Special Lunches

If I was asked what is my specialist subject, I would like to say the Mongols or even the effect of the Black Death, yes I do have an interest in them both – but really it is lunches.

My best beloved gave me a book for my birthday on Friar William of Rubrick who visited the Mongols and wrote about it, and I am fascinated.

A book has just come into the shop, a mighty tome, on Britain and the Black Death which I am mightily interested in spending my non-existent salary on.

But if I am honest, what I do best is lunch.

Sad to say I know. I would much rather be known for having an interest or skill in something more intellectual but a woman must face up to her own failings, and mine is a good lunch.

So, here are three lunches in order of when they happened. Only two of which I had anything to do with – but all three were very good in their own ways.

First, was a lunch for Lizzie. She was my friend who died this year and it reminded me, oh you shouldn’t need reminding, but you do, that life should be seized regularly and you should not waste time not meeting friends.

So I organised a couple of lunches and we had one recently.

Everyone, at that lunch was a woman that I really liked – and everyone at that lunch, apart from one, was someone Lizzie had introduced me to.

One person was there who couldn’t be at the last one, one person wasn’t there who was at the last one – and that is life.

We talked and gossiped and exchanged news and stuff – there was no memorial, we didn’t talk about the meaning of life, we just had a good time.

And like every restaurant, there was music playing in the background – and then they played the piece of music that was playing us out at Lizzie’s funeral.

I have no faith in the afterlife, but even so it was nice to think that she was there in spirit – as she would have been at her daughter’s recent wedding.

Lunch Two.

We have a winter lunch ritual. In that we have one, every year.

Cooking for 30 or more people ( I always get the numbers wrong as in I send out invitations and never keep a tally of who is coming so blithely invite more…) is not hard in itself.

Get the menu right and just multiply, is my general philosophy on the issue.

Anyway this year was marked by the fact that it was my best beloved’s special birthday and the next day and he was off to Berlin at 5am, so this had to be his celebration – and at the last minute, I heard that a well-known chef was coming.

Finding a load of damsons in the freezer seemed to be an inspiration but could I find a recipe for damsons?

I did find one but it involved expensive lamb and ingredients you can’t find in Deepest Sussex, so I opted for chicken and, made it up as I went along – against the rule of not cooking anything you have never cooked before ( but I always ignore that one ), and the other rule of not cooking anything you can even find a recipe for on google.

My best beloved was very patient as I got a little stressed and let me tell you that there were also Russian cheese pies, something interesting with lentils and caramelised onions for the vegetarians, artichoke and butter bean croustades etc etc.

But the best bit, never mind the food ( but just in case you are interested, there was a slurp of gin in the damson sauce, the chef didn’t have the food, but he and I spent some time talking about it, and I was told it was nice – but hey, they would say that being polite Deepest Sussex people) was that I surprised the best beloved by getting his son and daughter to come.

They schlepped to us and his daughter brought a lovely birthday cake – now that was nice.

And my friend and colleague from Oxfam brought another lovely cake which meant I didn’t need to worry about puddings, and that leads me onto my third lunch.

Lunch Three.

You will get confused if I don’t name people now, so I will. My friend and colleague is Pat and the other friend and colleague who I work with on a Monday afternoon, is Stella.

So, this Monday was my birthday.

Anyone who has a birthday so near Christmas will know that it is rubbish.

If you go out anywhere to eat, you are squished among 20 office workers wearing paper hats and getting drunk ( though not so much in Deepest Sussex) and all you can eat is turkey.

It is also rubbish because everyone ( again this is not true in Cosmopolitan areas where there are cultural differences) is on a christmas vibe not a birthday one.

So, I worked my normal shift and as usual, went in and took the money to the bank.

There was an almighty queue, a problem with the money, bags to be taken here and there, cat food to be collected (don’t ask because it is a long story) and so on and so on, and the morning was galloping away and I had to be back in the shop to take over the till.

When I got back, Stella was in early, Pat was still there and I was planning a quick cup-a-soup to get me into the afternoon.

Anyway, they said to me something along the lines of, ‘ stop rushing about and have some lunch.’

Not something you usually get told in Oxfam where lunch is a sarnie whilst book sorting.

And then they cleared the table of the usual pile of books and produced Proseco, prawns, salmon delights and other such stuff – and we sat down, the three of us, and had the loveliest lunch.

I may have been slightly drunk in charge of a till, and Stella and I may have spent the afternoon clearing an almighty influx of books, but I have to say that was one of the nicest lunches I have had.


Bookshop christmas

I had plans for the shop table in the run up to christmas – a series of displays of lovely books that I had collected in the previous months and all looking lovely.

My colleague, who does splendid things in the window, and I spent some time hunched together thinking what we could do to maximise sales at this most important time of the year.

I had started collecting books for months in advance – books that were unread or hardly read by their careful owners – who then donated them to us.

Quality stuff for christmas.

I had teetering towers of boxes which our ever-patient manager had to dismantle into safe groupings which no one could trip over.

Anyway, we thought we had christmas sorted.

And I launched the table with place settings of nice old cutlery, and a book on each plate as well as mounds of Oxfam chocolate coins and some candlesticks etc etc.

Standing back and feeling pleased, I was shocked when moments later a customer bought something and I had to rush round making it all look nice again.

(I had time to fiddle about because donations were slow – but more of that later.)

And so it went on.

We put stuff out – lovely books on various themes, the best bric-a-brac we had, all styled and looking great – and then they were bought.

My teetering piles of boxes of our best books dwindled – or not so much dwindled as disappeared faster than frost in the Sahara.

Now, we can’t order more books, we can only look around what we have got with an increasingly panicky feeling to see what we can muster.

We have, at the moment, a lot of military history, but good seller though it may be, its not really in the mood.

And we really hadn’t had many donations – the odd box of 1980s cookery books and atlases but nothing of any use.

Of course, along with the boxes of ‘present’ books, we do throughout the year, collect books on christmas – crafts, cookery, children’s nativity, fiction, endless copies of The Christmas Carol.

So, I decided we would make a table around stars – what with Tim Peak being from Chichester and all – and the guiding star, and even, perhaps, Star Wars.

We had, I knew, more nativity books than you could shake a donkey at – as well as Brian Cox and a lovely 1930s book called The Midnight Star which has the loveliest engravings of the night sky.

Could I find a nativity book? I could not. They had all been sold – nothing short of a miracle as usually we always have a pile leftover in January.

Still, nothing deterred, we set up this table with a few stars from the 99p Shop scattered about as props, and the books.

And as they sold in front of my very eyes, we luckily had an influx of children’s books including several with stars in their titles – and then they sold within minutes!

Anyway, stars are it until christmas eve so I am really hoping they last.

As for donations, let me tell you that the populace of Petersfield has, rather unlikely though it may sound, decided to have a good clear out of books just before christmas and yesterday we had so many donations we were stacking boxes in the shop itself.

I must admit that apart from a great collection of young children’s books, the many of the rest came out of garages into sacks.

My colleague and I spent all afternoon sorting and sorting, and sorting and sorting – and because it was the run up to christmas, having a very busy time in the shop too – I think we took more on one day than we have taken in a very, very long time, if ever.

There was one short moment when there was only one customer, a postman from the Royal Mail office next door.

He saw me putting aside some very browned books to one side and said some of them looked interesting, how much would they be?

I gave him one I knew was a good read for free and wished him happy christmas – the rest went in a sack.


I was upstairs at Oxfam the other day, sorting books with the usual burble of the local radio station on in the background, a cup of mint tea at hand and the pleasant pottering about feeling that you get when there are not a huge mound of books dumped in front of the lift –  just things to be done.

Anyway, the news came on and the presenter was talking about the dispute between Jeremy Hunt and the junior doctors.

He said they had agreed to go to ACAS, ‘the Consolation Service.’

This made me conjure up all sorts of scenarios in which  Arbitration, Conciliation and Advisory Service officials put on their most sympathetic faces and said, ‘Oh dear, how beastly for you all…’





My Apology to Oxfam

So, after my rather het up complaint about being airbrushed out of my moment of Oxfam glory last week, I must now eat a rather large slice of humble pie.

It turns out that the photos I saw after the photo-shoot were only a small sample of what will be used, and I am indeed included in some of the others.

Putting up a feeble defence of myself, I can say that if the email had made clear there were others out there, as it were, I would have kept my mouth and typing fingers under better control.

But in all honesty two things have come out of this – a reminder just how vain a woman can be in the face of a promise of being in a public photo and – more importantly, how nice it feels to be back in a good mood with Oxfam.

(Though, of course, after my tantrum, they might have to seriously restrain themselves from really airbrushing me out of the picture…)






Shot by Oxfam

So, I was asked to go to an Oxfam photo shoot.

(Let me warn you this does not end well.)

Some time ago I had auctioned to be in an Oxfam film and – despite smiling through my Skype interview – I was rejected.

But I was told, they might be making some short films of volunteers talking about what they do and we, in the shop, thought this might be a valuable recruiting tool.

So, when I was contacted I though this was what it was about and said no, as I had a stinking cold and no voice.

But at 6.30 one Thursday night, I was rung by someone from Oxfam HQ asking me if I could possibly, possibly make it to a photographer’s studio in East London by 10am the next day.

So, I schlepped up from Deepest Sussex to trendy East London and it turns out the (extremely nice, and rather famous photographer) was so on trend that his studio was in the corner of a cement-mixing yard – yes, that cool.

I however, looked like a windblown Rudolph and required the best efforts of the make-up people to make me look human.

(Also, after my attempts to re-create a recent haircut, my best beloved told me I looked like Grayson Perry so I had to have extensive access to hair-straighteners.)

‘You are our hero,’ the cool photographer said.

I only had a cold and had only come from Deepest Sussex so it seemed a bit over the top, but hey ho, I was sipping Lemsip all morning so was feeling quite heroic.

Anyway, there were eight of us and we were asked to be in small group shots, in a big group and then to be taken individually.

It was only when we did the all-group shots that I realised being the hero meant being out front.

I presumed this was because of the demographic of Oxfam volunteers – a surfeit of middle-aged, white women – and the fact that there were two lovely young black women ( one of whom was a fashion stylist from London), a handful of interns from Oxfam headquarters and two men, so they didn’t really have much of a representative sample of us volunteers.

Anyway, there I was out front with my pricing gun, chatting to the very charming, very cool photographer and trying to look less like Grayson Perry with a red nose and more like a happy Oxfam volunteer.

So, we were all done and I went home and looked up the photographer – and indeed, he had photographed Helen Mirren, Vivienne Westwood and sorts of other famous people who looked amazing in his photos.

Yes, you can guess what is coming. When I got the photos of me emailed through, I really, really wish I had held in my stomach and lost that stone I had been promising to lose for a year or more.

Ah well, there you go, I thought.

Last night I got an email from Oxfam HQ titled ‘You’re famous!’ and I must admit to a little thrill even with the prospect of seeing my fat self on a poster in Oxfam shops across the country.

But they have photo-shopped me out of the group photo altogether and replaced me with an attractive, young and needless to say, slimmer Oxfam intern.

Not only that, but they have also done a pen portrait of all of us as individuals to go alongside a head shot and gave me the quote from someone else.

I wanted to shout at them that I had never said I needed Oxfam to ‘improve my self-esteem.’

So, I am definitely not famous, not even visible and given that, I will not be relying on Oxfam to improve my self esteem!

(P.S the photographer was Perou and you can see his great photos on his website.)