Nearly Rack and Ruin

IMG_1042For one reason or another, I have been away from the Oxfam shop quite a lot in the last couple of months and reluctant though I am to use the phrase ‘rack and ruin’, there was evidence that things weren’t good when I got back.

If I should say that I found a Sopranos box set on the children’s DVD shelf, I might not need to say any more, but I will.

Marigold Hotel on the action movies shelf, for example.

We have a relatively new rule which says that no hardback book should be in the shop priced at less than 2.99 – but lots have (in my absence) and OK it is only 50p but I am guessing that 50p could prove useful in feeding a Yemeni child.

As I have said before, we think of ourselves as a bookshop which happens to be a charity shop, not a charity shop which happens to sell a few books – and that means standards are kept high.

I am more ruthless than most of my fellow book sorters but in my defence, we get lots of comments from customers about how nice the shop is – and of course, we have a small preen.

So, I have spent my last few shifts getting it back in order. Pulling brown-paged books off the shelves, persuading a volunteer’s granddaughter to put all the children’s books in alphabetical order, assigning culling and re-stocking of the different categories to different volunteers and so on.

And yes, of course it looks better.

Anyway enough of a rant.

Here are a few good things.

One regular came in looking for a DVD of French Connection and I knew we didn’t have it and in fact I can’t remember ever seeing it.

So, I went on the net and found one for sale for 50p with no charge for postage. I bought it and sold it to him (there was French Connection II as well) for £4.99 and he was so delighted to came in to say so, several times.

A colleague came up with the idea of doing a shelf of books that would be good as secret santa presents or stocking fillers – she is new and enthusiastic and coming up with very good ideas.

So, we sent for recycling the shelf of ‘self-help and pregnancy care’ books mainly on the grounds that is the eight years I have worked there, I haven’t sold one of those.

And we relegated ‘sport’ on the grounds there are only so many copies of Alex Ferguson and Bradly Wiggins’ autobiographies a shop needs.

Now we have space to sell small humorous books which we never otherwise sell and we have quite a collection of those re-done Ladybird books which were so popular last year and rather to my surprise still seem to be around this year.

Along with Five Do Brexit and endless books on quotations from grumpy old people.

And, since the end of August, I have been putting aside books that are in such pristine state they could be given as a Christmas gift without the recipient ever knowing they are second hand.

We have teetering piles of crates of these books and all of them need up-pricing which is a technical term meaning you can charge more for them than usual because a) they are in great condition and b) it is Christmas spending.

The issue is, when to put them out.

If you go too early, you have nothing left for the last minute buyers but if you go too late, you might get left with them and they won’t sell in January.

If I had a memory, I would recall what we did last year, and when – but I don’t. This year I am going to make a note of what we have, what we do and how it goes down.

Of course I will write that down and put it somewhere safe and it won’t be seen again.

That is the way with our shop – there are things that can be unearthed and have been there, under a shelf, in the back of a cupboard which have been around longer than I have.

On the other hand, you can put something down for a moment and it has disappeared.

That happened with the Yemeni maps.

Some kind soul had donated a number of military maps of Yemen. I was not sure the would have great re-sale value in Petersfield but kept them anyway.

One of our volunteers is an installation artist and she saw them and wanted to use them in some artwork.

( Yes, strange though this may sound, it is true.)

She rang into the shop when I was there and asked me if I knew what had happened to them.

I had left them in a box by the lift but of course they weren’t there and I spent a good hour looking for them.

It turned out the manager had found them, and hidden them, to keep them safe.

I gave both of them a stern talking to about leaving messages in the message book ( which most people never read or use) so that I could have save myself an hour.

Still it will be very interesting to see how she make an art installation in Petersfield’s square out of Yemeni maps.

Finally, you will be please to hear, in this list of Oxfam doings, I changed the table display this morning.

We always do something for Remembrance Day and usually the shop is knee deep in military history and copies of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon but this year we aren’t.

I have scraped together enough books for the table and of course it only has to last until Saturday but as I left the shop, I explained to the volunteer on the till, to try and not sell to many of them too quickly.








Writing In Derbyshire

Recently, I had a couple of nights in a lovely place in Derbyshire.

The BB was coming from his dig near Hadrian’s Wall and we decided to have a reacquaintance meeting in The Old Hall in Chinley – and yes it is recommended.

I had a night and a morning to kill before he arrived.

I would have spent more time – it was raining – on watching Saturday morning telly from my bed but Saturday morning telly was a disappointment.

There are only so many times that you want to hear another take on Donald Trump and North Korea or the alternative of Little Women circa 1940 something, or endless children’s cartoons….

A longish walk? yes, but in the rain on your own without a dog, not so much.

So, I wrote blog posts.

And it seemed appropriate because many moons ago when I was a trade union official, I used to hire a cottage for a week in not so far away Winster and I would write.

It was a tiny cottage with an old fashioned range and you were either freezing as it got going, or an hour later, so hot you were stood against the far wall in only your knickers and vest.

But I liked it, and the local pub, and my typewriter. Yes, it was that long ago.

I have no recollection of what I wrote but clearly it was not a best-selling novel.

After a while, friends cottoned on to this and would invite themselves for a night and it turned into a pop-up B&B – maybe that is why I never got round to writing any deathless prose.

Anyway, recently I have cashed in a defunct endowment mortgage and found myself with a bit of money.

Not a lot, but enough for treats and as I can quite well believe the research which says people are made happier by experiences than stuff, I intend some more breaks in nice places.

And, if you google about or even if you look in your inbox now and then, there are loads of offers of special breaks at bargain prices.

But these sites do annoy me.

Once you click onto the link, it says where do you want to go?

Well, I don’t know – show me where your bargains and surprise me.

Of course, I should do a lot of research and then find what I am looking for but that is not me.

We live in a semi-detached and the neighbour next door has taken all the researching for holiday energy in the building – she is a very good at it – maybe I will ask her.

In the meantime, I am sure even I can find nice pubs with rooms scattered about the British countryside and if I can persuade the BB to let me go a day ahead, I can get a whole lot of writing done.



Mamie Dickens Signed This Book

There are few times in an Oxfam volunteer’s ‘career’ that you get a book which might be worth a few thousand pounds. But then again not many are signed by Dickens’ eldest daughter.

No, I didn’t find it at the bottom of a box – another volunteer did.

I take my hat off to him.

Not least because I have to admit that if it had come through my hands for sorting, I might have thrown it in a sack without looking inside.

But he put it one side and made me look at it.

It is ‘The Household Edition’ and over the years I have learned there were a lot of them printed and quite a few of them come into our shop – whereas, dear reader, not a lot of them sell.

But this one has this dedication:




Mary (Mamie) it turns out, helped run the new household when Dickens left his wife taking the children with him and set up home with his sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth and may, just may, have had an affair with her – or more likely gone on to have an affair with Ellen Ternan.

It wasn’t until after her father’s death that Mamie re-contacted her mother.



(Charles Dickens with Mamie and Kate, two of his daughters)

Georgina found living with Mamie difficult, complaining that she was drinking too much. In the late 1880s she persuaded Mamie to move to Manchester where she lived with a clergyman and his wife.

Georgina wrote, “Mr Hargreaves is a most unworthy person in every way – and it was always amazing to me that she could keep up this strong feeling and regard and affection for him to the very end of her life. Mrs Hargreaves has kept true and devoted in her attentions to Mamie during her long illness.”

(I am not sure what the definition of drinking too much was in Victorian times but I suspect Georgina would not approve of my plans for a large glass(es) of white tonight….)

Back to the book: I think the dedication is to Mary Wakeman but I have failed to find her and thus a connection to Mamie.

The dedication is after Charles Dickens’s death and by that time Mamie had gone to live with a Rev Hargreaves and his wife in Manchester which was in itself, or had occasioned, a ‘scandal’ according to Wikipedia.

Then she left Manchester, and retired to ‘the country’ which was in this case, Farnham Royal in Berkshire and is now, to you and me, an extension of Slough – and there she died.

So, I looked at this book and its dedication and I Googled and got nowhere with any search of a similar book and dedication.

When I called our antiquarian book expert, who was on his way to somewhere to do something, he said not to get my hopes up as he didn’t think it was going to set the Oxfam Petersfield Bookshop world alight.

But, and dear reader and this is not something I often say, I thought he was wrong.

He turned up in the shop today to say he was. ( That conversation made me miss Pilates which is not something a Sussex housewife should do.)

Anyway, in the meantime, I had contacted The Dickens Museum in London who said it would be a great book to add to their collection but they didn’t do valuations.

I would like to go to them and if it turns out to be worth £100 they can have it with our blessings and free postage and packing.

But if there are (probably Americans) willing to pay hundreds, even possibly thousands of pounds that is what we will do.

After all this is not, I understand, even in my excited state, a national treasure.

So, I have contacted someone in Bonhams who has helped us before – usually that involves politely telling me what I have is not worth their thinking about.

I have contacted Peter Harringtons, a posh bookseller in London and another posh bookseller called Sotherans, and the retiring board member of the Dickens’ Society at the University of Iowa.

I have emailed the Slough Observer on the basis that Mamie must be a local celeb and perhaps they know of a local historian who knows of her friend and has some more information.

(Do they believe I am an Oxfam volunteer or do they suspect that I am posing as one so they will be nice to me?)

So, now dear reader, I will leave you to try and find Mary Wakeman and who was she to Mamie Dickens, where was Mamie Dickens when she gave this book as a Christmas present, are there any other books out there signed by Mamie, and I will keep checking my emails to see if any of these experts are excited.








Events, Events Part 2

My niece was staying so she came to work on the set up of The Garden Show at Loseley.

She was bowled over by the big house but less impressed by what we were doing, ‘Is it like a big car boot sale?’

To be fair she had never seen one of these shows in full flow and indeed didn’t stay long enough to see it in action – but next year….

Anyway, she and I, along with a very nice man, were delegated to put up bunting.


It may not sound like much to you but it is one of those details which have to be done.

She came up with the idea to string the bunting from the central pole and after a while – always one to consider things before jumping in – she got into the swing as it were and I think she enjoyed the day.

As I said, I am the H&S person so have to give very member of staff a briefing.

We have codes for emergencies – fox for a fire, moses for a missing child, and sands for a suspect package.

Anyway, I was in full flow of this briefing with my niece looking rather surprised that all these people were listening to me and that I had even an airy air of authority when I got to the code around a suspect package.

I explained that we were a garden show and if it looked like a bag of delphiniums it was very likely to be just that.

And we would never be high on a terrorist’s list of targets.

‘Pretty niche terrorism,’ someone said.


Box Sets

For reasons I am not entirely clear about, we seem to have had a lot of donations of sets of books into the shop recently.

There are some for whom the trip to Oxfam was the last daylight they ever saw and before you recoil with horror, do you know anyone who is willing to pay money for a set of Reader’s Digest’s abridged novels in leatherette covers? Be honest now. I thought so.

We are a place of many retired naval chaps and so we get a fair amount of their books which currently include three complete sets of Maritime History ( one of which has been taken by my retired naval friend at a knock down price – very knock down as it happens as he forgot his wallet when he came for supper and took them away).

Theoretically they are worth about £70 but in practice, they appear to be unsaleable – but bulky.

Not nearly as bulky though as the near complete set of naval architecture books we have been given.

A near complete set because the very nice naval architect (retired) who donated them, wanted to keep a few of special significance as in, he was a contributor..

And, as any fellow booksellers will know, a near set is a long way from a complete set.

And when I say bulky, each book weighs kilos and there are currently about 10 crates of them littered around the upstairs of the shop.

Again in theory they are worth good money but even offering on them on Oxfam Online at a heftily reduced price, there have been no takers.

Needless to say, we have listed them as buyer collects.

If you know someone for whom many books on naval architecture would be a treasure trove of fascinating information, a priceless read, a delight to savour, then do get in touch quickly because we need the space and the crates.

The other day I put out a complete set of Graham Greene books and just half an hour later a man came and bought some of them.

He had picked out nine and I managed to persuade him into a round ten of them but now, as per above, I have a less than complete set.

Unfortunately no one has bought any of the set of Rudyard Kiplings – all rather small and sweet and bound in real red leather ( even if it is flaking a bit and the loose bits have to be swept off the shelf now and then.)

I was told he as making a comeback as a ‘fashionable’ author but apparently not yet in Petersfield.

Then there are the complete works of Agatha Christie. I knew she had been prolific but not nearly two whole shelves worth of prolific.


Interestingly, the DVDs of Miss Marple played by Margaret Rutherford I put alongside them – squeezed onto the end of the second shelf – have sold much quicker than the books.

And the trouble with having sets of books out, is that we get more of them.

There is a direct link between what we put out on display and what we get donated.

(The other week, we very dangerously short of history books. However, I had carefully collected a box of books on WW1 ready for the Paschendale anniversary and we put them out on the table.

That was before I was away for a week os so – when I came back the history shelves were groaning with stock.)

So, I look forward, with trepidation, to endless boxes of, seemingly endless, complete sets.

Still, it fills the shelves.


It Can’t Happen Here

Recently a book came into the shop which I hadn’t seen before and was called ‘It Can’t Happen Here’ by John Sinclair originally published in 1935 and (smartly) re-issued this year by Penguin.

The blurb says:

‘A vain, outlandish, anti-immigrant, fearmongering demagogue runs for President of the United States – and wins. Sinclair Lewis’s chilling 1935 bestseller is the story of Buzz Windrip, ‘Professional Common Man’, who promises poor, angry voters that he will make America proud and prosperous once more, but takes the country down a far darker path. As the new regime slides into authoritarianism, newspaper editor Doremus Jessup can’t believe it will last – but is he right? This cautionary tale of liberal complacency in the face of populist tyranny shows it really can happen here.’

The hero of the book is an editor of a local paper and there are all kinds of echoes about the president’s antipathy to mainstream media – or in the case of 1935, just the media.

The latter half of the book talks about camps – now this was 1935 so no Auschwitz in sight, and anyway, I thought/think that is just not going to happen in this day and age.

Mind you, I had not though a president would defend the Klu Klux Klan.

I thought, for what it is worth, it was not a good idea to bring down the statue of Robert E Lee – you can’t re-write history and as Trump said, who is next? after all Thomas Jefferson was indeed a slave owner.

But then i found out that quite a few of these statues had been put up long after the war, in fact into the 20s, 30, 40s and even 50s – and were more of a reminder to the black population of who was in charge than any commemoration of the time.

And the supremacists were there because for them, the statue was a symbol of what they stand for and that is not equality for all, whatever colour, sex or religion you are.

And, yes, I am sure there were leftist protestors who used violence and would do so again.

I am also sure there are those on the right, who went to that march to campaign for the right to keep the statue who were horrified at the sight of someone driving at full speed into a crowd of opponents.

But there is no excuse or defending of white supremacists, anyone nearing the racist or fascist.

So, here’s the deal:

Poor, white men ( and also some women) feel hard done by because they have lost out and in their view, women, black people, gays have had the attention of the establishment, too much support and have ‘gotten’ an unfair deal.

The point is that white men (poor and otherwise) have had to face attempts to equalise society with others creeping up on their supremacy and they want to revert to the status quo – white men in all shapes and sizes, in charge.

They have faith in a man who says he is working for them and against the liberal establishment and maybe he is.

Liberal complacency on my part? Hands up. I had hoped, even presumed, he would never win and that liberal, progressive views would win through. Easy for me, you might think.

Any change of heart? No. I am a liberal and I want equality for everyone.

A wish to get out of my bubble and listen to other views? Well, I’d like to say yes but really….

and that probably is part of the problem.





Events, Events Part 1

Never under-estimate how hard it is to be an event organiser.

You need to be able to see the big picture and the many, many, many tiny details which have to be got right. You need to be unflappable, patient, endlessly charming – quite often to people you don’t like – to be a leader and in the case of the event I work on, deal with the vagaries of the weather.


I would be a hopeless event organiser – high on the list of reasons why not, is my lack of attention to detail  – see previous blog and relucant housewife listing error.

But I do get involved with events run by a woman with all the skills listed above.

For my sins and thanks to that extra glass of wine poured by a good friend some years ago, I agreed to be the Health and Safety person ( I do think you always need capitals for H&S.)

There is something childishly pleasing to me in being a behind the scenes person at an event – and I know it is not Glastonbury, but it is still a sneaky pleasure.

I like wearing a staff wristband, having a radio being able to go into areas where the public are not allowed, knowing many of the exhibitors – and doing a bit of shopping on the side.

The staff team are people who are either related to one another or have been involved for years – and in many cases both of the above.

Ask any new face how come they happen to be working and they will point to their mum, dad, aunt, cousin, son, daughter, brother-in-law, friend, and tell you they were roped in and now they plan on staying.

Quite a few of them have been working on the shows since they started more than 20 years ago.

I am a bit of a johnny-cum-lately with only 7 years under my belt and though I have always felt welcome, have made good friends and the great woman event-supremo is flatteringly nice about my uses – this year I went up a notch in acceptance.

So, there is a patriarchy of security and car parkers.

The patriarch comes from his day job in Leicester and his extended clan gather around him – there were three generations of them this year.

H&S in this context is a bit of a fluid brief and can range from helping to reorganise wind-battered gazebos to crawling along with sticky tape to secure a trip hazard, to assisting the cookery demonstrator, keeping the roadway clear to wait for the arrival of an ambulance for someone with a suspected heart attack, managing queues, sorting out squabbles about pitch size and so on.

I have got to know the patriarch through many shared adventures in H&S – security is a rather fluid brief too – but I think it is fair to say that at the beginning he viewed me with some scepticism suspecting I would be the Daily Mail’s definition of H&S gone mad.

This year he managed to get a quite bad cut on his head – and was off in hospital before I got back from whatever errand I was on. He did his own H&S jokes when he got back – I never would have dared…

Anyway, over the years I have felt that I have earned a little more of his acceptance and that he now finds me a bit more use, rather than ornament or obstruction.

This year at one point, I was garbling something about what we should do about some problem and he put his arm round me and told me to stop gibbering, start that sentence again and then we would get it sorted.

Dear reader, I was so pleased.