Thursday, March 17, 2016

Table Talk

Yesterday evening, my wife arrived home with a new tablecloth.

"I expect you won't like it," she said. "I just wanted something cheery. It reminds me of a French cafe."

I looked at the garish colours and tried to imagine eating over it. "I'm sorry, but it's utterly hideous."

"Well, I think it's lovely." The door opened and my younger son entered the room. "Dad doesn't like this new tablecloth. What do you think?" A loaded question.

My son scrutinised it for a few seconds and I hoped that sanity would prevail. "Oh yes, it's beautiful."

I was outvoted and looked at the vile object, mocking me with its faux illustrations of food labels. Another nail in the coffin.

But during the night, one of our cats was sick on it. They have never vomitted on the table before, so I felt vindicated. Later I noticed that the tablecloth had been folded up and put away.

I felt sorry for my wife (but not sorry enough to take it out again) and resolved to think of something that might cheer her up. We all need treats, however small.

It was my birthday recently and I treated myself to two Jasper Conran shirts and eight novels. If that sounds self-indulgent, I should add that I still had change from a £20 note, as they'd all been bought in charity shops.

I love buying paperbacks in charity shops because the selection is completely unpredicatble. During the last month, I've read an ecclectic range of novels including Dead Man Leading by V.S. Pritchett, London Belongs to Me by Norman Collins and The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. I particularly enjoyed the latter, as it seemed so chillingly apposite in light of the Donald Trump candidacy, showing how quickly democracy can be debased.

There seem to be certain types of people who work in charity shops and I keep seeing their doppelgängers wherever I go:
  • a gay man in his 60s, usually wearing a bright, lambswool sweater
  • a woman in her 50s who likes to talk
  • a rough-looking man who is probably serving a community sentence
  • a silent, terrified-looking girl in her late teens/early 20s
  • a young man with learning difficulties
  • an elderly woman who can't work the till 
They are a strange coalition of the retired, the marginalised and the disenfranchised. Uncelebrated and undervalued. When I saw a customer being rude to a charity shop worker, I wanted to remind her that she was talking to a volunteer.

I'm still selling books, in between domestic duties and childcare. I have around 7,000 books on sale, which generates a few dozen orders a week. Sadly, the gap between the overheads - postage and rent - and the total sales is narrowing, leaving me with a dilemma. Should I keep going in the hope that I can find a new supplier, or give up the ghost once the profits reach double figures?

Like Mr Micawber (surely one of the most annoying characters in literature) I'm sure that something will turn up.

In the meantime, here are a few photos from the last few weeks:

Lewes had a few misty mornings (as did most places, I believe). Somehow, black and white seemed right for this picture.

I took my sons to the Bluebell Railway the other day. In a masterstroke of frugality, I discovered that platform tickets were only £3 for adults and £1.50 for children, as opposed to £45.40 for a ride on a train. My younger son said he'd happily forgo the ride for a lolly. My older son said that steam trains were 'gay'.

While I was admiring the ingenuity of the Victorian engineering, my wife turned to me and said "I hope you're not turning into one of those odd men."

I must stop now and feed the cats. I've bought them two tins of Lily's Kitchen as a reward for bad behaviour.


Amy said...

It might entertain you to know that in St. Paul, Minnesota, there's a bookstore called Micawbers. Which recently had to downsize to a smaller shop for financial reasons.

Steerforth said...

It HAS entertained me! Thanks for sharing.

sustainablemum said...

I would like to be at your table, please this post was wonderful. Your list of charity shop volunteers is so spot on that I could visualise the people in my local shops as I went down the list. At the end of a long day this was just the ticket!

Anonymous said...

your photos of the Bluebell line trains look like Ladybird illustrations! it is chokingly expensive though - same with the Bodiam/Tenterden steam train. luckily my sons are also happy to look at them without boarding...

re: tablecloths - yes. my dad has some truly awful ones (covered in violently-coloured olives, poppies, wine jugs, blazing suns etc) purchased in italian and french markets - he loves them, but no one else is keen... however, we have no obliging cats at his house to see them on their way, sadly.

Steerforth said...

Sustainablemum - I'm glad someone else recognises the stereotypes. I'm never sure whether it's true or I'm writing my own script. You'd be welcome at my table, but we'd have a plain tablecloth! I'm glad provided amusement after a long day.

Anon - I think many parents feel that they're depriving their children of a perfect childhood if they don't spend a fortune on a day out. But the things that make children happy are often pretty cheap: looking in rock pools, finding a good stick, a lolly, pulling a shard of ice from a frozen puddle, climbing a steep hill... all far more fulfilling than a trip to the gift shop. At least, that's what I tell myself.

Roger Allen said...

"t in St. Paul, Minnesota, there's a bookstore called Micawbers"...and there's Copperfield's in Wimbledon.

Rog said...

Very perceptive on Charity shops Steerforth! As a regular customer I'm always amused at the similarity of the stock which seems to obey certain unwritten rules. Every shop must contain:
A Readers Digest Book of the House
A full set of Dan Browns
A whole shelf of glasses which never sell
At least one "Ronco" product
A Magazine Rack
An "Operation" board game
A Teasmaid
A large pile of jigsaws
A novelty, and useless, bottle opener

I believe Christmas has a lot to answer regarding the reason for this constant.

Steerforth said...

Roger - But no Uriah Heep, I hope.

Rog - Yes, Christmas and death. There seems to have been a whole industry built around producing china and glassware that nobody actually wants. My father 'invested' in those awful limited edition collector's plates, thinking that he'd found an inflation-proof way of doubling his money. Sadly, in addition to being ghastly, they've also lost 90% of their value.

Lesley said...

I volunteer in a charity shop and recognised myself.... the 50 something woman, although I don't like to talk all of the time.......
There's always a lot of jigsaws, slightly dodgy glasswear ( often with age related inscriptions ) and I shall check the shelves for Dan Brown.

Steerforth said...

Lesley - The other book I notice that's always in stock is The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo.

Anonymous said...

You are such a marvellous comic writer; I really appreciate and enjoy your blog, many, many thanks.

Brian Busby said...

The only time my beloved late cat Morley vomited anywhere but outside was on a review copy of something called Linda Frum's Guide to Canadian Universities. As a student, Ms Frum was a great critic of the anti-Apartheid movement. Twenty years later, she was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

I'll never match Morley's level of criticism.

Steerforth said...

Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm very glad that the blog amuses you - that's always been my principal aim.

Steerforth said...

You see, animals have an instinct for when something isn't right, unlike Mr Harper. I must admit, I wasn't a big fan of our cats and used to hope that they'd run away, but they've redeemed themselves.

Lucille said...

But you've left an important point hanging. Have you thought of a little treat for your wife? And will it come from the charity shop? My son used to volunteer in one and I'm afraid the manager used to appropriate all the best stuff.

Anna said...

And, in most charity shops, several copies of Fifty Shades of Grey....or is that just Hastings??

Steerforth said...

Lucille - I would NEVER dare to buy my wife anything from a charity shop. There would be trouble. I'm not surprised to read about the manager pinching stuff - it's that lethal combination of temptation, opportunity and no scruples. I hope they have a whisteblower policy in place, where volunteers can report cases like that.

Anna - Thanks for reminding me. I've seen quite a few, although I expect Hastings has more than most towns.

Unknown said...

I should have liked a photo of the tablecloth.

Steerforth said...

Marianne - The problem with that is that people would either disagree with me, which would be annoying, or they'd confirm my wife's lapse in taste, which would be unfair to her. My older son agrees with me, so it's a 50-50 split. My mother-in-law will probably like it, but she doesn't get a vote.

Canadian Chickadee said...

Love the photos of the trains, and the house at the bottom, which immediately put me in mind of the Bennett's house in Pride and Prejudice. A lovely set of reflections yet again. So glad you're still writing and posting.

Hope you and all the family have a happy Easter, if I dare say that in these parlous politically correct times. But you know i mean well even if I have put my foot in it, yet again!

All the best to you and yours, always, love, Carol

Unknown said...

Yes, the charity shop cast list is on the nose.
From my experience there is quite often a trans person as well and a young European girl who has been advised to volunteer to improve her English. Once, in the Oxfam near the British Museum -- one of the best -- I heard a young German exchange student ask if she could volunteer for this reason. The man behind the counter was really horrible to her.
Last week I was in Brighton and visited a charity shop where some young Goth-y volunteer literally followed me around asking what I was looking for and, when I mumbled 'poetry' kept bringing me new arrivals. Most unwelcome -- it's all about the joy of random discovery, isn't it?
Thanks for your blog -- I really enjoy it.

Steerforth said...

Carol - Fortunately, we don't have any of that 'Happy Holiday' business over here, so I'll wish you a Happy Easter.

Peter - There's a thin line between good service and harrassment and too many shop staff cross it. I used to leave my customers alone unless they indicated that they needed help, but when HMV took over Ottakar's, we were encouraged to 'hand sell' with phrases like "Did you find everything you wanted?". Awful. It didn't work either.

I haven't noticed any trans staff, but if I spend more time in Brighton, no doubt I will.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

I was that elderly woman... Yet another drawback of talking "posh" - people think you can do things without being shown how, and slow to realise that no, you really can't do them! And I enjoyed the cameraderie between exactly those types. The manager was very stylishly dressed, and I got away with some lovely 80s jewellery! I have now reached the "writing books that nobody will publish" stage of retirement.

D. I. Dalrymple said...

Steerforth - I enjoy your photos and would like to follow you on Instagram. May I ask your username?

Steerforth said...

Lucy - The other drawback of talking 'posh' is that some people assume that it's all been handed to you on a plate. I used to get a lot of flak for going to a public school, which was baffling as I'd never set foot in one. Is it too late to change to Mockney?

D. I. Dalrymple - It's Phil._.B

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Luckily I have a C&G in Interior Design so Oliver is in no position to argue about my design choices for the homes. ; - )

I hope books hurry up and become the new vinyl for you. Vinyl is booming - well at least here in Brighton and Hove anyway.

Re talking posh, last time I was made redundant I had real problems claiming benefits owing I suspect to my 'posh voice' no matter that all the paper proof of my redundancy was presented for all to see. As for council tax relief, forget it!

Sasha said...

That's funny, I walked past the super swank Lily's Kitchen headquarters today. It's in Hampstead. Bet that's some high-class cat chow.