Wednesday, January 31, 2007

31st Jan - Nightmare on Lower Marsh


It's January 31st...

I've been putting it off for such a long time. But everywhere I go there are reminders. On telly. Even at the cash machine yesterday.

Today is the day when self assessment forms have to be handed in.

I finally managed to fill mine in, though only with a great deal of help from Adam and my wife Mary. I know it's pathetic but I have been dreaming of wage slavery. Oh, those happy days when someone else had to worry about all that tax and NI crap. I HATE filling in forms.

Earlier at home I was searching for some old pay slips in the hope that they might have my unique tax code on them. In the file marked Matthew Tax there were loads of pay slips etc from Waterstone's and Macmillan and even Dillons...but nothing more recent. Where could they be?

"Try the pile of papers underneath the London Porter beer mats" said Mary at one point - words that should give you an insight into the state of my filing! No pay slips. But I did find the receipt for a computer I bought at PC world some months back that has broken down in spectacular style.

I am going to be fined at least £100 as I didn't register as Self Employed. I thought I didn't have to. Because I am a company director. That's the level of idiocy we're dealing with here.

I'm a bookseller. Please please please can I just sell some books? I'm pretty good at that...

Postie delights

Two items in the post this morning from large companies trying to help our business with fantastic new services. Great!

1) From the Post Office:

'If you hate spending time in queues, then you'll love Business Point

'The Post Office has recognised the needs of our highly valued mail customers by setting up and trialling a brand new, dedicated, fast-track business mailing and service point at your local branch for three months'


'We're happy to tell you that you have been specially selected as one of our very first customers to benefit from Business Point at the Post Office.'

Ooh, we're so special...

'In business, it's well known that time equals money'

How true it is, how true.

So, 'simply turn up your Business Point card (attached) at your local Post Office and enjoy a priority service.'

'Your nearest Business Point is located here'

The map indicates a branch somewhere near Victoria station. About 25 minutes walk from the shop. Our 'local' branch is on Westminster Bridge Road, about 2 minutes walk from the shop. I don't think I've ever spent 46 minutes in a queue at this branch which I suppose somewhat negates the net loss in travelling by going to our local Business Point branch.

The Post Office has just wasted my time with this gimmick which, as we all know, in business, equals money.

2) From EDF the energy company:

A lovely cardboard box arrives with the words

'A SMALL SOLUTION to one of the world's biggest problems' in a pleasant shade of Lincoln Green.

Inside, an Acorn! and a leaflet. On the front of the leaflet:


'When it grows it will begin taking carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere - helping to tackle one of the main sources of global warming. By the time it reaches maturity it could remove more than 0.75 tonnes of CO2 - that's enough to offset up to 13% of an average small business' annual emissions

'Our Climate Balance Tariff enables your business to do the same - help offset CO2 emissions - through tree planting and energy efficiency projects around the world.

'So if you want to do your bit to tackle global warming, switch to our Climate Balance Tariff today.'


'How It Works
  • A small premium of 0.40 p (excl. VAT) per unit of electricity is added to our standard unit prices.
  • This premium is used to help fund energy efficiency and reforestation projects locally and around the world.
  • Together these projects help balance your business' impact on CO2 levels in the atmosphere'

I won't even begin to start my tirade on cynical, bandwagon-jumping, business behemoths sending out ridiculous marketing ploys to rid us of our money. Suffice to say I'm very tempted to go home, turn the car on and leave it running all day.

Do both of these companies really think we're complete fucking idiots.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Anyone who works in a shop and has responsability for looking after the cash knows the feeling.

It's Saturday.

And you forgot to get change on Friday afternoon.

You have a few quid in the till but as the morning wears on (and someone paid with a fifty this am - never helps) the change situation worsens...

...luckily we have a market right outside the door with small change weighing down most of the traders.

At around the same time I'm running out of pound coins they are wishing they didn't have quite so many.

A brief chat and the problem is solved.

Thanks again Manny!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Book Tokens v Cold Hard Cash

We didn't renew our subscription to the Booksellers Association this year which meant we couldn't accept or sell National Book Tokens. This was the only part of the subscription we were nervous about turning down as the rest of what's on offer from the BA just doesn't really justify a small business like ours forking over our hard-earned. Besides how can a booksellers association really look after the interests of us, other indies, waterstoner'ssmithsborderstescosasda with any real effectiveness. Our interests are just not the same. And as Groucho said I don't want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member. However,

Would our customers stay away?

Would they be annoyed?

Would they think we weren't a 'proper' bookshop?

What about all those 'lost'sales?

Well, so far we have a 100% record. Here's how the exchange goes:

'Do you accept book tokens?'


'Ok. Here's cash'

'That'll do nicely, thank you'

However!!!!!!!We do sell and accept our very own Crockatt & Powell tokens in denominations of £5, £10, £25. They look prettier than national book tokens too.

(Amazon don't take book tokens either)

A new use for buses

When cycling to work just tuck in behind a bus about 2-3 yards from its bumper. It's nice and warm, keeps those icy winds from numbing your face and you don't have to cycle so hard (the Peloton principle). It's improbably dangerous but we all need to be kept on our toes now and again. Just keep a sharp eye on those brake lights.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Persons from Porlock

I'm reading some website which is about some whizz-bang fandoogly software which will change our lives for the better and I'm concentrating and trying to work it out when the phone rings and someone asks if I can spare 2 minutes of my time to talk about how he can save us 30% on our bills and no I can't spare the time and now I return to the screen and I can't work out where I left off and now I have to start all over aaaarghain and if anyone is reading this who recognises our name on their to phone list can you please not because you won't be saving us money and you're only wasting our time so leave us alone...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Help! Calling all book detectives...

Here are the clues:

Set in France.

Was Radio 4 book at bedtime about four years ago.

The story concerns a painter who has to travel a great deal to collect materials for a particular dye/colour that he uses for his paintings.

The title of the novel is the name of this colour/dye.

The painter has an affair with someone while he is on his travels.

Those are the clues.

If anyone can work out what the book is then they will win a special prize...

Booksellers Fight Terror

I have a new hero. Arthur Burton-Garbett - described in the paper as an "antiquarian bookseller" gave chase to one of the failed 21st July tube bombers.

"Mr Burton-Garbett, an antiquarian bookseller on his way to Spitalfields market in east London, got off the train and gave chase. He said he had heard what he thought was a pistol going off and recognised the smell of cordite. He had done national service at the Ministry of Defence weapons establishment at Shoeburyness. "I thought, that's a detonator," he said.

"When he [Mr Mohammed] shot out of the door, I shot out too. I turned right and hugged the wall and chased him.

"He went up [the escalator] like an express train. I was running out of steam so I shouted to people, 'Stop that man, get the police'. When I got to the top of the stairs, he was nowhere to be seen."

Ok so the CCTV pics are a bit blurry but I'd say the gentleman concerned is on the old side. Is he the antique or are the books?

Anyway it's further proof that old stuff is great!

And that booksellers are at the forefront of the "war on terror".

The Future? Ahh Sod It...

Yesterday afternoon I spotted a box of records outside Gramex (brilliant second-hand music shop on Lower Marsh). There was a sign saying "Free - Please Take to a Good Home". I had a rumage and walked off with a recording of a Dvorak violin concerto. I'm afraid I don't remember the exact name or who is playing on it or anything useful like that.

What I do remember is listening to it last night on my Technics and being blown away by how brilliant classical music sounds on vinyl as opposed to CD or MP3.

I particulary loved the slight scratchyness of the sound. I felt I was transported away somewhere else - to a time and place where things were slightly more beautiful and whaddayouknow?

I woke up this morning and it had snowed...

(Took Finn off to the park straight away!)

We have gone on a bit recently about new stuff, but old stuff is really great too.

Monday, January 22, 2007

"Edited Classics"

This weekend I read about Weidenfeld & Nicholson's plans to produce a series titled Compact Editions.

These are classics that are to be "sympathetically edited" down to under 400 pages to make them appear less "elitist" and daunting reads.

I find this a bizarre idea. In the first place is it not the height of arrogance to believe that Moby Dick or Anna Karenina can be edited without radically changing the reading experience? Or am I just being fuc*ing elitist? When I was at college I was the only person in my class to read Moby Dick all the way through. (Yes - I was one of the wan*kers that was interested in literature and not just doing a degree in English Lit because it was an easy degree) I remember the long sections where, page after page, Melville describes the kit involed in whaling or the anatomical structure of the whale. Are these the sort of sections that will be chopped away? Ok, they go on a bit but it all helps to build the picture of the depths of obsession that lie at the heart of Captain Ahab's search for Moby Dick. It was also important to Melville as he was keen to write a novel that was true to the reality of whaling at that point in time. I just don't think it is possible to edit the classics without destroying what is interesting and important about them.

Over the weekend I read another of the fantastic Melville House series of novellas. This time it was Tolstoy's The Devil. It's just one hundred pages long, perfect for a Sunday afternoon single sitting read.

If anyone wants a quick intro to the classics then here is a perfect entry point. Don't rush straight into War and Peace, try The Devil first or some of the short stories. At least that way you are reading something that the author intended to be short. If you find it heavy going then fine, you know that writer isn't for you. But I defy anyone to get nothing from Chekhov's short stories or from the Melville House novellas. I haven't read War and Peace yet but I will one day. At the minute I still feel I'm just starting to understand Tolstoy. I look forward to re-reading Anna Karenina soon (last read it when I was 18) and then, maybe in a year or two, going for War and Peace. (My mum read it recently and said it's kind of like East Enders goes to Russia!) The classics are there for the long term. They will provide a lifetime of great reading for anyone prepared to make the effort required to enjoy them. To make that effort you don't have to be royalty or have a literature degree - so stuff the elitist crap!

After finishing The Devil I was moved to do a little research on Tolstoy. I didn't realise at the end of his life he corresponded with Ghandi and had a great influence on his thinking on non-violence and passive resistance. These books are classics for a reason! They are stores of human wisdom and thought - the vehicle for ideas that have changed the world.

Editing the classics is a bit like watching football highlights. It might be more entertaining in a "goals per second" way but to think it is in any way close to the real experience is pure delusion. Those who read the edited classics are missing the point.

Call me elitist - I don't care.

The classics matter and should not be messed with...

Friday, January 19, 2007

You're 'Avin a Laugh...

...well you will be if you're in Crockatt & Powell on Wednesday 21st February.

Daniel Kitson and Ivor Dembina are hosting an exclusive stand-up comedy night.

Our quest to prove that bookshops are not dull continues as we step into yet more uncharted territory. Ivor is a long term bookgroupie and Daniel did a series of preview performances for his latest Edinburgh show - C90 - at C & P last year.

Tickets are £5 and must be booked in advance as we expect to sell out pretty fast. or call 020 7928 0234

You can click here for more of the Kitson Flava...or here or here...or indeed here...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I'm trying, I'm really trying.

As Matthew and a few friends and family will attest I appear to have recently suffered a sudden and possibly catastrophic lurching to the position of a neo-con, yank-loving, Blair-appeasing fascist when it comes to discussions on war, terrorism, religion etc. Oh dear.

So, when I saw this book on the counter of my local curry shop and in the interests of multi-culturalism I thought I'd take it home and try and understand where some of our Islamic cousins are coming from.

Unfortunately, I sort of stumbled at chapter one. Chapter two was a bit of a stretch. And chapter three left me a bit cold.

I know I'm doomed to an eternity of hell-fire damnation, what about you lot?

The Future (just keeps on comin')


It's like a book only it's not.

It's leather bound.

And it uses AAA batteries which reminds me I need to buy some for my remote control at home.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

You need Real Player for this...


The Future (again!)

Brilliant news - Marsh Ruby are back. They took an extended break from feeding the needy of Waterloo but now there's curry for lunch again. Hooray.

I was given a free fortune cookie while I was in there. It's sitting here on the desk beside me.

I'm going to open it now...

.. it says - Strong reasons make strong actions. (Any wise men/women like to hazard a guess as to what that's all about?)

It also suggests I learn Chinese (good advice) and to help me start gives the Chinese for fruit. (Shui-guo)

Dog Bites Man

I was bitten by a dog while cycling across Clapham Common this morning. What, I wonder, is the etiquette and protocol involved?

a) Hurl abuse at the owner and cycle off.
b) Stop, call the police and have the dog taken away.
c) Kill the dog.

Answers on a postcard please.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Just a Moment...

I went to the football on Saturday, to see Fulham take on West Ham at Upton Park.

It was one of those games. We scored first but the chants of "Easy Easy" were swiftly snuffed out by a Zamora equaliser. Then just moments after the start of the second half Yossi Benayoun scored a brilliant goal for the Hammers. Even after a couple of days I can still appreciate the deft change of pace and little shimmy thing he did with his legs before lofting his shot over Jan Lastuvka. We came back with a great headed goal from McBride only to watch in horrified disbelief as Carlos Bocanegra and Phillipe Christanval got tangled together, allowing Benayoun to round Lastuvka for his second...

...gutted. Heads went down. It began to pee with rain as apocalyptic black clouds rolled across the East London sky. It was going to be one of those days. But with the fourth official indicating five minutes of stoppage time the Fulham team roused themselves and after a thrilling few minutes Christanval popped up in the box to stab in the winner.

Well that's a lot of chat about football so far. What's my point?

The full body adrenaline rush that followed that third goal for Fulham, that led to me hugging complete strangers, leaping about like an electrocuted frog and yelling till I thought I was going to pass there anything else like it? Moments like that are the reason why you follow a football team. Forget all this tosh about multimillionquid star players - it works whatever club you support. A 3-3 draw became a Fulham victory on Saturday. The miraculous happened. We were saved.

A similarly significant moment on Sunday evening. I went for a walk with Finn (my 6-month old son) in our local park. He was in his sling, dusk was falling. We went and stood in the park and gazed at the black outline of houses and trees silhouetted against a pale blue/pink sky. Orange glow from the street lighting bled into the scene. Beautiful. Birds sang softly, preparing to bed down for the night. Finn cooed against my chest and waved his little arms about. Dad and Finn, enjoying the evening. Once again I tried to store the feeling away.

I get a similar buzz if someone buys a book I rate. Want to see me smile? Come in and purchase a copy of The Road by Cormac McCarthy or JA Baker's classic The Peregrine.

As an old Hippie once said to me "Whatever turns you on man."

Football, family and books do it for me - make life more than the daily struggle to avoid financial disaster. For you it might be classical music or belly dancing.

Just remember nothing else is real, only the moment, and it's forever passing...

Monday, January 15, 2007

All by myself...

I was a little bit worried about today. There is only going to one of us in the shop on a Monday from now on. As Marie and Adam will be able to telll you, I get very nervy when I'm in the shop by myself...

But today was fine. The thing is I wasn't alone at all. There was Kellie the Faber rep at 11am. Then Mr Shepherd our fave South West Trains driver (huge knowlege of poetry) dropped in. Then Jolanta who organises art shows all over London dropped by to tell me about her Christmas on top of a mountain in Morocco (not planned). Then Jurgen who is doing an MA on Lacan. Then Helen who was telling me about her plans to travel to Rome by train. Then Sue and Pat came in together to find out if our coffee machine was working yet (will be tomorrow ladies).

And any minute Marie arrives to host our bookgroup.

So "alone" on a Monday is really a very bad description. After just one year trading we seem to have loads of new friends...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

It's happened again!

Pathfinders by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (recently beaten up by the Atlanta PD).

UK price - £25

US - $27.95

Exchange rate - £1=$1.95

You do the math, as they say.

Discount crazies and lateral thinking.

A customer asked the price of the God Delusion. £20 I say. Oh, they say, it's only £16 at Borders. Hmm, I say.

However! The US hardback has a cover price of $27. I can order it from our stateside supplier and with the good discount we get and a favourible exchange rate I can offer the US edition to the customer for £16 and still make the same amount of money if I'd sold the full price UK edition.

Result! But am I not the only one who sees the lunacy of this situation?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Hurry Up Future...

This is what we want.

Anyone have a spare £50,000 they would like to invest? No I'm serious...

The future is coming but it's sloooooooow. £50,000 would really liven things up.

We would be the first "Book Boutique" in Europe - printing books on demand for people from our huge (and uselessly empty) cellar.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

And how the other half of C&P live...

While Matty C was avoiding Hippies in darkest zummerzet, I was...

Having a swim here...

Played Golf here...

And took a cable car up here...

Ah, the benefits of a bookselling life! There's just SO much money swimming around!

BUT, it wasn't all play, some serious holiday reading had to be done. In order:

The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred and The Jews by David Mamet.

I saw this on a US website and got it in because I'm a big fan of Mamet's work on stage and in film, Oleanna, House of Games, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Spanish Prisoner, Heist, Spartan etc. His work has always struck me as having a moral ambiguity even though it addresses themes of good and evil, right and wrong. What I didn't realise is just how devout a Jew Mamet actually is. This book is a scathing and raging attack on those Jews who deny their heritage and replace it with the fads of 21st century mumbo-jumbo - therapy, yoga, buddhism, etc. Mamet's rage builds and builds and serves to throw a sharp light on his fiction work which leads me to see there is actually a furious and righteous anger at play. It was just as well I read this before this:

In Defence of Atheism: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism and Islam by Michel Onfray

This is a proof copy of a 300,000 selling book in France that is released here in may by Serpent's Tail. As a bit of an atheist myself and one frustrated by a lot of weak writing on the subject (The God Delusion anyone?) I'm always keen to look out for other people's processes at how they've arrived at their godlessness. This is a much stronger book than Dawkins' and is not wholly dismissive of the human desire for the mythic but it is a corruscating attack on the three monotheisms with particular attention paid to the rampant misogyny present in organised religion throughout the last 2000 years.
Despite being in the Fench Intellectual Style and occasionally ranting it is highly accessible and articulate and as a champion of the endangered Enlightenment project, Onfray will only get my utmost support.
Christopher Hitchens has a book out from Atlantic in May called God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion. Should be an interesting month...

My two fiction reads this holiday were two Melville House novellas:

My Life by Anton Chekhov

If you held a gun to my head and forced me to give you my favourite author then Chekhov would come out top with virtually no rival. Perception is an over-used and under-valued word but Chekhov has no rival. His empathy and imagination to fully inhabit characters is extraordinary and this story of a young man struggling with his heritage, his fathers' expectations and his place in the world is so intelligent and moving and profound it almost brings tears to my eyes.

First Love by Ivan Turgenev

Another Russki and not quite as subtle as Chekhov but equally affecting and moving. A story that could almost veer on the melodramatic is saved once again by empathy and tragedy. The thing that both these novellas share however is their modernity. Both could have been written yesterday they are so fresh and pertinent.

So, that's my hols for another 50 weeks. Back to reality now and we can look forward to the next post on the blog on the joys of Lambeth Council Commercial Waste services. (Or lack thereof)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Glastonbury - My Real Story

Yes it is full of Hippies and the mud in Somerset is officially the muddiest mud ever invented...

But the chef at the Hawthorns pub deserves a mention - brilliant food.

My literary pilgrimage was hampered by the fact nobody I spoke to in Glastonbury seemed to have heard of A Glastonbury Romance. I looked in a couple of bookshops there and they didn't appear to stock Cowper-Powys either. (Please correct me if I'm wrong Glastonbury Booksellers - I may have failed to spot GR amongst all the books on crystal healing and pagan whatnot)

I was very tempted to set up as a Glastonbury Romance tour guide.

"Now here's the famous Tor where Codfin murders X (name removed to avoid plot spoil) and over here we have the Chalice Well where Bloody Johnny's miraculous healing takes place."

But no - back to London and Crockatt & Powell.

Happy New Year all.

Glastonbury - My Story (In the style of a celebrity biog now sitting beneath a table waiting to be returned in massive quantities)

Glastonbury - that's a festival.

But do you know what? It's a small town in Somerset too!

I took the wife and nipper down there after X-Mas 2007. The press were on my ass after a year of successful bookselling. In fact it was more than the press. Adam and I were fighting off the ladies (and a fair few lads too). It's a bugger being famous.

Pete Doherty said I'd love Glastonbury 'cos of all the drugs but when I got there there wasn't even a festival on. Only happens once a year they said. And it's not even in Glastonbury! It's in a little place called Pilton. That Pete! He's always off his head! Don't know why I ever listened to the daft muppet.

So there we were, parking the Ferrari in the town centre, the Maz all dolled up in Armani and I says to her "What do you fancy for lunch darlin'"

She's just looking around for the Paparazzi but there's no sign. Come to think of it everyone else is wearing stripy trousers and wizard hats. Not much call for Hello round here. The Maz is looking well miserable. "That woman has a magic wand! I can't be seen with these people! What are you trying to do to me!"

I explain it was all Pete's idea, that him and Kate caused a stir last year and it was in all the glossy mags. But the Maz is having none of it. A bloke strolls by eating a veggie burger and he's got hummus in his beard. Well that was the last straw. I step on the gas and we're out of that Hippie hole before the nanny has time to park her land cruiser with the nipper inside. I won't be going back there in a hurry! To make matters worse the nanny got involved in a prang just near Stone Henge.