Thursday, September 15, 2011

Turning the Key

A beautiful day - a tantalising glimpse of the summer we never had. I don't know if it's anything to do with global warming, but the English summer now seems to take place in April and May, with a monsoon season in July and August. It's very odd.

I had to drive to a farm to drop off a cheque for the deposit and first month's rent for Steerforth Books. I had no idea where I was going, but had been given a postcode for the satnav and blindly followed directions which took me onto increasingly narrower and emptier roads. I'd forgotten how sinister the English countryside can be (I blame this on watching reruns of the Avengers).

I ended up driving for miles along a deserted lane, wondering if I was going to end up in a ditch with the satnav lady announcing "You have now reached your destination", whilst some grinning toothless locals began untying the string around their trousers. Fortunately this is Sussex, not the Appalachians.

The farm turned out to be a beautiful, large Georgian house, with breathtaking views of the South Downs. I handed the cheque over and felt a pang of remorse for the fact that I will probably never be able to afford to live somewhere like this.

Driving to the next destination, I listened to a podcast of 'Broadcasting House'. Francesca 'Horrid Henry' Simon, Tori Amos and a bloke whose name I never caught were talking about being in New York on 9/11. More recent events like the invasion of Iraq have faded into the recesses of my memory, but I remember September 11th as if it was yesterday.

I arrived at Steerforth Books. Peter, the gentleman farmer, was out on his tractor doing agricultural things, but another man handed me the key and at last I was able to take possession of the new unit:

It's not big, but if I'm clever about it I think I can get around 8,000 books in this room, which should be enough to generate a reasonable income. I won't get rich - most of the books won't sell - but hopefully the children will have shoes on their feet. The main challenge will be to find enough stock to reach this magic figure. I have a few potential sources.

So Steerforth Books is almost a reality. I have a business account, domain name (com and, office unit and even a little bit of stock. I can't say that I'm looking forward to the sheer, unmitigated tedium of building 46 feet of shelving (and given my track record in DIY, it will probably collapse at some point), but without it there will be no Steerforth Books.

In the meantime I'm still going into work, three days a week, getting things ready for my successor. It feels strange going through the motions of the working day, making decisions about a future that I won't be part of. I will be glad to leave the world of '9 to 5', but I'll also miss several people more than they probably realise.

In some ways it feels like a very early retirement, leaving the 'real' world of work for a John Bull Printing Set fantasy. But work can simply be work. We don't have to be part of an organisation: commuting, attending meetings and working in open plan offices. Paunches and stomach ulcers are optional, not compulsory.

But whilst a part of me relishes the idea of leaving office life behind, another part feels a deep sense of loss.

No more talking about last night's telly. No more "Did you see the quiz night Phil?", followed by detailed postmortems of 'University Challenge' and 'Only Connect'. I have met some good people through work.

I apologise if this blog has lost its 'mojo' at the moment. The amusing covers and photographs have been thin on the ground recently. I had hoped to publish one final installment of the Derek diaries, but - and you'll have to take my word for this - they are mostly very dull and I have struggled to find any more material that is worth publishing. I haven't completely given up.

So until Steerforth Books is fully established, this blog will limp along like a consumptive war veteran, looking back to better days, hoping (perhaps unrealistically), for better times ahead.

Finally, as far as a Steerforth Books logo is concerned, I have been particularly dim. When I first visited my new farm unit last week, I need only have turned my head 45 degrees to have seen one of the most striking 'logos' of all time:
Nobody knows how old the possibly prehistoric Long Man of Wilmington is, or indeed why it's there, but in theory you can't miss it. I did.

But then one September in 1995, I managed to spend a whole day travelling around Manhattan without noticing the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. The next morning I caught an American Airlines flight from Boston to Los Angeles, blissfully ignorant of what the future held.


Martin said...

Great to see you building something from the ground up. I'm sure Steerforth Books will be all that you want it to be. The best part of all, you'll be your own boss.

Gardener in the Distance said...

Steerforth, given that few of us break away and create our own businesses, and that when we do, the process is often fraught with mishap, the relative smoothness of your own transition suggests to me a successful outcome. You're going to make alot of new friends.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

You're allowed a few nerves and to miss your colleagues Steerforth, but no negativity of any other kind when going into this new venture, ok?

Positivity attracts positivity, and the opposite, the opposite. The law of attraction is no different to the law of gravity and none of us argue with that!

And wow, what a view! You must have one of the best in the Downs! A real find. Your first piece of good luck...?

lucy joy said...

Will you be incorporating the Dewey Decimal system to keep track of your stock?
The time to join Twitter is NOW, start following book types and then begin promoting when you're ready. It may seem ghastly but it is an extremely valuable marketing resource. I'm not on Facebook because it seems ridiculous to me, but 3058 billion people can't be wrong!
A simple logo image which comes to mind for me, is 'STEERFORTH
made to look like each letter is a book on a shelf, with redundant books either side of 'BOOKS'.
I'm annoyingly rambling now, I'll shut up.
If you need help with twitter, don't be afraid to ask, it has become my 'coffee morning/tupperware party' of late.

Good luck,


Steerforth said...

Laura - Is that NLP I hear? I have to admit, it scares me. Let's be positive about negativity! Embrace it. There's no yin without the yang. But yes, it's a lovely view.

Gardener - I hope you're right about the smoooth transition. So far it's been a very straightforward process, helped - I think - by the fact that I'm dealing with farmers rather than businesspeople.

Martin - I'm looking forward to that, I must say. I was offered a job last month by a man I get on well with, but no matter how much I liked him, I couldn't face working for someone else again. My current employers are perfectly nice people, but I hate feeling as if I'm letting them down every time a family crisis pops up.

Steerforth said...

Lucy - I've invented my own system: 'I15P03' will tell me exactly where a book is and how long I should keep it.

Dewey is fine for libraries, but my system is better if you're selling books.

I've set up a Twitter account and will start tweeting in a couple of weeks.

lucy joy said...

I only asked because it's a stupid name! Your system's name sounds far more technical and advanced.

Steerforth said...

My system's moronically simple:

I = Sep 11 (J is Oct 11, K Nov etc)
15 = today
P = me
03 = the third book I've logged today

I arrange the books chronologically and when an order arrives with this SKU number, I'll know exactly where the book is.

In theory ;)

Kári Tulinius said...

You should have the Long Man be reading a very large book on your logo. Adding a few more lines should do the trick.

Canadian Chickadee said...

Your new digs look very nice -- all very nice and clean anyway, which is a very good start. Please be sure to post your web address so that those of us who follow your adventures can perhaps buy the occasional book or two. Personally I look forward to it. There may even be the occasional out-of-print title I can ask you to search out for me.
In the meantime, good luck with the DIY! But I'm sure it will all turn out fine.

Andrea said...

will you be selling any books or taking orders via the internet at all? it sounds like it'll be a lovely place, but unfortunately an ocean away from where I am.

best of luck!

Tim F said...

You make a very good point about the Twin Towers (and the missing of them). To be honest, before The Unfortunate Events of Ten Years Ago, I suspect the vast majority of people outside the US couldn't put a name to those odd, blocky things that rather spoiled the NYC skyline. (The best equivalent in London is probably the NatWest tower, which would also need to be demolished to become an icon.)

I remember visiting New York in 1991, and becoming fascinated by a black separatist street preacher who had a nice line in dealing with hecklers. I took several photos of him, and it was only after I got them back from the developers (ah, happy days) that I realised he was doing his stuff right in front of the WTC.

zmkc said...

Noticing that logo is a v good omen. It is wonderful.

Doofus said...

The logo works for me. Such a natural (considering it is man made)image, it roots your new business in the landscape.

Love the idea of doing business with farmers instead of legalese-speaking businessman as well. The unit looks great, it looks like everything is coming together. Now when can we start ordering?

Anonymous said...

It's sounding great - I look forward to hearing the next chapter in Steerforth Books, and your twittering!

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Excellent choice of logo. best of luck with all of this.

I do not believe Ihave ever commented before, but that did not stop me from featuring you in Image Blogger Appreciation Day.

Little Nell said...

Thank goodness your new office doesn’t look out on that other iconic hill figure, the Cerne Abbas Giant, near where I used to live. You wouldn’t want an aggressive looking hominid type waving a big club and sporting a large phalllus as your logo.......oh I don’t know though, it would certainly make Steerforth Books stand out from the competitors!

Seriously though, you seem to have chosen an idyllic spot for your business, and it must all be getting quite exciting. No staring out of the window and wool-gathering though, remember your children’s shoes.

And by the way, I’m glad that I’ve found the other person who watches University Challenge and likes to discuss the answers.

Camilla said...

I agree with what Kári Tulinius said! It's exactly what I thought when I saw the photo of the Long Man. :D

I do envy you your view. We were over that way a few years ago, and all the chalk figures we saw left a lasting impression on me.

All the best with the rest of your setting up! I'll look forward to seeing you on Twitter as and when.


Lucy R. Fisher said...

Of course, the Long Man is propping up two bookcases...

Anonymous said...

fret not about posts thin on the ground ... we wish to hear every step of the construction of Steerforth Books ... not in the least a stock list ... prepping my debit card now ...

amson said...

Good luck! I'm looking forward to seeing your catalogue.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

NLP isn't scary Steerforth, but rather the most exciting advance in therapy for years! No cults or religious indoctrination (or whale music) involved. But actually the power of positive thinking was being harnassed and studied long before NLP came along, so it pre-dates it!

Steerforth said...

Thanks for the comments and forgive my late, short response. I've had limited internet access recently.

I'm glad that the Long Man has met with a positive response - I think it's a remarkable creation (and yes Little Nell, I'm relieved that we're not in Cerne Abbas!).

Someone's working on a logo and header for me - I'll publish the result in a few weeks.

Re: Tim's comment, the WTC is in most of my photos of New York, but I didn't realise this until after 9/11. I looked at the towers from the top of the Empire State Building and went past them by boat, but to me they were just part of the montage of skyscrapers; quite unremarkable. The NatWest Tower is a good equivalent.

Thanks Amateur Reader for the mention - much appreciated.

Laura - I have to admit that views on NLP are founded on blind prejudice. I once had a truly awful manager who was devoid of any empathy or social skills - a nightmare to work for - and she revealed that she used NLP. In hindsight, the problem was her, not the NLP, but it became tainted by association. I'll try to be more open-minded!

Anonymous said...

Dear Steerforth,
I've been deprived of blog-time due to family things so am just catching up on yours. I wish you all the best with your new venture. And I know just what you mean about the effect of too much Avengers on how one sees the English countryside! I also really enjoyed your day-in-the-woods-with-implements post! All the best to you.

E said...

Why not tell the people you will miss them?

Could you use the Long Man of Wilmington holding books in either hand as a logo?

Resolute Reader said...

Given the discussion about your logo here, you might be interested in the cover on the book in this article over at Bookseller Crow

Ace said...

I was amazed to see the Long Man. I stayed in Wilmington in 1982, with friends from Vancouver, one of whose parents had retired to a cottage in the village.

I walked the Downs to Eastbourne and back, and watched an On The Buses movie in the cottage while recovering from a miserable cold from the flight over from Canada.

What an exceptional part of the world.