Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lost and Found

I didn't set out to create a theme to this post, but today's book jackets have conveniently fallen into two distinct categories: Schoolboy Mayhem and Ladies in Africa (and I use the word 'ladies' deliberately).

First, if you thought that the British public school was the epitome of order and self-discipline, think again:

After pausing for a second to straighten his tie, Polson quickly lashes out at the new boy who has committed the double sin of being ginger and failing to leave the bottom button of his waistcoat undone, much to the amusement of a young Kenneth Williams at the far right. It's a jungle out there.

(NB - Richard at Grey Area has pointed out that this may actually be an early version of Gilbert and George's Bend It)

Things go from bad to worse at Prior's, the 14th best public school in Herefordshire. Here you can see the 17th Viscount Melrose administering a sound thrashing to a ghastly scholarship boy who keeps talking about the poetry and the 'brotherhood of man'.

Legend has it that the game of Rugby was born in 1823, when William Webb Ellis "with fine disregard for the game of football" picked up the ball and starting running with it. It was the beginning of a noble tradition.

The boys at Moorhaven School tried a similar thing in 1872, when Aubrey Gosling picked up a dead monkey and ran from the tuck shop to the cricket pavilion in under two minutes. The 'Monkey Run' quickly became a school tradition, but it never caught on.

With this book, there seems to be a slight dissonance between the sci-fi title and the image of a schoolboy being chased across a field. I can only presume that the bull isn't under alien control, so what's going on? Is that a deadly alien weapon they're holding?

This book isn't nearly as exciting as it sounds.

What interests me is how children's book covers have become far more 'touchy-feely" in recent years, whilst many of the stories have become darker.

This photograph was found in one of the books. At first it looks quite incongruous, but closer scrutiny reveals how pissed off everyone is.

The final three jackets all fall into the 'Ladies in Africa' category:

Moving to Africa, this cover seem to suggest dark passions ignited by the lure of the Casbah, although the dustjacket blurb clearly states that she falls in love with a man called Julian. I don't think that's a Moroccan name.

The rather convoluted dustjacket blurb reads:

"When Pudge Barton went on safari in Kenya with her friend Beryl and Beryl's father, Commissioner Newton, with whom she was staying for the summer holidays, she little knew what lay ahead..."

I've no idea what this novel's about, but I'd like to think that it is a sequel to 'Strange Safari':

"Jilted at the altar, when her fiance Rodney runs off with a 14-year-old Masai girl, Beryl Newton flees to Zanzibar, where she amuses herself by holding drinking competitions with foreign journalists. A life of alcoholism and penury beckons, but Beryl's fortunes suddenly change when her long-lost friend Pudge walks into the bar, accompanied by a woman smoking a pipe."

I feel as if I'm trawling through a golden age of book jacket design, between the plain, utilitarian covers from before the First World War, to the knowing, postmodern images of our time.

I can't imagine anyone laughing at the cover of the 'Da Vinci Code' in 50 years time. But all is not lost. We can still content ourselves with the absurd text.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Musical Interlude

During a rather morbid phase in my childhood, I went around recording the voices of relatives that I thought were about die.

I found the cassette recently and listened to the recordings, expecting to find some gems. Sadly, all they did was recapture the sheer tedium of being an only child, surrounded by old people - the passage of time hadn't made my Uncle Jack's allotment anecdotes any more riveting.

But there was one exception: my great-uncle, John Brown. Always immaculately dressed, with an aristocratic mien that belied his humble origins, he was more than happy to perform for the microphone. Here is the result:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Crawley (Another Dull Post About Bookselling)

Only two weeks ago I was writing about the fate of Waterstone's - the largest bookshop chain outside the USA.

The story of Waterstone's is a sad one. Once, it was the pre-eminent specialist bookseller in Britain, synonymous with range and authority. For a generation who had grown up with a stark choice between a poorly stocked independent bookseller and a branch of W H Smith, Waterstone's was a revelation.

Publishers loved Waterstone's too. Suddenly, they could sell all of their difficult backlist and midlist titles to the most obscure corners of Middle England. Sales reps, armed with suitcases full of stock catalogues, descended like vultures, eager to take advantage of the bright, but often clueless, young booksellers, who were usually straight out of university.

I was one of them. When John Calder - Samuel Beckett's publisher - arrived unannounced and proceeded to order a vast quantity of backlist titles that we'd never sell, it didn't occur to me to dare to challenge his recommendations.

But it wasn't just John Calder's books that clogged up the shelves . The weakness of the original Waterstone's was that we thought that range was everything and stocked a lot of authors whose books no longer sold. Returns were done sporadically and, over the years, the shelves became clogged with dead stock (I once returned to my old branch of Waterstone's, five years after leaving and was dismayed to find stock that I'd ordered still sitting on the shelves).

However, when HMV bought the company, they went too far in the opposite direction.

One of the great strengths of the old Waterstone's was that if you liked the new Justin Cartwright novel, you could feel fairly confident that there'd be several of his backlist titles on the shelf. But not any more. HMV stripped away everything that was good about Waterstone's until it became the bland retail chain that it is today. Admittedly the competition was much tougher after the collapse of the Net Book Agreement, but, without a decent range, what was the point of Waterstone's?

Only a few weeks ago, Waterstone's looked as if it was finished, but luckily HMV were forced to sell the chain and it now has a whole new lease of life as a privately owned company.

In my last post, I cited Daunt Books as an example of how booksellers can survive and I'm heartened to see that the new owner has appointed James Daunt as Managing Director.

But, as several people have commented, although Daunt Books has bucked the trend of declining high-street book sales, isn't that simply because James Daunt has been astute enough to open shops in the wealthiest parts of London? How will he apply his formula to a national chain with stores in a variety of locations?

I have some experience in this area. Eleven years ago I became the manager of a loss-making branch of Ottakar's in Crawley - a 'new town' near Gatwick Airport. The shop wouldn't have been my first choice, but I wanted to buy a house in Lewes and Crawley was the nearest branch of the chain. Also, with a newborn son, I was struggling to manage my frantically busy London store. It was time to downsize.

I had mixed feelings about moving to Crawley, particularly the commuting. First, I had to drive for 23 miles along this road:

Then, as I reached the outskirts of Crawley, the traffic suddenly slowed down and the remaining part of my journey was spent slowly negotiating my way through roadworks, roundabouts and estates of cheap modern houses. It was particularly grim in the winter.

Finally, there was the huge disappointment when I arrived:

Crawley was a mistake. Once a small, sleepy place on the way to Brighton, it became identified as a potential 'new town' after the end of the Second World War and by the late 1950s the population had increased fivefold, largely due to an influx of Londoners.

At this point, Crawley was regarded as one of the more successful new towns, providing thousands of jobs and affordable homes. Unlike some of its counterparts, Crawley hadn't been ruined by Brutalist architecture and high-rise developments. It was more like an outer London suburb that had been dropped onto a field in Sussex.

But Crawley became the victim of its own success and, in the 1960s, permission was given to expand the town to 120,000 - a twelvefold increase on its 1945 population level. By the 1990s, the town's character had been completely eradicated by over-development and cheap, poorly designed housing.

Ottakar's were generally very astute at picking new sites for the bookshops, but they got it horribly wrong with Crawley. I was surprised, as a quick walk around the town centre would have confirmed that this wasn't bookshop territory - it was as if the middle classes had been ethnically cleansed.

Also, the town centre had seen better days:

As if this wasn't enough, there was already a branch of Waterstone's in the town, so what was the point of my shop? What could we offer our customers?

It would have been easy to feel despondent. I was managing a shop that was only taking 50% of its projected turnover in a town that didn't need another bookshop. Also, all of the bookselling knowledge I'd acquired in London seemed utterly useless (when Saramago won the Nobel Prize for literature, our branches in London quickly picked up the phone and ordered all of the backlist. In Crawley, I think they thought that Saramago was the manager of West Ham).

But, curiously, I felt invigorated by my new branch. Anyone can sell books in London - you just put the books on the table and open the doors. But to make a success of shop like Crawley was a real challenge and I knew that if I was going to make it work, I'd have to unlearn everything I knew.

I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow account of what we did, but in less than five years we went from a six-figure loss to being on the verge of breaking into profit. It took a lot of hard work, but the key to our success was that I was trusted to know my local market and allowed to run the shop in the way I saw fit, changing the prices of bestsellers, moving sections that weren't working and experimenting with new ranges.

Here are some of the things we did:

We always tried to make the shop bright, colourful and welcoming, with simple displays that wouldn't be off-putting to people who didn't normally visit bookshops. Tables generally weren't allowed to have more than six different titles and the selection would always reflect the local, rather than national, bestsellers.

Any empty spaces at the end of sections would have handmade displays, with staff reviews highlighting key titles. In this display (probably made by my very talented assistant manager) someone has customised some Ottakar's point-of-sale posters.

Upstairs we had a small branch of Costa Coffee with large, blank walls. I decided to invite local artists and photographers to display their work in the cafe and on the walls of the staircase. This was a huge success and, in a town without any gallery or arts scene, our shop soon became a hub for local artists and craftspeople.

We also had a thriving events programme. A Martin Amis or Ian McEwan signing would have been an embarrassment in Crawley, as our sales of literary fiction were amongst the lowest in the company. But we also enjoyed some of the best sales of children's books and I felt sure that if I could lure Jacqueline Wilson to the shop, it would be a success.

In the end, I made an offer that was hard to refuse and the result was the biggest Jacqueline Wilson signing session of all time, which lasted for eight hours. At one point, the queue was nearly a quarter of a mile long. It was a stressful, but exhilarating, day and I loved seeing how the fans made themselves at home:

When authors came to our shop, we always covered up the bookshelves behind the signing table to create a sense of theatre (if that doesn't sound too precious):

In addition to the Jacqueline Wilson signing, we held a number of events (including some awful New Age evenings that made me cringe with shame) in an attempt to get people through the door. A successful event got us free advertising in the local paper and word-of-mouth publicity.

After five years we almost broke into profit, then the landlords put the rent up. I wasn't very happy.

Ultimately we failed, but I'm convinced that we wouldn't have got as far as we did without being given the freedom to experiment and see what worked. Under HMV, I wouldn't have been able to decide what price to sell a book at or choose which titles went on my front table.

Which brings me to the point of this post. When James Daunt was announced as the new MD of Waterstone's, some people questioned how he would apply his strategy to shops like Crawley, where people just wanted to buy the new Sharon Osbourne for less than Smith's. However, I was encouraged by his assertion that the future of Waterstone's lay with giving power back to the shops and trusting booksellers to know their local market. If he can trust managers to run their shops, then Waterstone's may have a future.

Five years after Waterstone's took over Ottakar's, I feel vindicated. HMV's arrogant assertion that bookselling is no different from any other branch of retail has been proved wrong. In a few weeks time, Waterstone's should be back in the hands of booksellers.

I only hope that it isn't too late for the chain to be saved.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The following titles, all found today, are shining examples of how society has changed:

"I say chaps! I've hear that Jenkins has a 6d Rhodesia and Nyasaland - dark blue!"

When did the word 'splendid' become embarrassing to anyone under the age of 75? I've no idea. All I know is that my brain is wired to say great, brilliant or excellent without a hint of irony, but splendid can only be uttered in a Terry Thomas comedy voice.

Manly tales by H. A. Manhood.

I'd never heard of Manhood, but according to this website:

"H. A. Manhood was one of the most highly regarded short story writers of the 1930s. His work was praised by John Galsworthy, Henry Williamson, Hugh Walpole and H. E. Bates, who was to become a good friend. His British and American publishers, Jonathan Cape and Viking respectively, thought so highly of him that they paid him a salary to give him the time and space just to write, a most unusual arrangement which demonstrated their respect for his work. His stories were in demand both from popular papers such as the Evening News and John O’London’s Weekly, and from more literary periodicals such as the London Mercury and the Adelphi."

Next, two titles that are horribly dated:

It's odd to think that covers like these were acceptable only half a century ago How far we've come.

Finally, it's not as kinky as it sounds:

This is actually a Christian book about drug addiction, but I wonder how many middle aged men in dirty macs bought this in error, only to be bitterly disappointed once they'd got back home.

I wonder which of today's books will excite similar shudders of horror and embarrassment?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Horizontal Journey

I'm now back in the land of the living. It was only 'flu, but it was a particularly potent version that involved long episodes of sleep, puntuated by some very strange dreams. I won't relate them here because other people's dreams are always so dull.

I'm not very good at being ill. I think it's probably because I was quite a sickly child and when, at one point, it looked as if I was going to die, I was sent away to a Victorian sanitorium for a year.

Here's the bedroom I used to share with the son of an East End gangster and a boy called Ian, who was described as 'a little backwards':

On the whole I got on well with my roommates, although I wasn't terribly happy about Ian's tendency to defecate on the floor.

I was at the sanitorium for a year and the combination of sea air, good food and a course of vaccinations did the trick. But although I've enjoyed years of good health and can quite happily walk for 20 miles without feeling tired, the merest hint of illness makes me panic. I'm terrified of going back back to the sanitorium.

However, there's also a lot to be said for being forced to lie in bed for six days, particularly if you have a laptop with wireless internet access. Unconstrained by the demands of others, I was able to surf the web for hours, going off on tangential journeys that led to some wonderful discoveries.

Here's the best of what I found:

1. John Krish

If you've heard of the British documentary filmaker John Krish, then I salute you. There's next to nothing about him on Wikipedia. Fortunately, after decades of neglect, a recent DVD release of four of Krish's short films earned him the 'Best Documentary' award at the 2010 Evening Standard Awards.

Here's an extract from John Krish's 1962 documentary 'Our School':

John Krish may not be a household name, but he was responsible for what is arguably the most stylish intro sequence in television history:

2. Daniel Davies - 'The Isle of Dogs'

This is an excellent first novel - one of the best I've read for a long time.

If you want to know what 'The Isle of Dogs' is about, the clue's in the title (and the cover). I wouldn't normally be drawn to a novel about 'dogging', but it was recommended on Amazon for people who liked Jonathan Coe's latest novel (which I didn't like), so I started to read the first chapter. From the first page, I knew that I was in good hands (no sniggering at the back).

The first thing that anyone should know about 'The Isle of Dogs' is that the dogging is purely incidental. Ultimately, this is a philosophical novel about the pursuit of happiness that manages to engage with the big issues without ever taking itself too seriously. I've no doubt that the sexual content has both repelled and attracted people for the wrong reasons, but I found it touching and comic rather than titillating or embarrassing.

Daniel Davies has been compared to Michel Houellebecq and whilst I can see the similarities, he lacks the latter's boorish racism and misogyny. I generally avoid literary criticism on this blog, as so many other people are much better at it, but if you want to know more about 'The Isle of Dogs', I can recommend this interview with the author.

3. Fritz Lang - 'M'

I know that I'm probably the last person to have heard of this film. Apparently it tops polls as one of the greatest German films of all time, but I knew nothing about it. Made in 1931, this was Lang's first 'talkie' and gives a fascinating glimpse into Germany during the Weimar Republic (only two years later, the artistic climate was very different - 'Dr Mabuse' was banned by Goebbels).

'M' is about a man who kills children and 80 years on, it still hasn't lost its power to shock (I can't imagine this film being made in Britain or America). Considering that this was one of the first movies with sound, it's remarkable how well the acting and direction compares with later films. But although it's an ensemble piece, the film is dominated by Peter Lorre as the villian and Gustaf Gründgens as the 'Safecracker', who is concerned that Lorre's activities are making it impossible for the criminal underworld to go about their daily business (Gründgens later became the subject of the 1981 film 'Mephisto').

The first part of the film drags, but the second half is gripping and the final scene, where Lorre is being tried by a kangaroo court of local men and women, in a disused warehouse, is incredibly powerful:

4. Jo Nesbø

When I wasn't suffering from the agues and ranting deliriously about Matron, I felt reasonably alert and needed something to pass the time. I had just finished 'Isle of Dogs' and wanted another novel that was intelligently written, but easy to read (Proust and 'flu don't go together). I'd read everything by Henning Mankell, so what else was there for people who don't normally read crime fiction?

At this point, Amazon came into its own. I checked to see what Henning Mankell readers also liked and saw several glowing reviews for Jo Nesbø. With just a few clicks, I was able to download a sample chapter onto my Kindle and decide for myself.

Five days later, I am a huge Nesbø fan and rate the two novels I've read much more highly than the last Kurt Wallander mystery. Unlike some detectives I could mention, Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole isn't divorced and doesn't have a grown-up daughter with whom he has a difficult relationship, but I'm relieved to say that he is a maverick who has a problem with authority and also drinks too much, so we're still on fairly familiar ground.

The first Harry Hole novel I read was 'Redbreast' and although there was an over-reliance on coincidence, I was impressed by Nesbø's ability to weave several disparate narrative threads together and create credible characters that don't always fall into the stock clichés of crime fiction. Yes, there is a grumpy, misanthropic forensics officer who is on the verge of retirment and there's also the long-suffering boss who gives the protagonist 24 hours/two days/one week to solve the crime before they're taken off the case. But overall this novel was a refreshing change from what I've seen and I enjoyed the Norwegian setting.

By the end of my six days in bed I started to feel better and imagined what life would be like if I could just carry on living like Oblomov, never having to get up again. But back at work the next day, I realised how good it was to feel useful and needed.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Dull Post About the Book Industry

Every time I read the trade press, there seems to be yet another story about the growth of e-books. Yesterday alone, the Bookseller published two stories that have huge implications for everyone in the book trade.

The first article covered the 'World e-Reading Congress' in London, where Ian Hudson, the deputy chairman of Random House, announced that their e-book sales had increased tenfold in the last year. Hudson predicted that e-book sales "could exceed 8% of trade publishers' sales in 2011, and could reach 15% next year".

This is interesting, because on the one hand it demonstrates how quickly e-books are growing, but on the other it is a timely reminder that they still account for less than 10% of book sales. If you just listened to Amazon, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was nearer 50%.

The other story that the Bookseller published yesterday is also potentially very significant. Literary über-agent Ed Victor has established a new e-book and print-on-demand imprint, which will initially concentrate on making out of print titles available in a digital format. This may not appear to be earth-shattering news, but it shows that the line between agent and publisher may become increasingly blurred in the future.

So where does that leave the traditional high street bookshop? On they face of it, they seem doomed. E-book sales are growing exponentially, particularly in the more 'disposable' genres like crime fiction (over a third of the latest Jo Nesbø novel's sales were digital).

But although digital publishing may appear to possess the inexorable gravitational pull of a black hole, there are other genres that are far more resistant. For example, this:

I read 'Mr Wonderful' recently after a month in the Kindleverse and fell in love with the paper book all over again.

These comic strips are all available online and I'm sure that they'd be quite easy to read on an iPad, but it would be a very poor substitute for this beautifully-produced hardback, with its thick, sturdy pages, brightly-coloured illustrations and wonderfully absurd dimensions (fully opened, it measures 21" by 6").

I'm not suggesting that bookshops will be saved by bunging a few graphic novels on the front table, but if they are going to survive they need to reduce their dependence on paperback bestsellers and concentrate on genres where the book itself becomes a desirable object. It is this approach that has enabled 'high end' booksellers like Daunt Books to survive, selling hardbacks to people who are looking for quality rather than saving money.

It will be interesting to see what the new owner of Waterstone's does with the chain. At the moment, HMV are locked in negotiations with the Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut. HMV want £70,000,000 for Waterstone's - a sum they desperately need if they are to avoid going into administration in July - and gave Mamut a deadline of April 20th to close the deal.

But with each week, HMV's hand becomes weaker. Their share price is now around 10p and Waterstone's latest value is estimated to be nearer £35,000,000, so I suspect that Mr Mamut is quite rightly driving a hard bargain. Why should he pay over the odds for a 300-branch chain that includes a number a loss-making shops when he could hang on for a few weeks and pick off the most profitable shops?

I hope that both parties are able to reach an agreement before HMV Group collapses, for everyone's sake. Aside from the fact that several thousand jobs are at stake, the publishing industry needs a showcase for its titles and the large, range-holding specialist bookseller is still the best option.

I apologise if that was a very dull post. To make up for it, here is a chimpanzee on a skateboard:

Thursday, May 05, 2011

"The Past is a Foreign Country"

It's a shame that L. P. Hartley's observation has been so overused that it now feels like a banal cliché, but that's the price to be paid for coming up with a good quote. To add insult to injury, Hartley didn't get a penny for it, whereas Lord Dundas (aka David "I've got my blue jeans on - ooh ooh" Dundas) was paid £10 every time his four-note jingle for the Channel Four ident was played. Life can be very unfair.

Anyway, to get to the point, today's illustrations are a good example of how social mores have changed over the last century.

We begin with a fine example of manliness and patriotism:

This heroic image is at odds with the indiscriminate, mechanised slaughter of trench warfare and I wonder what ex-servicemen must have felt when they saw images like this.

Next, we move forward a couple of decades to the Battle of Britain, when the RAF were busy teaching Jerry a lesson:

I expect that someone on the boat is saying "Gott in Himmel!" - one of the three stock phrases that war comics seemed to use (the other two being, of course "Achtung Spitfire!" and "Schweinhund!").

Viz comic once did a great satire of a Victor-style cartoon strip, in which a German submarine hits a Spitfire by firing a torpedo into the air, but its plucky RAF pilot dives underwater and machine-guns the submarine. It is patently absurd, but this 1940s book, featuring 'Flak' the dog, isn't that far removed from the Viz parody.

Sadly, Leonard 'Squiffy' Worthington is eventually shot down and he and Flak are sent to Stalag Luft III, but the ingenuity of the German prisoner of war camp isn't enough to stop man and dog from escaping:

Squiffy and Flak want to get back to England and continue fighting the Hun, so that they can make the world safe for young boys to admire swans:

'"Oh! How jolly!" Bryan exclaimed when first he saw the swan (page 70)'

'When first he saw the swan'? I didn't know that they had Google Translate back in the late 1940s.

Moving forward to 1954, here is a photo featuring 'Fabian of Scotland Yard'. Can you guess which person is Fabian? Also, make sure that you read the winning caption underneath:

Now we're in the lurid, steamy early 60s:

I initialy read the title as 'Sanitorium of Fear' but I think I was drawing from my own experiences.

"All because the bad girl was too much of a good thing"

Finally a very odd cover that looks as if two women are assaulting one of the Osmonds (and even worse, one of them might be Marie Osmond).

When I filled my tank up with diesel this morning, I was appalled to see that the total came to £61 and wondered how long I could afford to keep commuting to work. But after seeing today's selection of books, I know that I'd pay a much higher price if I left.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

"I want to support my local bookshop"

This YouTube video has been doing the rounds on Facebook recently, shared by several ex-colleagues of mine.

It's an animated video produced at Xtranormal.com - a clever website where anyone can create a cartoon in a matter of minutes and although the expressionless, computer-generated voices sound weird, it somehow adds to the humour.

As for the content, I think that anyone who's ever run a bookshop will agree that it's spot on:

Sunday, May 01, 2011

From the 1980s to the 1880s

It has been a quiet weekend. On Friday night I reluctantly agreed to go to an 80s disco, which I mistakenly assumed had something to do with the Royal Wedding, but turned out to be a fundraising evening. There wasn't a single person there under 30, apart from a brief moment when two teenagers walked in, took one look and immediately left. I knew how they felt.

It was the quinteseential 80s disco: the music was rubbish, I didn't cop off with anyone and the DJ refused to play The Smiths. I'd forgotten how much I hated evenings like this.

My mother-in-law thinks that the great tragedy of my life was that I was born in the wrong century and that I should have been a country parson in the Victorian age. Sometimes think she's right.

However, I drank a magic potion that enabled me to travel through time (a la 'The Amazing Mr Blunden') to the late 20th century and within an hour I was on the floor dancing (albeit like someone with a slipped disc) to Run DMC, probably cramping Mrs Steerforth's style. Further drinks bought out the inner Travolta and the evening turned out to be almost enjoyable.

Naturally I suffered the next day and rather than go out, decided to spend my time sorting through a new album of Victorian photos that arrived at work last week.

It's a strange album. The photographs have been taken all over the place, including one from Sydney, so it's hard to tell where the family came from. One picture is dated 1881 but I suspect that some may be older, if the fashions are anything to go by. I have included the original captions:

'Great Uncle Brindley, Sydney' - the first Australian studio portrait I've come across. This would have been taken around the same time as Marcus Clarke published 'His Natural Life' - one of the first 'Australian' novels (and a gripping read if you haven't come across it).

'Mrs More' - why isn't the gentleman named?

This group of 'striking' looking people are sadly unnamed

This woman is also unnamed, but she looks uncannily like an ancestor of Cherie Blair

'Aunt Ruth and Aunt Mary' - I don't think that it would be entirely unfair to suggest that Aunt Ruth might have had a few 'issues', if that scowl is anything to go by.

There is clearly no doubt surrounding the paternity of this young girl

'Cecil, Winnie and Irene' - I wonder when these names will come back into fashion?

I shall refrain from passing comment

I like the woman's quietly determined expression

'Grandfather Moore'



These last two photographs are also unnnamed and undated. Are the mother and daughters in mourning?

Finally, three plates from a Victorian children's book published in 1881:

At work, we have a growing archive of colour plates from the ninetenth century, but the novelty value still hasn't worn off and I feel excited whenever I find one.

Maybe I need to go to more discos.