Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chair Way To Devon

According to my wife I am impulsive, frequently making rash, reckless decisions that I later regret. I'm not sure how true this is. My most impulsive act - spontaneously booking a flight to Chile because the weather in February was depressing me - made perfect sense.

I would also argue that it was due to my impulsiveness that we got on the property ladder, during a brief lull in the housing market.

However, the case for the prosecution has become much stronger recently, thanks to a moment of madness on eBay a couple of weeks ago, when I made a winning bid (in fact the only bid) for four Edwardian chairs.

It seemed too good to be true: £40 for the lot. Surely I could sell them for at least £200?

It was only after I'd congratulated myself for winning the chairs that I realised that collecting them would involve a 350-mile round trip to Devon.

I don't mind driving long distances in the Nevada desert, but in Britain it's an endurance course of roundabouts, roadworks, caravans and geriatric drivers. I was very tempted to pull out and tell the seller that they could keep the money.

However, this morning I began the long drive along the coast of southern England. To make the journey bearable, I had several CDs of Radio Four podcasts: a recent Start the Week, from Sydney, with Thomas Keneally, Kate Grenville and Deborah Cheetham; the first episode of a dramatisation of 'Life and Fate'; a documentary about Elgar during the First World War and two episodes of 'Desert Island Discs', with Diana Athill and Ann Leslie.

When 'Life and Fate' was first broadcast as a BBC radio drama, two months ago, I considered listening to it as an alternative to tackling the dauntingly thick book. But in another edition of Start the Week, Linda Grant was so persuasive about Life and Fate's status as one of the great 20th century novels, I felt I had to read the book.

I'm really glad I did.The radio adaptation is perfectly fine, but it's very different from the book and barely scratches the surface of Grossman's complex, profound masterpiece.

Sadly, just as the episode really started to take off, I hit a succession of roundabouts and every other minute the Satnav lady bellowed instructions at me, which was rather distracting:

"Ludymila, we are returning to Moscow! We must TAKE THE SECOND EXIT AT THE NEXT ROUNDABOUT."

I arrived at the house just before 11.00. Luckily, I remembered the Remembrance Sunday two minutes' silence in time to avoid any faux pas.

In the window of the front door, there was a slightly intimidating notice warning that the owners possessed a ferocious, possibly illegal dog. I wondered what I was letting myself in for. Fortunately, the seller was a really nice man who seemed genuinely concerned that I had made such a ridiculously long journey (I'm not sure if it was my physical or mental health that he was worried about).

On the way back I decided to make a detour to one of my favourite places - Lyme Regis:

The Cobb hasn't changed very much since Jane Austen described it in 'Persuasion'. Today it wasn't quite as dramatic as the opening scene in 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' (when Meryl Streep's stunt double was nearly washed into the sea) and people confidently ambled along the occasionally treacherous stones:

I've lost count of how many times I've been to Lyme. I used to dream of running the bookshop there and imagined walking along the seafront during winter storms, searching for fossils that had been loosened from the crumbling, slate cliffs.

During the journey home, I discovered that 300,000 Londoners used the Underground to shelter from air raids in the First World War, compared to 150,000 during the Blitz. I also learned about the enforced separation of Australian Aboriginal babies from their mothers, Diana Athill's first kiss and Ann Leslie's bizarre meeting with Indira Gandhi.

It might have been a long drive, but there are worse ways of spending a day than driving through pleasant countryside, listening to intelligent conversation.

I now have four chairs to sell (which I may end up keeping) and I'm relieved to say that my rather pathetic inventory of 42 books has now increased to 437. Only 7563 books to go.

One other piece of good news: I now also have a 'Steerforth Books' header, which has subtle echoes of the Downs and 1940s book jackets. I shall be using this on my website when it's launched next year:

I can't wait to get started.


Martin said...

Good luck with the chairs, and congratulations on the Steerforth header. It looks good.

Steerforth said...

Thanks Martin.

Tim F said...

I like the header, but might not some potential customers infer that most of your stock consists of old Ministry of Food recipe books - 101 Frugal Ways With a Powdered Egg and the like.

Steerforth said...

Quite possibly, but it fits perfectly with most of my stock. I quite like the idea of having a 1940s-style website.

Camilla said...

That was a TERRIBLE PUN. I loved it :D

Congratulations on the header, it looks great! I'm really looking forward to seeing what your website will look like. I imagine a web designer could have quite a lot of fun with making something that looks like it comes out of the 40s!


Steerforth said...

It's an AWFUL pun, I know. I don't normally sink this low, but it was a long day.

James Russell said...

If you had changed your mind and decided not to go, we would have been forced to cry out 'No Chairway? Denied!'

Now is definitely the time for 30s/40s books, etc. I've been accidentally collecting the 'Britain in Pictures' series - John Piper's book on Romantic Artists is particularly good.

Clive said...

You could worse,in your idle moments, than check your local tip (recycling centre)for boxes of books discarded nearly every day, plus really good furniture. Our tip here in Dorset is haunted by dealers.

Sam Jordison said...

I love the logo. And chair story.

(Sitting in my attic as I write this. Looking at a pile of books and several boxes full that I can't find home for. Fancy another possibly non-profitable trip to Norwich? I'll give you tea and cake.)

Helen Brocklebank said...

Oh, you've made me desperate to run off to Lyme Regis. It would be marvellous at this time of year - all lowering skies and biting winds and having to take refuge in muggy tearooms.
And i completely love the header - it's perfect.

lucy joy said...

Still struggling to forgive the pun, did you buy the chairs purely to roll out that cringe-worthy gag? (I actually found it quite funny).

I like the header, it brings to mind quality and old-fashioned service. I can imagine you establishing a good rapport with a wealthy customer and being invited to stay in their castle with the family.
I'm sure Mrs Steerforth is very proud of her reckless husband, variety is the spice of life (except where husbands and wives are concerned, of course).

Steerforth said...

James - I'll keep an eye out for the John Piper - it's surprisingly cheap, but I suppose the print run was quite large.

Clive - Sadly (for me), they now have a book recycling bank. I used to find some good stuff - I never cease to be amazed by what people thrown away.

Sam - I'll definitely take you up on that next time I'm in the area. I'll email nearer the time.

Helen - I've never been to Lyme Regis out of season before and in many ways it was better, but then I didn't have any whining children with me. I think they prefer crowds and sandcastles.

Lucy - I like the sound of that. Perhaps there's a Scottish laird in the Highlands would wants to restock his library and talk about books over a glass of Clan Denny next to a roaring log fire.


Suze said...

'The Cobb hasn't changed very much since Jane Austen described it in 'Persuasion'.'

This filled me with a funny sort of longing for God knows what. I feel like today will be better, though, for having read that line.

Clever post titles, this one and last. Though one is never quite sure if they wish to be considered too clever. [Still, I quite liked them.]

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Ah well. At last there's never a dull moment for Mrs Steerforth, wondering what you'll do next! ;- )

Good luck with the chairs and glad to hear the book stock is progressing.

O and I had a great time at Brighton antique fair and car boot sale at Brighton Marina on Sunday and noted that much of the stock was high quality and cheap, so you might want to pay a visit!

Rog said...

Steerforth by name, Steerforth etc etc.

You seem to have benefited much more than if you'd just listened to "You and Yours" and "Jeremy Vine" and the endless misery drip of news.

Canadian Chickadee said...

Good luck with the chairs, and with the cool logo for your new website.

I would be rubbish as an antique dealer. I have serendipity and am able to find interesting and unusual things. The problem is, I don't want to part with them once I get my hands on them. It was either give up poking around antique and second-hand shops or buy a larger house -- not a viable option.

Please let us know if you are able to sell on the beautiful chairs or if they will continue to grace the Steerforth dining room.

Have a good week.

Steerforth said...

Suze - It may sound silly, but it lights up my day to know that a sentence about Jane Austen and the Cobb affected someone 5,000 miles away. That's the beauty of blogging: observations and fleeting thoughts no longer have to suffer the humiliation of blank stares and bemused expressions. We now have an ether of kindred spirits, if that doesn't sound too pretentious.

Laura - I'd given up on car boot sales after visiting some rather strange ones in rural Sussex, but Brighton Marina sounds good. I might tag along with you and Mr O next time you go.

Rog - As you said on your blog, Radio Four isn't what it was (I never forgave them for canceliing 'Stop the Week'), but thanks to the podcasts, I no longer have to listen to the dross.

Chickadee - I'm not convinced that I'll be any good at selling antiques, as like you, I want to keep the nice things. But I live in a very small house, so I don't have a choice. I'll let you know if I manage to sell the chairs.

Suze said...

Unfortunately, even in the ether, one can get scalded.

In any event, your responses to comments are quite thoughtful. For this one in particular, I'd like to imagine Jane would be pleased. Have a wonderful week.

Sam Jordison said...

@Steerforth - I shall look forward to it!

Can we see a picture of the chairs, by the way?

Oh and I agree about Lyme Regis. It really is a wonderful place. Have you been to Robin Hood's Bay? It has a similar appeal... Admittedly no John Fowles, but there is a fossil museum..

Shelley said...

As a writer from Texas, not England, I find myself wondering if there is a "Lyme vibe" that has been consistent from Austen's day to our own?

Steerforth said...

Sam - I haven't been there. In fact, apart from a day in York, I know nothing about Yorkshire - something I need to remedy. I'll try and think of a bookselling-related excuse to go there next year.

I'll post a picture of the chairs after my next visit to the Steerforth Books cowshed.

Shelley - I think there might be. There certainly is a 'Lewes vibe' that goes back at least five hundred years.

Lyme Regis is quite cut off, due to the geography of the area and even the next town, which is only a few miles away, feels very remote.

When we were students, my wife and I decided to walk to Lyme along the beach. Unfortunately the tide was in and the route was blocked. I had another impulsive moment and bought a children's inflatable dinghy. We climbed in, with three bags of shopping and set out to sea.

In hindsight, it was a moronically stupid thing to do, particularly as I couldn't swim. But an hour later, we arrived intact at the harbour.

We went home by bus.