below). Tidying up after events. Getting up at 7 a.m. The commute.

But I won't be a total stranger - I'll still be running our bookgroup (7pm, first Monday of the month, all welcome.) And of course [plug] when my novel 'Gods Behaving Badly' comes out this August [/plug] I will force the boys to do some kind of event / signing / filling up the windows with copies and a cardboard cut-out of myself holding a pen and looking clever. And I still have the password to this blog... You're not quite rid of me yet.

The Perils and Pleasures of Late Junction

It's late at night (After 10pm - at my age this is late, something my younger siblings may find amusing) and I'm listening to Late Junction on radio 3 (surely another sign I have reached a certain age). Through my work-shattered brain, the lobes of which have been jumbled a little more by the introduction of a glass or two of fine ale, something is twinkling and squawking in a rather engaging manner...

...on further investigation the next day I discover the ear/brain teaser goes by the name of Joanna Newsom.

She's playing her new album in the shop right now. Yesterday Marie described the album as "awful" and "like listening to pub drunks singing songs from Annie". I had it on quite loud as I was pottering about before opening. Then I noticed someone waiting outside the shop. I pulled myself together saying things like "only a couple more days then they'll all bugger off and leave us lonely and yearning for them through January" before hauling up the shutters, stretching a smile across my face, yelling "morning".

"Are you open?" says the Austrian blonde.

"Yes, go right in" say I, and she does.

I finish opening the shutters then remember our Joanna is now singing to my first customer of the day.

I'm back in there in a flash but Joanna is the only one screaming (something along the lines of "desire, desire deeeeeeeesire" as it turns out.) I reduce the volume to a more civilised level and wait. A few minutes of happy browsing later the lady comes to the till with a book on soups and an imported book about Rodin with text by Rilke.

"Lovely books" she says.


We pause as the credit card machine checks her financial situation, something I cannot handle. I am forced to make conversation.

"What do you think of this album?" I ask. "I bought it the other day and I'm still trying to work out if it's brilliant or rubbish".

"When I first came in I thought it was lovely. But this song's a bit weird..."

In fact there are only five songs on this album and they are all pretty long. It's the same song as when she came in though quite hard to tell.

She leaves happy.

Next customer is the bloke from Flutes Plus down the road. He doesn't seem to notice the music at all. Phew.

Anyway, what's the point of this post?

What I want to know is this.

Am I just infatuated with this weird woman because the Christmas season has pushed me over the edge? Or is she truly brilliant?

Or have I just spent too long reading A Glastonbury Romance?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

BA BA Bollocks...(Uh Oh, here comes trouble - but not till January please!)

Bookseller Crow let the cat out of the bag so we're going to wade in with our opinions as usual, though it's bound to offend and upset people.

It's also the wrong time of year.

But anyway...

Next year we will be asking the question:

What is the point of the BA for small shops?

Will we get an answer that makes sense? (Or will it be like the impenetrable equations they sent us that supposedly proved we were benefitting from selling book tokens?)

We shall see.

I'm not going to start this fight now cos I'm knackered and can't think.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Oh the shame

Over on some other blogs people have been listing cultural things they are ashamed to admit - never read Austen, never watched Monty Python, etc. So, here goes my 5:

- I haven't read Heidegger in German, only english.

- I've only seen the Berlin Philharmonic 7 times.

- I've only read Das Kapital twice.

- I didn't get to spend more than a week in the Hermitage.

- I've never taken part in the ayahuasca ritual of the shamanic Urarina people of Peruvian Amazonia.

Oh, the shame of it.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ahhhhhhh that's better...

Afternoon now. Nothing like selling books for waking a bookseller up a bit.

With another daily sales target well and truly busted I can relax and remember why I started a bookshop in the first place. I bloody love books and nothing warms me heart more than selling me beloveds to other folk.

The Damned Utd is steaming out of the shop as is Cormac McCarthy's The Road - both books I Loved passionately this year. (Hope I can persuade David Peace to do an event when the pb comes out next year.)

We are also shifting lots of Where's Bin Laden? A book in poor taste sure, but that's what Crimbo is all about. We bought a lot and now we are selling a lot.

We also have a brilliant selection of till books this year - all too secret to broadcast I'm afraid (though other indy booksellers feel free to e-mail for details - one tiny publisher in particular I could tell you about. One man band - we are shifting his books in vast quantities.)

The Bankside Frost Fair starts tonight. Will be taking the nipper along on Saturday to see some Huskies and generally get into the Christmas mood.

Thanks to all the brilliant people shopping at C & P over the last few weeks. We are, of course, nothing without you lot...

It's the morning... nutters last night.

But can it really be morning? Am I really here again? Why am I so tired if it's the morning?

Maybe nobody will notice if I just have a little snooze under the table next door...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Lazy? Moi?

I just spent ages writing this long rambling post about the my lifelong search for the Path Of Least Resistance and how when I finally found the POLR it led me to a life that involved a lot of hard work...

...but it was very self indulgent and probably rather dull. I'm not going to inflict that on you.

Instead you can have some even more indulgent random thoughts in a variety of festive colours.

Twenty minutes to go and I have not yet been attacked by drunken, crutch wielding nutters.

Will Marie ever come to the shop when she is a famous author?

The line above is in "snow" white BTW.

Since the lad and Maz are out this evening should I go to the Hermit's Cave in Camberwell?

Or would I be better off in the King's Arms down the way?

Drunk and disorderly

About quarter to seven last night, 3 customers in the shop, in staggers one of santa's little helpers, steaming drunk and swaying and lurching all over the place. (He had a santa hat on, was leaning on a crutch and a face that looked like it had one too many arguments with the pavement)

Oh bollocks.

'Alright mate, can I help you?'

'Naw, wanna buy book'

'Anything you're looking for'

'Got money in ma pocket. I wanna buy sommat'

Ooookaaaay. Off he lurches and I naturally follow him.

'A'm not a thief. Wanna buy'

Other three customers getting tense. What to do?

'Look mate, I think you'd be better off at home. Why don't you go?'

'Not leaving, call the police'

'No, I think you need to leave now. Please go.'

Repeat those two sentences ad nauseum.

So now we're standing by the till and I see him start to slightly bend over and fiddle with his trousers. Oh christ, he's going to take a piss on the till. He really is. WHAT TO DO. I grabbed his arm and started to drag him out the shop when he wheeled around, picked up his crutch and threatened to hit me over the head. Great.

'Don't fuckin' touch me!'

'Out now'

'Touch me again and I'll kill ya'

'Out now'

'All your windows are gonna be broke in the mornin' ha ha'

I don't think so. We've got shutters.

'Out now'

And before leaving he dribbles out some spit onto the carpet. Charming.

Amazingly, I remained extremely calm throughout. I even realised that if he hit me with the crutch it wouldn't hurt much because it was one of those lightweight aluminium jobs. And there were three male customers still there. The thing is though, what to do if he comes back? Any suggestions? We do have a 4-iron sitting behind the till...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

No R & J @ C & P

So there I was last night watching spanish football when I realise that it's only bloody Richard and Judy's bloody christmas books programme on bloody channel 4. Missed it! Call yourself a bookseller! A bloody professional! Arse!

So I raced to their website to see what I'd missed...

Best cookbook - Jamie Oliver. Won't stock it. It's 12.99 at Sainsbury's.
Best Coffee Table book - Life by Lennart Nilsson. The rep showed it to me and I didn't really like it. Oops. Still not a patch on my pick this year After the Flood from Robert Polidori.
Best Kids book - Calm Down Boris! by Sam Lloyd. Erm, haven't seen it. (But it's from Macmillan distribution - let's not go there - represented by the nice people at Bounce though so might get it. If it wasn't REPRINT PENDING: NO DATE!)
Best Stocking Filler - Flanimals of the Deep by Ricky Gervais. I've never liked the Flanimals books and I'm not about to start now.
Best celebrity book - they couldn't decide because all the celebs were in the studio and they didn't want to upset anyone. However I can announce that we have exactly no copies in stock of the shortlist anyway. Mmm.

So, there you go. If you were to draw a venn diagram of our relationship to Richard and Judy it would look something like this:

So either we're serially incompetent and doomed or, we take the time and trouble to find more beautiful and varied books than you'll find on the tv and in the high street. Judging by the sales figures last week I'd say the latter is edging out the former by a brave few furlongs.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Brilliant stuff...First of all a lady comes in and sidles up to me.

"Do you know someone called Gabrielle?"

That's my mum's name.


"Oh well I go to the same hairdresser. He said he'd been to your shop and that it was great. Now I'm here to have a look and it is lovely."

That's the old gossip grapevine at work.

Then a couple with a Rough Trade bag come over and buy a pile of books. I love Rough Trade and launch into an anecdote about the time when...blah blah blah. As a shop Rough Trade has always been my idea of the "ideal" independent. I am rather over excited to find out folk that love Rough Trade like our shop too. It turns out they are readers of this blog come to visit. They don't even live in London!

That's the flash new internet/blogging grapevine for you.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Good long reads...

I am STILL reading A Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys and I am STILL in love.

(Crow on the Hill has an entertaining post about long books)

I love the way Cowper Powys writes - he makes me look at the world a little differently. If I'm starting to feel jaded, if the strains of running the bookshop/small children/brilliant people dying without warning etc become a little too much to take there's always (for over 1000 pages anyway!) this other world to escape into for a while.

Last night I was eating Japanese food at the cafe over the road after work. I was by myself. I had no book or paper. I was feeling glum. Then I started to listen to the conversation of two women who were sitting behind me. I have no idea who they were or even what they looked like (I left without peeking). Their conversation was completely mundane. But it was also beautiful. Two people, sharing little observations about family life and friends, the world - whatever. Just an ordinary boring conversation - but beautiful because of it.

That's what Cowper Powys does for me. He slows things down. He reminds me of the way things really are...slow, complex, messy, human...and beautiful.

Website Goes Festive

I used to hate Christmas bookselling. Face to face with rampant consumerism day after day, people buying books without a thought, books that were destined to linger on a table next to the bog at best...

But after the last week or so my opinions have changed. Now I rather like the fact it suddenly becomes possible to sell any old crap. Of course we don't stock crap books. But that's even better. We just suddenly seem to be selling lots of good books.

So long live festive cheer and rampant consumerism.

Don't know what to stuff in their stockings?

Visit santa at - click on the beard and consume!

Question Time

Martin Amis was on Question Time last night and he was brilliant. Had some great turns of phrase - 'English politics is all piss and vinegar' and 'pissing your pants before a big storm won't keep you warm very long' (lots of urine related themes) and some dodgy opinions on the nature of the european versus the asiatic.

He had this weird kind of gravitas as if being a novelist had given him some sort of seering insight into the motivations of the events under discussion. The others seemed lightweight in comparison. David Davies was a simpleton who kept pausing after every sentence waiting for applause from the audience. None was forthcoming. Ruth Kelly was an annoying junior prefect and the bloke from the Telegraph just some boorish pub landlord type. Only Mariella Frostrup and her blinding common sense stood out from the crowd.

So, give that man a tv show. I'm thinking a Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned type thing only with Amis and Christopher Hitchens. Wouldn't that just be the best telly ever.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

How The Other Half Lives

Due to a delivery glitch, we received a delivery destined for a North Yorkshire bookshop, and they (presumably) got ours. I began to suspect when I pulled Alan Titchmarsh's autiobiogaphy 'Nobbut a Lad' out of the box; grew increasingly wary as two copies of the Brownie Annual 2007 followed; and finally twigged when a large hardback entitled 'Fifty Golden Years With My Yorkshire Mistress' emerged.

I wonder what they made of our '1001 Albums To Listen To Before You Die', 'Debrett's Etiquette For Girls', and Jessica Mitford letters?

Drip drip drop little November showers...

A sudden, enormous clap of thunder causes me to look up from my work.

It's raining - no, hailing - horizontally. People are running down the street with inside-out umbrellas. Manny is practically lying on top of his stall, trying to keep the vegetables in place.

So, no customers today, then.

Remember, Crockatt & Powell do deliver...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Launch Party Here Tonight

As mentioned in a comment to the post below I would like to take the time to draw everyone's attention to the launch party of Heroines by Jessica Ruston. The publisher Long Barn Books have provided enough wine and food to feed and inebriate a small country and it should be a bit of a bash so if you're in the area drop by. 6.30pm

A new direction or, is it really only december 6th?

Christmas, christmas. This is our first proper one. A mixture of excitement and tension. Lots of stock and an anxiety that no one will buy any of it and we're already completely knackered, shop-wise and body and soul-wise. Another 2 1/2 weeks of this and I'll be a pile of cranberry jelly on the side of life.

So it's a good time to announce a change of direction, a new career for the new year. I'm going to become a director of perfume commercials. I mean, how hard can it be to film Charlize Theron walking down a hallway taking her clothes off? I could do tha'.

Thanks Matthew, it's been a blast. Well done Marie and all the best with the mega-hit of 2007. I'll be jetting off to my first assignment on christmas eve. It's a concept piece for an as yet to be announced brand launching next year. But I can tell you it stars Jessica Alba and Girls Aloud and is set in an ice hotel in Lapland.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Blimey. First our regular booktrade e-mail arrives telling the world we have joined the Wedge card scheme and then Marion Boyars phone up to ask us about our participation...

I am slightly confused (for a change) but soon wake up enough to visit the site where I am confronted by a photo of our shop! Bloody hell.

At the moment those of you lucky enough to have received a wedgie are entitled to a 10% discount on the weekend at Crockatt & Powell. (This is a small attempt by us to attract people down the loo on the weekend. It's not as bad as it really it's not...) In future we will have some more interesting offers but that's what we're starting with.

Anyone feeling really muddled? Follow this link and find out what it's all about...WEDGE

In Praise of Smoke...

Here Ye Here Ye!

Good People of London rejoice!

Smoke Issue Nine has hit the shops!

As well as regular features such as London's Campest Statues (this one is a real contender!) Smoke asks serious questions such as Is Harlsden the Centre of Deeper Spiritual Truth?

(This post was interrupted by Marie phoning the shop. She meant to phone her French mother but dialed us instead! Is that not a touching example of extreme loyalty to the bookshop? Our Marie is putting the finishing touches to the novel that is going to make her famous and us sad and was phoning to ask her mum if she was confused by a sentence the American publisher didn't understand. At the risk of disrupting transatlantic relations I will say no more...)

Where was I? Ah yes...smoke...

Who could fail to love this quirky publication? It is brilliant. Only £2.50. Roll up and get yours NOW!!!!!