Thursday, January 12, 2012

Austerity and Atonement

Several people have kindly emailed me recently, asking how they can find Steerforth Books. The answer is, I'm afraid,with great difficulty. At the moment I operate almost by stealth, selling books in the dark corners of the internet, like a 1940s black marketeer (but all above board, I hasten to add).

As for the actual home of Steerforth Books, it's a small dot in the middle of this photograph:

I'm tempted to do a sort of 'spot-the-ball' competition, but I'm not quite sure where I am. Wherever it is, it's too far from my house, but at least the journey takes me through some beautiful countryside.

Yesterday, on the way home, I turned off down a small lane and ended up here:

The atmospheric mist is actually a bonfire - just out of the picture a man, who looked as if he'd escaped from the 14th century, was burning leaves. I smiled at him. He snarled back.

Driving through Sussex, you can travel through time as well as space. The main roads inhabit a world of wi-fi, retail parks and smoothies, but take a B road and you suddenly find yourself among the ghosts of other Englands: medieval, Georgian, Victorian and early 20th century, where woodsmoke rises from the chimneys of solitary cottages and death watch beetles rattle in ancient beams (I originally wrote 'death watch beatles', which would be a good name for a geriatric tribute act).

Sometimes I dream of being in one of those lonely buildings, with a fruit and vegetable garden, some chickens and a shed for my books. However, I would miss being in a town, particularly Lewes. I love the feeling of being connected, looking out at the roofs of my neighbours' houses at twilight and listening to the footsteps of people coming home from work.

But to return to Steerforth Books, I feel quietly optimistic about the business. The sales are growing steadily every week and, by Easter, I think I'll have reached a level where the profits provide a reasonable income.

In the meantime, Mrs Steerforth and I have adopted austerity measures. Trips to Waitrose are out and I have made a solemn promise not to do any internet shopping under the influence of alcohol (although I don't regret buying the meteorite).

On the subject of alcohol, we have both decided to cut out drinking during the week. Sharing a bottle of wine in the evening had become a habit. It felt like a reward for the challenges we had faced during the day. But, aside from the health risks, when I worked out how much we were spending I realised that it would pay for a holiday.

Mrs Steerforth was particularly keen to cut down on wine after disgracing herself at a party on New Year's Eve, when she became more drunk than I have ever seen her.

Ironically, only hours earlier, she had published an article about the secrets of avoiding a hangover on New Year's Day.

Quite how Mrs Steerforth failed to follow her own advice is a mystery, but she was one of many people who have fallen victim to our neighbours' generosity with alcohol. She has no memory of jumping up and down to 'Born Slippy' or trying to read a bedtime story to our sons at 12.30am before sliding down the stairs.

But the true moment of horror came the following morning, when my wife couldn't find the underwear she'd been wearing the night before. The expression on her face when I suggested it might be next door was priceless (as was the look of relief when I later told her that it was actually in our bathroom).

Since then, Mrs Steerforth has been drinking elderflower juice by the gallon, determined to atone for her transgression.

2012 is going to be a year of sobriety and hard work. The next few months are going to be particularly exhausting for me, but it will hopefully all be worthwhile in the end. On the plus side, I should soon have a new range of book covers and ephemera to share - this blog hasn't been the same without them.


luis said...

It seems that there are still some places that even Google hasn't mapped.

Martin said...

I'm impressed, but not surprised, at the way your business is progressing. Thanks for keeping us up-to-speed. Do shout when the website is operational. I hope Mrs Steerforth will be redressing the balance by prompting a price look from your good self.

Canadian Chickadee said...

What a wonderful post. "Driving through Sussex is like a drive through time as well as space." This is one of the things I love most about the UK and which keeps my husband and me coming back. The rellies are great but they aren't the only draw.

I also like the idea of your geriatric rock band, "The Death Watch Beatles," especially since Sir Paul is now pushing 70 himself.

Good luck with the business. It sounds as if you made the right decision.

By the way, I love elderflower juice -- Belvoir Elderflower is the greatest! It's also one of the things that are unobtainable in the USA. I can find dried Japanese wasabi peas, but no elderflower.
C'est domage.

Take care, Carol

David said...

What a beautiful place to work - though is that is a lane lined with gravestones?

I hope it will inspire you to great things.

I think that "2012 - a year of sobriety and hard work" is probably an appropriate motto for all of us (or at least those of us fortunate enough to be working).


Mrs Steerforth is clearly my kind of woman.

Anonymous said...

My sympathies are with Mrs Steerforth - I was sandbagged by a neighbour's hospitality too one new year's eve, and it took me 3 weeks to find the bracelet I had been wearing that night, I had put it away so carefully while drunk.

I am glad to hear things are going well with the business.

Richmonde said...

Fresh lime juice, sugar and water is good, too. Be even better with fizzy water. And ice.

Kid said...

I'm envious of your proximity to all those old buildings and open fields and woods. Once, my town was no more than five minutes from the countryside, wherever you happened to be in it. Not any longer, sadly.

zmkc said...

Reading of Mrs Steerforth's aimiable behaviour, I wondered why exactly we are supposed to be embarrassed of such moments, when they are usually endearing more than anything (provided not repeated on a daily basis).

Camilla said...

I've just spent a happy hour gorging myself on your recent posts. I'm in Australia on holidays and hadn't checked my igoogle page for a while, so it was nice to see so many new posts! I particularly enjoyed what you said in this one about the B roads. My husband and I made a similar discovery while holidaying in England a few years ago - you get a far more interesting drive if you get TomTom to choose the shortest route instead of the fastest one. Mind you, we still haven't recovered from the terror of driving for miles down single-car-wide country lanes lined on either side with ten foot hedgerows and no way of seeing what was coming the other way.

I also like your 'Death Watch Beatles' idea. I didn't much like the original Beatles (shock! horror!) but I reckon I'd go and see a Death Watch Beatles gig.

I'm really (selfishly) glad to see you're continuing with your blog! I do hope you will keep finding things to write about, and I've signed up for email notifications so I don't miss anything in the future.

All the best for 2012, I hope it's a great year for you, your family and Steerforth Books!


ps Mrs Steerforth writes too?

Rog said...

Eleanor Rigsby? Bus Pass to Ride?

Anyway you could always send the meteorite back. Tell them they're an absolute shower.

Sarah said...

Sounds like Mrs S had a blast on NYE sending out 2011 on a true high. Good for her.

Glad to hear the business is going well, keep up the good work!

Steerforth said...

Rog - There are several Beatles songs that could be about old age: 'I'm Only Sleeping', 'She's Leaving Home', 'I'm So Tired'. 'It Won't Be Long' etc...

Camilla - Sorry you don't like the Beatles, but there are many universally popular artists that I can't stand - Bob Dylan, for example.

I envy you being in Australia during winter. I hope you're having a good time. Yes, Mrs Steerforth writes. I've tried to persuade her to have a blog, but she won't do it.

zmkc - I thought it was very funny. Mrs Steerforth's horror was a reaction to her own background - she grew up surrounded by adults who drank far too much and swore that she wouldn't be that kind of parent. However, I don't think we need to call Social Services just yet.

Kid - It's awful how millions of people have been cut off from the countryside, surrounded by poorly-built modern housing and grim industrial estates. If, as predicated, the population of the UK rises to 70,000,000+, then it's only going to get worse.

Richmonde - That sounds very healthy - better than my chosen remedy of Lucozade and Paracodal!

Alienne - It doesn't help that our neighbours always invite a completely random selection of people that they barely know themselves. Their last party included a man from Ireland they'd never met, but who had met their son once at a party in Canada seven years ago. The son wasn't even there. He was a nice chap, but when you're surrounded by strangers, the need to oil the wheels of conversation with alcohol is stronger than ever. I really envy people who are able to confidently mix without any props.

Lucy - I thought she might be!

David - It's not a lane, just a track in a graveyard. I agree with the phrase 'fortunate enough to be working'. If my business isn't a total failure, I'm beginning to think that the best thing I could do would be to create jobs. I swore I'd never go through the hassle of managing people again - I really don't enjoy it - but it would be selfish to just look after my own interests.

Chickadee - Elderflower will be back in season in a few months. Can't you get your relatives to send you some elderflower seeds?

Martin - Thanks. I'm afraid that it will be a while before I have a website. I know from previous experience that having your own website doesn't add more than 10% to the sales, so it's not at the top of my list of priorities.

Luis - Yes, it's a Google-free place. However, there aren't many now - even the remotest parts of the Shetland islands have been mapped. I loved 'driving' along roads in random places: small towns in Denmark, central Christchurch, the Australian desert etc - sometimes they're quite different to how I imagined them.

Steerforth said...

Thanks Sarah.

MikeP said...

Not only do you live close to my mother, you work (according to Abe) close to my sister, who lives in Arlington. Do you receive visitors in your rural fastness? Would be nice to pop in next time I'm there...

Talking of rural fastnesses, we've just moved into town from similar. It was a shock, when we started opening the book boxes, how damp and musty they smelled, even the ones I fondly imagined had been shelved out of harm's way. I assume your bookbarn is warm and dry, but don't assume your idyllic cottage will be!

Steerforth said...

Mike - I'd be delighted to receive a visit, but I'm hardly ever there. Until the weather improves, I'm just using the unit for storage. I do all of my work at home and just pop into Berwick to pick up the orders every day or so.

Hopefully, our paths will cross at St Thomas' Court - my mother speaks very highly of yours.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Aha, the man with bookshelves under his mac instead of pockets...

Great to hear that things are progressing albeit it in a 'black books' manner.

Canadian Chickadee said...

Hi, Steerforth

Re: elderflower seeds

I doubt if the seeds would pass muster with the US Dept. of Agriculture. They are very picky, which is why we can't raise black currants here either.

So I just enjoy the elderflower and the black currants while we're in England, and make do with other things when I'm here.

But thanks for the thought.

Anonymous said...

Oh thank you for several hearty laughs reading your post. I'm really pleased that things are ticking along in the right direction for Steerforth Books.

Annabel (gaskella) said...

Poor Mrs Steerforth - I know her pain!