Saturday, September 29, 2007

Was Montaigne the First Blogger?

Dipping into the delightful world of Michel De Montaigne at the minute. What a great bloke he was.

I love the way the essays meander about and veer way off the point into bizarre, often pointless, digressive alleys. I love the way the entire project revolves around Michel and his impressions - it's all me me me. Was he the first blogger?

Nicholas Lezard chose How To Read Montaigne a few weeks ago as his paperback choice. I am allergic to instructions (Adam could tell you about the time I broke the light fitting next door and there is a massive list Mary could entertain you with of occasions I have found myself in trouble by refusing to read or follow instructions) and so there was never any chance I would read How To Read Montaigne. In fact my extreme aversion to instructions even meant I didn't read his review of How To Read Montaigne just bought myself a copy of the Everyman's Library Complete Works and leaped in.

Now I go to link to Lezard's review of How To Read Montaigne and look - the first thing he says is:

"Not that hard, I would have thought: you get MA Screech's excellent, 1,280-page translation of the Essays, open it up pretty much anywhere you like and let Montaigne's urbane, friendly, sceptical and inquisitive mind do its thing with you. You don't have a copy? Then you must rush out now and get one."

(Seems I bought the wrong translation - but it appears a fine one to me. The real reason I bought the Everyman's Library edition is that it is a large hardback. I hate Penguin Classics when they are fat books. Just SO ugly. If you're going to own Montaigne why not have a real good solid chunk of a book?)


"I have even heard someone develop the conceit that he was the first blogger, although don't let that put you off."

Bastard. What's the point of my existence if Lezard has already thought of everything?

Rumour Has It...

...bits of our blog have been published in a book.

And I may have turned into Marie.

These rumours have yet to be confirmed.


(That may not be true suckers!)

Slug Lord Slimes Again...

Once upon a time in a land far far away down the back end of Kings Cross there lived a large slug known as the Slug Lord. He was the biggest and slimiest slug in the whole of the veg patch. Over the years he had great success in convincing all the other slugs on his patch that he was the slimiest. Mostly his method involved covering anyone that disagreed with him in slime and sitting on them until they surrendered. But smothering others in slime, though fun for many years, eventually became boring.

So the Slug Lord decided the time had come to slither off to pastures new. Everyone in the slug world was amazed! What a shock. As the Slug Lord made his slimy way towards another veg patch, a veg patch with the tallest runner bean plants you EVER saw (some people even thought they might be the kind of beans Jack found all those years ago! They were certainly magic - phenomenal even) the smaller slugs he left behind cried and cried. But do you know what? Just minutes after his vast bulk slid off they felt a new feeling. Secretly they were relieved. Maybe being smothered and covered in slime wasn't so great after all?

But the Slug Lord new exactly what had to be done. As soon as he arrived on his new patch he set to work, sliming and smothering everyone in his path. This is a great new challenge he said to himself as the slimed away, doing pretty much what he had always done. Smother and slime until everyone thought like he did and were almost as slimy...

Friday, September 28, 2007

The critics

Over on the Guardian's CiF there was a recent post by Nicholas Lezard on Jordan outselling the whole Booker list. C'est la vie. But the bit that caught my eye was from one of the rabid commenters - that army of mudpeople who crawl around the CiF abusing anyone who dares write anything. The appropriately named Trilobite had this to say about criticism: 'there is no such thing as literary quality. There are books that you like and there are books that you dislike.'

I've always thought that the least interesting thing you can say about any book or indeed work of art is whether you like it or not. I mean really, who cares. But there is such a thing as literary quality because great books open up worlds and ideas and insights that other books don't and it is through criticism that we can discuss and articulate them. This is a great CiF piece here on the need for good, creative criticism with a quote from Oscar Wilde that answers Trilobite's vapid comment:

"Surely, criticism is itself an art ... Criticism is, in fact both creative and independent ... The antithesis between them is entirely arbitrary. Without the critical faculty, there is no artistic creation at all, worthy of the name."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Oh thank ya kindly mista for yer generous benevolence

Bloke outside front talking to companion,

'I try to buy books here because I really don't think they do all that well'

And I shall not disabuse him of such a notion should the well of his charity suddenly, dry up.

The obligatory holiday reading post

  • Rubicon - Tom Holland. Loads of fun but made all the better after having caught the Rome repeats on UKTVGoldHistory the week before.
  • The Talented Mr Ripley - Patricia Highsmith. Brilliant. One of the all-time great literary characters. Gets a bit bogged down in plot but Ripley's too enjoyable to begrudge it that.
  • Guns, Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond. 400-odd pages of stating the ever-so-slightly obvious. Not nearly as good as the blurbs suggest but moderately interesting in snatches. But if I have to hear one more time about the lack of domesticable plants in New Guinea, violence will take place.
  • The Night Gardener - George Pelecanos. A revelation. Outstanding genre fiction that transcends genre with brilliantly rounded characters. No such thing as good guy/bad guy, everybody has their reasons, everybody is treated with empathy and the book is at times genuinely moving. I'll be seeking his other work.
  • Money - Martin Amis. Dazzling language and very, very funny. Still alarmingly relevant (despite the Princess Di stuff) and alarmingly close to home in places. Self has a theory on page 278 that I myself had not just a few weeks ago that may be a blog post at some point never.
  • Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky - Patrick Hamilton. Why am I reading about grimy 20's London when under the Cretan sun? Because I can never get away from the place, that's why. I particularly liked the chapter in Ella's tale when Hamilton uses the term 'wage slave' approximately 28 times. Despite that, it's funny through it's depression, it's brilliantly perceptive and has an ending more quietly devastating than almost any book I've read.
  • Eroticism - George Bataille. Cheating here because I only started it on the plane back but is pleasingly bonkers enough in it's first 50 pages to carry on.

So, 5 out of 6. Not bloody bad I reckon.

Even though...

...even though yesterday morning I was sitting on a cafe terrace eating yoghurt and honey with the Mediterranean lapping at the shore, the sun shining through the trees and the Cretan mountains in the background...
...even though I've been swimming everyday in crystal clear bathwater...
...even though I've done nothing but sit, eat, read and swim for two weeks...
...even though I found blissful silence in one of the most beautiful places I've ever been...
...even though I've driven on perilous and exciting mountain roads and down gorges...
...even though I had to don full wet-weather gear to cycle to work this morning...
...even though I've listened to the raging argument between Manny and a German customer...
...even though I'm working all by myself clearing up the mess Matthew's left behind (only kidding)...
...even though I've got to go and clean the flat tonight...
...even through all this, it's still good to be back.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Cobnuts - What Are They? Whaddayou Do With 'Em?

Every day for the past couple of weeks I've heard the same patter coming from Manny's veg stall outside.

"'Scuse me mate - what are these?"


"What are they? Whaddayou do with 'em?"

"Fresh nuts, like Hazlenuts. Bang 'em with an 'ammer then eat them. I use one of me weights here. Keep me own supply."

Last week my mum bought me some. We know what they are. We used to pick them from the hedgerows in Wales. They taste delicious, really milky and sweet.

I bought a bag yesterday from Manny.

"Every day someone asks me what these are and what ya do with them."

I know Manny. I've heard the patter.

Later that day I gave a pocketful to my man Toe B.

"Do you want some of these?"

"What are they? Whaddayou do with 'em"

I'm exhausted...but the nuts are keeping me going.

Stamford Bridge Is Falling Down

It would be crass to express my delight at the events of the last few days in such a public way - so I won't...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Dr Rick was in this morning. He's been reading the blog. I did the usual and changed the subject asap - why do I hate talking about blogging? I like to think no-one reads this crap - that they do is a worry and something I try not to think about...

I love Scooterworks. Adam and I stumbled in there the first time we ever went to look at the shop. Every time we came back we visited Scooterworks and much of the shop was planned in there (as well as the Hermit's Cave pub in Camberwell). Scooterworks even appeared in the latest Matt Damon Bourne film, though they changed the name to E-Net Cafe.

Dr Rick suggested I try to describe Scooterworks. So here goes...

Scooterworks is a refuge and an inspiration. The relentless London drive; the wild-eyed, quick-heeled life that makes our city at once the most exhilarating and exhausting place to be, melts away on entering Scooterworks. The shouts of the market traders on Lower Marsh fade to be replaced with the gentle crooning of a French chanteuse or maybe some jaunty plastic euro-pop cover of a Beetles song, or a beautiful Bach violin concerto, or some reggae or a little jazz - the music at Scooterworks is always good, never predictable.

Before selling coffee and Scooters the premises sold records. Indeed there are two framed spaces on the wall where you can see layers of posters showing the top 10 from the 1930s and 40s. These were uncovered when the present owners started to decorate. I spoke with a customer who remembered buying punk and new wave records there in his youth and I have spoken to several people who claim to have visited illegal raves on the premises in the early 1990's - Scooterworks are certainly known to host floor-bouncing parties periodically. (My sister ended up at one by chance after wandering home to Kennington Lane in the middle of the night. Her description of this great place on Lower Marsh where an Italian guy was DJing in a pair of old WW1 flying goggles was instantly recognisable.)

On an early visit I remember being struck by the bloke behind the counter. He had straggly hair and wore an old fashioned shirt and trousers with braces. Had he just stepped out of the 1930's. Was this some sort of time warp? I tried to pay and he waved his hand at me - "Later". I thought he was a bit rude - a bit full of himself. But now I know he's Charlie and a super-cool-wonder-boy who now haunts our cellar. (Don't ask)

Indeed the staff are a constant source of wonder. There's Craig in his overalls, Fifi and her Italian charm, always mid-project Charlie, Natalie and her kookie dress sense, Claire the ceramicist who lives in the same block as Finn's child-minder. All unconventional, all miraculously surviving in one of the fiercest cities in the world doing - what? Exactly...

Scooterworks subtly subverts and refuses classification. Is it a coffee shop? Then why are there folk who come in asking for number plates or to sort out an MOT? Is it a place that fixes Scooters? Then why the tables and coffee?

Scooterworks asks to be taken as it is found.

It is the perfect antidote to the world made mass. Starbucks would never do it this way.

Scooterworks is to coffee shops what I hope C & P might become for bookshops.

Unique. Individual. Interesting. Stimulating. Fun.

There, Dr Rick, I've had a go...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Christopher Wormell Signs at C & P

We had huge success with signed copies of Christopher Wormell's beautifully illustrated books last Christmas.

He has kindly returned and signed copies of his new book Wings, Horns & Claws.

It's all about Dinosaurs this time.

Today Is Quiet...

...and I could have managed a little reading. If only I hadn't left my book in the bottom of Finn's buggy...Will have to do boring account stuff instead.

The wheels fell of Finn's buggy. This is the second buggy that has failed to withstand the levels of walking required of a Crockatt buggy.

They are clearly designed for people who walk to the shops or park - not through miles of South London every day!

Monday, September 17, 2007


Some proper nutters in the shop today (don't you love these transference posts?)

First off a lady asking about books on breakdancing. For some reason(maybe to do with her not-young-ness or the fact she was not skinny/gangly like a breakdancer at all if you know what I mean) I assumed the book would be for a son or nephew or something.

"No, it's for me. I've always wanted to learn how to do it. That head-spinning - just wonderful."

I kid you not. My head was certainly spinning by the time she left.

Then there was the bloke who wanted me to order an out of print book off the Internet for him. I quoted a price.

"Hmmm. I've seen it cheaper on the net."

"Well why don't you buy it yourself then?"

"Well I don't have regular access. I could tell you the site where I saw it and you could order it from there?"


"Er, that's not how it works really. We have to add something on top to make it worth our while."



(I didn't tell him about the special wooden knitting needles I ordered off the net for one of our bestest but computerless customers. That's the way it works in the non-corporate world though. She's a good customer so I'll do almost anything for her.)

And finally there was the man who wanted me to search for books on some boxer I'd never heard of. There weren't any books. He got angry.

"Why don't you got any books on 'im?"

"Er, nobody's written any...maybe you could do some research and write one?"

"Me, I can't even read! That's a joke man."

Amazingly he left without smashing my face in...I just hope none of his mates can read either. If they come across this I'm dead!

(PS There is no shame in not being able to read. But boxing is a stupid activity and makes you more and more stupid as time goes by.)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Denis Won't Let Me Sleep...

I was late opening today 'cos I was up half the night reading Tree Of Smoke.

This novel should cause the equivalent of the Northern-Rock-engulfing financial crisis in literary circles when it hits these shores.

90% of people writing novels should hang up their pens, throw the Word Processor out the window and take up shovelling poo after reading this - it just blows most of contemporary literature out of the way, like so much fluff...

(Those of you that know me will be able to take that last sentence with the required pinches of salt - don't want to be responsible for mass author death! Just excited...)

Take this:

"We're on the cutting edge of reality itself. Right where it turns into a dream." (This from a CIA man - sound familiar?)

Then this:

One might hypothesize a step beyond the final one. Consider the possibility that a coterie or insulated group might elect to create fictions independent of the leadership's intuition of its own needs. And might serve these fictions to the enemy in order to influence choices. (During a CIA discussion of the problems of intelligence being polluted by political influence)

Then this:

Above them paddies terraced the hillside. They moved along the dikes and trudged generally upward.
From nowhere came the racket of gunfire, bullets jerking the small shoots and chirping in the water.
They raced without speaking over the dikes and flopped on the dry side and crawled along until they found a gully and dropped into it and scrambled away from whoever was trying to kill them.
"You don't understand," Nash said. "I'm not ready for this at all. I only been here three days!"
"I just took a second tour," James said. "I don't know which one of us is the stupider shit."
They passed burning hooches and empty hamlets and never saw any people. By their complete absence they seemed to suggest themselves vividly. But there was activity ahead. They heard shooting. At one point they heard a voice crying in a foreign language. They came on a hamlet whose dwellers had just cleared out minutes ago. They'd even left an animal picketed in a garden, a goat with his neck stuck out as if offering it to the axe, but he was only shitting. Right in the middle of a war.
The three soldiers climbed on toward the peak.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Delusional Behaviour, Psy Ops, Great Literature etc

Ok, you gotta help me out here. I'm in the shop alone, day after day. There's no Adam to bounce things off...

On the way in this morning I think I observed two examples of delusional behaviour. See what you think.

EG 1:

A woman walking a scrawny piece of mongrel junk is hailed by a friend from across the road.

"Is that your dog?"

The woman with the dog crosses over the road.

"Yeah, I got him from Battersea Dogs Home."

"Oh, he's lovely."

"Stop that Bernie!" (The dog is trying to shag her friend's leg)

How is that lovely? Was the woman not clearly deluded? Since when has shagging the legs of total strangers been lovely?

EG 2:


Am I missing something? Are they not simply a crime against humanity? A fashion error even the most illiterate fashionistas (I look like a crumpled mess of corduroy and babysicksplattered shirts mostly - I also like wearing my football shirt in the garden) can spot.

I saw someone wearing them on my way in and asked myself the question I always ask when I see these awful shoes - what the F8ck do you think you're doing!

So whaddayareckon? Is it me or is reading the new Denis Johnson pushing me close to the edge?

I find great literature pushes me close to the edge of sanity. Dostoevsky does it to me every time. Denis too. Tree of Smoke is a masterpiece. A great novel. (I think these books unbalance me because I see what writing is all about, how good it can be. Simultaneously I understand that I will never achieve such literary heights and somethng in me gets mad!) Yes, it's official, Dr Rick and I agree - Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke is the novel he was born to write. From the paranoia and mayhem of the Vietnam jungle, where CIA Psy Ops are trying to turn the VC tunnel system into "a region of hell" Johnson extracts truths about the American psyche that are surely also relevant to our own view of the world?

Awesome stuff. What every novel should be. I think...or is Dr Rick (he's not my shrink - he's into skin diseases) right and DJ is destined to remain a niche man, a writer's writer (yuk) for all time?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Crockatt & Powell - Booksellers & Publishers

Everything has a reason (to us paranoid nuts anyway) I knew when our sign fell to bits there would be something behind it (other than a sign for Maynards wine gums) and there was...

When we put a new sign up it will say Crockatt & Powell Booksellers & Publishers.

You all know I follow by far the greatest team the world has ever seen - Fulham FC in other words. (Stop it you down the back!) But you didn't know that I knew Richard Allen (who runs the excellent blog Craven Cottage Newsround and is often the man they speak to in the Observer about match day experiences)

He produced a match by match analysis of the 2006/2007 season with a bloke called Martin Kane. It's excellent stuff - a real fans eye view of all things Fulham for real Fulham fans to argue about in the pub. Between the match reports there are sections from Martin about football in general. At first the Fulham Review was just available on the net but we liked it so much we thought it should appear as a "real" book. So we decided to publish it. And we have. (Get off your arses and Do stuff people)

You can buy it here.

Or in the shop of course.

Or outside the ground on match days.

The 2006/07 season: it wasn't pretty, it wasn't effective, but it was Fulham.

Finland etc...

When Finn (my 14 month son) was first born I wrote a series of pieces on this blog centred around his adventures in the new world he found himself in. I have not written anything about him for a while. Why? Because now I feel he is telling his own stories. In the early days he was just a sort of inscrutable blob thing - all poo and cry and smile. Now he is far more sophisticated.

He's at nursery two days a week, where he wanders about singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to himself. He also has a habit of waving (like the Queen) to random people. Bus drivers and women with long blond hair are particular favourites. He is still wary of men with beards. He loves cats and dogs but they don't like him.

I have just bought a book called The Animal Boogie for him. It comes with a "sing along" cd. Soon I'll know a whole bunch more kiddy songs off by heart...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Thanks Shirley...

Someone just drew my attention to this...

Gordon Bennett (Well,Alan Really)

Who should stroll in this lunchtime but Alan Bennett himself...Signed a few copies, chatted about Robert Topping and Co.

What a great bloke! Just as you might expect from reading his books I suppose. He seemed to like the shop and bought a book (A Hesperus Henry James)

I have his phone number now. Next time he's visiting the National Theatre he's going to sign some more copies of The Uncommon Reader for us.

As I said, top man.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Word On Prizes...

McYawn...nah...bored already.

And the winner is...Mister Pip.

Told you so.


Left the shop at 7ish then next door to the pub then out to somewhere near Slough for more drinks and a battle with a mad hornet followed by bed in the same room as a restless baby who seemed to be awake whenever I was asleep and asleep while I lay awake only to finally insist on getting up at 6:30 though it was my darling wife who actually left the bed and attended to him but I had to take over at about 7:30 didn't manage to have breakfast or find any coffee (who doesn't have coffee and if you did have it where were you hiding it?) then onto a train without washing or brushing my teeth into London and the shop where I just about managed to put myself together only to have people banging on the shutters forcing me to open half an hour early in severe need of more coffee and a bite to eat.

You wouldn't want to kiss me, not now...

Friday, September 07, 2007

There's a beer chilling in the fridge at Scooterworks with my name on it...

...but still I have work to do.

I've started on Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. So far a monkey has met an untimely and pointless end; everyone is paranoid and confused; an assassin's grenade has failed to explode; there is a mysterious German with a blow pipe and a dude has put out a cigarette by peeing on it - so far so Denis!

In other news Picador continue to defy their Demonic Toad-Lord and keep sending great books for me to read. Latest is called The Rebels by Sandor Marai (author of Embers). Out in October non-book-trade folks...

Soon it will be 6pm and my man Toby should drop by with those chilled beers from the Scooterworks fridge...(Still drinking that crappy Starbucks/Costa/Nero coffee? Still not visited Waterloo for all your cultural/culinary needs? Damn...)

(Adam went on holiday today so the less reputable side of the business takes over for a couple of weeks)

What a shame

Leeds Utd have been kicked out of the FA. Boo Hoo.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


We're not normally into business guru advice thingies but as we've mentioned him before we'll mention him again.

Here's a couple of posts from Seth Godin that ring all the right bells.

WE WORK HARD (We really do you know)

and QUIT WHINING (You know who you are, just shut up and get on with it)

Beautiful Children by Charles Bock

I finished Beautiful Children last night. I have to say I was left feeling slightly deflated, that the book was not quite as brilliant as I thought it was going to be...but then I have these ridiculously high standards.

James Meek's The People's Act of Love had the same trajectory. After 1/3 I was way too enthusiastic - It's as good as the great Russians I'd yell as I thrust a copy into the hand of whoever had mistakenly asked for a recommendation that day.

By the end I had calmed down a bit. It's a great novel, just not quite up there with Fyodor and Co.

Beautiful Children starts very hard and fast; plunging the reader into the emotional vacuum left by a missing child, then speeds into the Vegas night, thrusting nightmare visions of money, neon and paid for sex into your face. Bock (a name you should avoid typing into a Nokia phone with predictive text if slang words relating to sensitive anatomical parts are likely to upset you) is clearly a great talent.

It is hard to write about youth, sex, drugs etc without things disintegrating into boredom. Beautiful Children retains a great humanity and depth of feeling at all times, even when things get really degraded. There are moments when it feels like this is the voice of doomed youth, a voice that could explain the mysteries of teen trouble in lingo our "grownup" minds can grasp - but there are other moments when I felt things just didn't quite work...

What do I mean by that? I'm not clever enough to articulate it I'm afraid. Think of it this way. Remember the first time you heard a song by that band that ended up being your total teen favourite? Then the album came out and was just life changingly awesome? Then the second album came out and it was not as good? You couldn't say why and there were a few great singles...but there was that track with the bongos? Or the bad cover version that was later used in an advert?

I wouldn't be surprised if Bock ends up selling large. But will he be a name remembered for all time?

Beautiful Children is a visceral, thrilling, dangerous book - but it didn't quite rock my world. (But then I am middle aged nowadays!)


They don't fu*k about do they?

It's not all about the military-industrial complex is it...

Cross your fingers, do your Voodoo dances, knock on wood, pray even - we're gonna start a revolution!

Surprise, surprise

Fancy that, the Competition Commission has allowed the takeover of wholesaler Bertrams by wholesaler EUK. This now means that instead of 3 wholesalers to choose from we now have 2 as THE/books is being swallowed up by an engorged Bertrams.

We're completely ambivalent. There are pluses, there are minuses. Hey ho.

But after a very productive business breakfast Matthew had this morning who knows, maybe the nature of the whole darn thing will change...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Thanks Camilla!

I am now the proud owner of a Proof copy of Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson.

Expect excited blogging to follow shortly...

Peace man...

Things I have learned this lunchtime.

1: Raw fish is better than cooked fish. I LOVE sushi. Why cook fish? Cooking fish is wrong.

2: It's very hard to get people to drink beer at lunchtime. Adam and I indulged (even though adam is on a pre-hols no beer diet) but only one other person had a beer and he was an author...

3: David Peace is GQ author of the year.

Things I have had confirmed this lunchtime.

1: David Peace is a great bloke.

2: Drinking at lunchtime means productivity plumits.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Free Stuff

Thanks to Em at Snowbooks for this newish book on cyclin' in the city. Lots of top and commense sense tips, lavishly illustrated, for enjoying the freedom of the bike and how to avoid the ever present threat of mangling by a bus.

Of course being a total know-all this book confirms my own long thought and hard fought knowledge of two-wheeled madness so I will gladly sell this copy on to a deserving customer at a very agreeable discount of 100%. Thanks again. (Good bit of free publicity though, eh?)

(Emma, good thing you did send it as I was convinced I'd already ordered it...)

Fuuueeeuurrrrruuuuuucccccckk orff

Customer a) 'Can you get this for me?'

'I think we'll have to get that from the States'

Customer b) 'Do you know about it's so simple to use'

(a low, barely audible grumble of displeasure)