Monday, March 31, 2008

What I Saw: An 'Omage To Joseph Roth

Over the next few days I intend to blog about our recent trip to Berlin. I will write several short pieces on a variety of themes, pieces I hope Roth might have recognised as feuilletons - a form that seems perfect for the blog.

If Roth were alive today he would be blogging...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The type of customer every good bookshop needs

One of our regulars was in this morning and we were having a bit of a chat and a moan about certain things. I was mouthing my displeasure at one particular circumstance when she leaned conspiratorially across the counter and whispered,

'You know I can give you some of my black magic spells if you want to get rid of somebody. They really do work you know'

'Why thanks' I replied, 'but I fear I may be tempted by the dark side and use them unwisely.'

She nodded in understanding and waved goodbye.

'Your books will be in next week', I said...

Dr Rick says this is art

And he's right too. Just beautiful. Tragic but beautiful.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Still learning

When we bought the first till for the shop there were two options - programmed and unprogrammed. The programmed option was an extra thirty quid and meant the company selling us the till did simple things like put our name on the till receipts and what department each item purchased should be put under - important for things like VAT. "Thirty quid!" we exclaimed, "How hard can it be?" Suffice to say by the time the upstairs boiler rained on our till and killed it last week the receipts still said 'dept 1', 'dept 2' and our name was nowhere to be found on any bits of receipt-like paper.

So we stumped up the extra 30 spondoolies and the till has come out of the box all shiny and new and the receipts have our name and address, itemises purchases and it works out the vat on each purchase for us. Sometimes it really is better to just pay someone to do it for you. That's what they're there for. They're professionals for christs sake...

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Sometimes this blog bugs the hell out of me...

We love what we do ok?

We also work bloody hard, despite what the nonsense we spout on here may suggest.

If you think what we do is easy then come and have a go, do your thing, make it happen.

You'll soon see how easy it is...

Lazy bastards

So it's easter and we'll be closed from tomorrow until tuesday morning. Lazy, lazy, lazy. Or rather, we could be sat here twiddling our thumbs and open while the rest of the marsh shuts up shop for four days but as past and painful experience tells us, sitting in a shop all day and taking fifty quid for your troubles is a soul destroying experience.

So, tell us, what would you do?

Easter Chill...


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Elitist Rant

I know I'm probably stepping over a line here...

I'm about to have a pop at Richard and Judy...

I'm ready for the hail of abuse such elitist remarks are usually met with...

I'll hunker down behind the till while crowds demonstrate outside wielding banners that say WHAT DID ROBERT MUSIL EVER DO FOR US? and I'D RATHER WOTCH TELLY THAN RED ANY DAY! but...

If you are going to give someone a prize for writing a book, or even consider doing so, is it not a teensy weensy bit important that the person concerned wrote the book?

I mean correct me if I'm wrong...

But Katie Price.

That's just bonkers...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee by Rebecca Miller

Finished this at the weekend on a bench in the garden.

Excellent stuff. Taut narrative, interesting characters, surprises, kinky sex, death - it has a bit of everything really.

Out at the start of April people...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Olfactory Hallucinations?

I suspect I may have done lasting damage to my brain experimenting with nasal douches.

I still cannot smell anything that's there to be smelled. Instead I seem to be smelling mysterious and allarming smells that are not really there. This morning I was convinced our cat had weed on the bed. I could smell it. But nobody else could...

Saturday, March 15, 2008


The students upstairs have a washing machine above our till. It must have leaked last night as the till was covered in water this morning and our customer orders book (yes, we still write down customer orders) looked like it had been dropped in the bath. The till is now knackered. Joy. Apart from not being able to get to the float - cards only today please - it also means I have to add up all the book sales in my head. This makes it hurt. Still, atleast it's warm and the front door is open for the first time this year although I have to listen to Manny the veg man's radio playing Crapital Gold. This makes my head hurt a little bit more.

But apart from that everything is just dandy.

Council Shmouncil

Our business rates bill for the coming year has just come in. They've gone up by over 5% which is an extraordinary coincidence because I've noticed that the quality of services provided by Lambeth council has also gone up by over 5%. Or was that all a dream...

Nasal Douche "not torture" says Bush

Wrong again George.

Gadzooks, the dangers that lurk in books. Tried out the nasal douche and it should be re-named the nasal ouch. Forcing water into the nose when totally bunged up only added to my misery. Not only do I now have snot coming out of my mouth and nose but from my ears as well...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Something for the weekend

If you fancy chillin' out in a dark room that is...

Listening to the peerless David Byrne radio station and come across a Miles Davis track I hadn't heard before and thanks to the magic of the internet, here it is!

Ok, so it's 32 minutes long but stick with it. Apparently it influenced all of Brian Eno's post '74 work...

Admit it!

Lower Marsh is the COOLEST street in London.

It might look shabby on the surface but there's more crazy sheet going on down here than in so-called cool places such as Shoreditch.

The latest shop to open is dedicated to knitting...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Next up

will be The Private Lives of Pippa Lee by Rebecca Miller.

The daughter of Arthur Miller has to be worth a look I think...

Are we a bookshop?

...erm, yes.

I'm reading Eileen Chang at the minute. Not Lust Caution. Love in a Fallen City.

Set in the 1930's and 1940's I am fast discovering that I know pretty much nothing about China. How have I managed to collect so many stereotyped views about the Chinese?

The stories also put me in mind of writers such as Stephan Zweig and Joseph Roth. Where they wrote about the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Chang chronicles the passing of the Qing dynasty through the fragile republican era and into the early days of the Communist Revolution. Laden with nostalgia and yet buzzing with the excitememnt change brings, Chang's stories are full of surprises and well worth a look.

Nasal Douche

Adam posted a rather yucky poo related ting further down. It reminded me of this book I once started to read. I forget the name of it now but it was a sort of yoga type maintenance manual for the human body. Not only did it have a whole chapter on the best posture for crapping it also referred to nasal douching. This is the practice of forcing warm water through the sinuses. It is supposed to help releave the symptoms of colds. I am totally bunged up after Finn and I messed about in the storms and rain so I am giving it a try this evening.

If I look a little bulbous tomorrow you know what happened...

Currently listening

to Mark Lamarr's Alternative Sixties.

Listen out for the Everly Brothers singing about their Mary Jane.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

It's really happening

The builder is getting into shop 2 this week to start work. The timber is at the joiners being turned into bookshelves. I am going there this afternoon to drop off a fridge and microwave for our new staff members.

This is that point at which you suddenly bloody realise what you're doing - we're at the top of the rollercoaster and we're about to go down the other side for a hell of a ride...

But Matthew and I are already hatching other plans...

...Watch this space (In about a years time that is)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


We might be sinking ever deeper...but there are moments...


No, this is not a post about my recent trip to the dentist. (I need a dentist but I'm not signed up with one.)

This is a post about us winning an award.

Penguin Classics Retailer of the year 2007.

Not bad eh? You can see all the grubby finger marks on it already.

Thanks Penguin, we love you all.

The answer my friend, has just blown away in the wind...

All this rollocks about a big storm coming wound me up no end over the weekend. I have a real dislike of weather predicting people.

"So you think you can predict the future do you clever beard? Come on then - it's Cheltenham this week. Who do you fancy? Not so clever now are you eh? Eh? Micheal Fish eh?"

One of the reasons I dislike them so much is the fact they are generally right. Don't you hate it when people are mostly right?

The other reason is my wife is in thrall to their skills. She will merrily tell me how terrible the weather is going to be and that we might as well shut ourselves indoors with plenty of tinned food until it's safe enough to go out. A woman was knocked out in Hampstead by a flying shop sign don't you know...

Well the weather wasn't so bad yesterday. Finn and I boldly set off for the park in the pouring rain - I with my trusty hat on (If you've got a hat on you'd hardly know it's raining. And nobody notices I'm going bald. And I like to think a hat confers a certain dignity on a man.) and Finn in his Bob the Builder jacket.

The park was empty. Finn splashed in the puddles a lot. He had his boots on but those only go up to mid shin and the splashing was very splashy. He was soaked from head to foot.

We then accidentally invented a new spectator sport. Crossing the basketball courts on our way home we stopped for a kick about. The buggy was caught by a strong gust and set off by itself! What a lark.

"Again! Again!"

This magic worked several times. The buggy would set off, I would yell GOWARN DERE BUGGY! in football watching mode and Finn would leg it yelling BUYGY! BUYGY! It's a Maclaren. You can tell it was designed by the people who made the undercarriage for Spitfire. We even managed to attract the attention of a couple of community wardens who were looking for trouble. They heard our weird yelling and turned up expecting a crowd of glue sniffing urchins but it was just good old dad messing about...

Finn now has a nasty cold. Arse. But fun were had and bad weather was dissed. Shove that in yer pipe and smoke it ya beardy clever sandals bunch.

Holidays - The consequences

Actually, after a week of tagines, salads and cous cous, happy to report that motions are regular and stools are of an agreeable consistency.

I thank you.

Monday, March 10, 2008

How bad is today?

The Frenchman at La Tratteur Cafe still has a full complement of lunchtime baguettes for sale. It's 4 o'clock.


I was here yesterday. Reclining on one of these very recliners. With a bottle of Moroccan Rose. It was 27 degrees and a brilliant blue sky. I went swimming off the coast of North Africa on thursday and sat on a beach all afternoon.

Now I'm back in London and the window is leaking and it's bloody freezing and all the customers have wisely decided to stay at home or in the office.

Would you like to see the world's smallest violin?


'The council is funding an initiative to get cigarette butts off the street. Would you like a free cigarette bin outside your shop?'

So, do I want to encourage people hanging around outside blowing smoke in customers' faces and generally getting in the way.

'No, that's ok thanks.'

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Friday, March 07, 2008

Something for the weekend...


Bog Off

Public loos. They aren't what they used to be are they? More to the point there are hardly any left.

The latest brilliant idea from them over the river is for pubs and shops to open their "facilities" to the general public. I'm sorry but you have to be joking. The last person I allowed to use our loo is still in there. (There is no door handle.)


Is there anything the British like more than a good loo? You're telling me people won't pay for loos? Gawd, you could put a thousand quid per annum on council tax if the Daily Mailers thought there would be good loos every hundred yards...

Instead they want to spend fifteen billion on ID cards nobody really wants. Who are these people? Why do we let the idiots rule?

World Book Day Was Yesterday

In case you missed it.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaages ago we attracted a great deal of attention by selling Harry Potter at full price and then giving all the profits to the local school - Johanna Primary.

I went in there yesterday morning for a special assembly. The head teacher, Di, showed the children some of the books she had when she was a child. She explained how expensive books used to be and how special she felt these books that she owned had been to her and her family.

Then she showed the children some of the books I had brought. They all seemed to have read Handa's Surprise and Philip Pullman's Northern Lights but were wowed by Gallop

We raised a little over £500 for the school and they have come up with a great way of spending the money.

When the children do good work they are given stars. When they have a certain number of stars they will come to visit us at the bookshop and can choose a book to take away for free.

I was applauded, blushed and then had to hand out the prizes for a school handwriting competition.

Di and her staff are doing a fantastic job. This is a tough inner-city school that was failing badly. But Di has turned things around and the latest OFSTEd report was very good. A handy reminder of how lucky I am to be able to sell books for a living. Some people really work...

Crockatt & Powell - yeah, we ROCK - but we CARE too!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Singing the Fishing

We're doing well with a book by Christopher Rush called Hellfire and Herring.

It reminded me of a casette my dad used to inflict on us when we drove long distances in the car. It was recorded from radio 2. I think it was first aired in the 60's but this was in the 80's...

Anyway, you can listen to it here.

It says it's an 18 minute extract but it's the whole program as far as I can tell.

Quite apart from another nostalgic tour on my part it's an example of the kind of program that should be on the radio all the time. Some of those accents, the turns of phrase - beautiful stuff...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Yesterday evening I did something rather daft. I was hurrying back from our local shops with a couple of bottles of Becks and a can of Heineken to catch the Champions League matches on telly when I slipped and fell down the steps to our flat.

(We live in a semi-basement flat. You have to go down steps to the front door but the back door leads out onto the garden without steps if you see what I mean.)

Just before I fell down the steps I glanced at the window of the house next door. This house is squatted and there are often weird (and scary) things happening. There is usually a dark blue sheet up over the window but, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the sheet had gone and someone was staring out at me. It's hard to say if this made me lose my footing or if I just slipped but the perception and the fall went together in my mind...I say perception because when I checked later the sheet was in place as usual. There was no face at the window...Or maybe there was when I fell but wasn't later. I wish I knew becasue it would answer an interesting question for me - did I see a face or not? And what is the difference between thinking I saw the face and falling down stairs and seeing a face and falling down stairs.

I managed to smash one of the bottles of beer and cut my finger on it. I also managed to slash open the can of beer with the broken bottle. And break my fall by landing on my elbow. Luckily it was cold and raining a bit so I had plenty of clothes on - otherwise I think there is a good chance I would have broken the elbow. Obviously I was covered in beer! Weirdly I also felt quite shocked. I had to ask Mary to check my bum and legs in case I had cut myself open but just couldn't feel it...

The incident made me feel quite vulnerable. I could have hit my head. Suddenly I understood the careful way that old people manoever down steps. You can't think of the world as a series of "what ifs" or you would become too scared ever to go out. In one of the Raymond Carver stories we just read for bookgroup (called The bath) there is the following - terrifying - sentence.

"At an intersection, without looking, the birthday boy stepped off the curb, and was promptly knocked down by a car."

Just like that. AAAARRRGGHH!!!!!

All in all not my finest hour. The football was worth watching though. Arsenal gave the world a lesson in how the game should be played. To make a team like Milan look so second-rate on their own patch is a pretty great achievement.

BTW before my mum phones or anything I am totally fine. Just a sore elbow. The cut turned out to be minute though it did bleed dramatically!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

This month Finn is reading...

The Tiger Who Came to Tea or "Tea" as it's known.

Goodnight Moon aka "Moon"

Who Said Moo or "Moo"

And The Owl And The Pussycat of course...The owl has a ukulele and so does Finn.


Great bookgroup at C & P last night. A good turnout and loads of interesting responses to Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

We don't talk about bookgroup much. In fact the first rule of bookgroup is not to talk about bookgroup.

But it happens.

Every month.

And it's great!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Funk Off

Sorry my friend but THIS is the funkiest record this week.

A Warning and Reminder: Everything you read on this blog is untrue, never happened and cannot be used in evidence against us...

...but luckily the camera strong enough to withstand the naked booty-shaking that took place in our living room this week has not been invented yet. It was all the fault of a long-neglected vinyl LP of African Funk music I re-discovered on top of a wardrobe. Matata's Talkin Talkin and Peter King's Ajo are two of the FUNKIEST tracks EVER RECORDED. Sadly they are also not available on youtube, seeqpod or any of the other dastardly pirate sites I would never ever visit in search of music so I cannot share them with you. But, if you are visiting this site then you are doubtless folk of some (diseased?) imagination - I'm sure you can picture the scene. Yeah, scary! I caught site of myself in a mirror "getting funky" and quit right away.

Backtracking slightly to my post about plastic bags, if you've ever read the delightfully retro Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr you will have noticed the excellent string bag Sophie's mum goes shopping with at the end of the book. Proof that there was a time when plastic was so new they only made chairs, spacecraft and hairstyles out of it - couldn't waste such cool stuff on disposable shopping bags. It is also proof of a time when only dad went to work, mum did the shopping and the tiger, as well as drinking all the water in the taps, drank all DADDY's BEER. Chance would be a fine thing. In our poxy era it's dad spends most of his time trying to guzzle a quick bottle of Becks before mum has a chance to demolish it.

(The point approaches, slowly.)

Opening the paper this morning I make the mistake of reading an interview with James Lovelock. What an absolute arse. As well as telling us all we're all doomed - that we have 20 years before climate change really kicks in and that by 2100 80% of people will be dead - he goes on to add there's nothing anyone can do about it.

James James, you are 80. It's ok to think of everything being fu*ked in 20 years time since you will almost certainly be dead. Some of us hope to be alive. Some of us have children who will be celebrating their 21st birthdays around about then.

Why not come and join me in an attempt to follow Beyonce's moves in the video for Crazy in Love? It will be a bit like the time when my dad invented a new dance called the Penguin at our wedding. And the time when he inflicted said dance on a couple of young ladies at a disco in rural France. It was pretty bad. Most people said things along the lines of Oh My Gawd.

That's the reaction youth should have when experience gets out of control. I can see us now James. I'm shaking my booty and you've just slipped a disc trying to get your leg up "there". Young (1 and nine months) Finn is looking on shaking his head - dad dad dad, don't do that to yourself.

Meanwhile he will be working out a way to save us using hi-tech wizardry only an almost two year old could come close to conceiving of...