Honours – a brief rant

I need to make a couple of points up front here: I was not glued to the Olympics, and I think the British honours system is rubbish.

Our Prime Minister has said there will be no limit to the number and type of honours given to the British medal winners.

And I do appreciate the amount of hard work, dedication and effort it takes to make yourself an Olympian medal winner.

So, Prime Minister, make a new category of honours which are dedicated to sports women and men.

Make the lovely hockey team proud with a British Sports Honour. Make the dream cycling couple happy with the same. Give one to the man who won his medal at the age of 58 – and even to his horse. Make Bradley Wiggins or Mo Farrah give them out with the Queen alongside.

But heavens above spare us from more Sirs and stuff.

Awards are generally bought one way of another.

These sports ones were bought with £350m lottery money.

(A familiar number to those of us who were glued to the Brexit debate. Do you remember that amount was promised to come back into the health service very week?)

And the SamCam stylist. Oh give over.

I am sure there are still people who give a lot of unsung service to the country who occasionally get recognised but the system is generally weighted in favour of the friends of the great and good and rich – and it is just rubbish.


IKEA & The Empire

I remember a time when I said I would never set foot in IKEA again – but of course, I have.

I said it because I was fed up with being seduced by cheap prices and buying stuff, more stuff & stuff we didn’t need and me, a second-hand shopper wants good, old stuff.

On the other hand, it is Scandinavian design and I am a sucker for that, but then again I would rather be shopping in Stockholm than Southampton.

(Shopping in Stockholm does require a more than modest lottery win, I need to say.)

So, we had a list of things we needed to get from IKEA including large mats to replace those we had bought several years ago and on which we could now could fondly trace the red wine spill, the casserole slip and various dog issues, as well as general grime.

To get me through this ordeal, I decided to think of it as I imagined some 19th century Empire-bound wife would as she planned setting up home in the tea plantations of Northern India or in the nice suburbs of Calcutta.

She would have been shopping in the Army & Navy stores – set up in 1871
to supply goods and chattels to army and navy ( not surprisingly) officers, and to supply them cheaply.

There was a stationery department ( always a favourite with me), a drapery department, fancy goods department ( I am not sure what was in that, but I do wonder what fancy goods you might need on an Empire posting), handily they also had a gun department (and as fancy goods go, a gun might work.)

They don’t have such departments in IKEA.

In 1890, The Army & Navy opened new stores in Plymouth and Mumbai. For all I know IKEA have stores in Plymouth and Mumbai, but it’s just not the same.

My best beloved has a dinner service which he bought from the Army & Navy before his first posting to Baghdad. The Foreign Office let you do things like that in those days so that you had decent, British, upstanding plates on which to serve food to grateful natives no doubt. ( We still use it – for less grateful Sussex natives.)

So from a store where you could buy supplies to take with you when you set off to bring civilisation and British values to the locals, the Army & Navy developed into a mail order service.

They had a massive catalogue which included everything from bars of soap to wedding dresses – both, no doubt, terribly useful in their own ways.

IKEA has lots of useful things too.

So, we bought a light fitting, had a long debate about toilet brushes, as you do, some cups of exactly the right shape for Nick – he is a man of habit and these cups are the exact right shape and he’s not to be deflected with other shaped cups.

It was relatively painless – and we did get some good large mats.

There was a mattress topper which we have to order online and that is fine, that is today’s world.

But there is a bit of me, sitting on the veranda on a hillside in India looking through the Army & Navy catalogue and being delighted that they can deliver a kitchen range and linoleum ‘within 40 and 17 days respectively.’

The Visit

We were told that our Oxfam shop was to be inspected by our area manager.

First off, I must say that she is a good woman who sees us (thankfully) as a very well-run shop and so, sensibly but a little exhaustingly, devotes her energies largely to shops that are having problems.

Occasionally she will turn up in Petersfield just to visit a shop that is fine, thank you very much, drink tea and just have a rest from sorting out problem stuff.

But anyway the rules are that we should, on a regular basis, cull books that don’t sell and ideally send them on to another shop for another chance.

Sadly, the last but one shop we were designated to send them on to closed. Then it was Bognor’s turn, but at risk of plagiarising a King George V,  Bognor is buggered. Or at least it is not taking our culled books any more.

Be warned dear reader, this is just the beginning of me explaining how we price books and run the shop so you can pick up a copy of Bedside Algebra (yes there is such a book – and we have it in stock) if you want something more riveting.

Anyway, the rules are that paperback novels should be culled every three weeks.

My great colleague Stella does that – and makes sure they are all in proper alphabetical order. And I mean proper order.

But that relies on having the stock to do it – and for the first time since I have been there, we are short on paperback fiction.

(So, by the way, if you live near Petersfield and have a lot of good quality paperbacks please bring them to us.)

The same three weeks lifespan, apparently, should be true of non-fiction, but really, give over. We just don’t have the stock.

But our area manager was due to visit us to make sure that everything was up to date, so we needed to make it easy for her to sign us off as being a shop that ‘does the right thing.’

At this point I should explain how this works:

Every book that comes into the shop has to be sorted – will it live or will it be put in a re-cycling sack? – what category should it be assigned to, will it fit onto the appropriate shelf upstairs before being brought down into the shop.

We have pricing guns that print the price and category. They are a bit old, hard to work and it took the manager being off ill for some time before I finally mastered how to re-load them with new rolls of labels.

It turns out that if you throw them across the room, they break easily and are a surprisingly expensive £50 to replace. It wasn’t me, but it could have been.

(Should you need to know, I can tell you each and every book category by heart. So, category 15 is for old and interesting and category 5 is hobbies and category 8 is travel – see what I mean.)

And then the week is put on in pencil. And that’s so that you can pick a book, any book, of a shelf and know how long it has been sitting there.

In an ideal world, you would have a culling regime and a small army of enthusiastic volunteers would take books off the shelf that had been there for too long (more than three weeks), and replace them with newly donated books, all checked, priced and sitting neatly on a shelf upstairs.

We don’t live in that world.

So, the point about putting the week in pencil is that if we want to leave a book to get another (rather more lengthy) chance, we can rub out the week and put another (later) week on it. (Should you be in the slightest interested we are currently on week 18.)

Because we are a) short of stock and b) short of people who do systematic culling, I decided to get every book in the shop re-labelled as week 16 – the week the area manager was due to visit.

I do realise that this is cheating. I do realise that the area manager is not stupid and she will know what is what. But also, I know that the rules don’t quite work if you end up with empty shelves. (I also know that our shop manager has to live by the rules so there are things it is better he doesn’t actively know about.)

Dragooning fellow volunteers into this plan, I had many a person armed with a rubber and a pencil to re-week for England.

Whoever had been putting the weeks on with a biro was soundly cursed – even though they may well have claimed that if culling was done properly, it wouldn’t need to be in pencil….. Yeah, whatever.

The shop looked really good. The day before the area manager was due , I got an extra shift out of one of my colleagues and, building on two weeks of work, we changed every front-facing book, re-did some books in the window (but knowing they were likely to sell quickly didn’t put them out until 4.30 so that they would be there when she arrived the following morning.)

I was on the till, he was upstairs rapidly clearing boxes of books – pricing them, tidying shelves, emptying bins, making sure we had chocolate biscuits – anything and everything to make the shop look Sunday Best.

Of course, dear reader, you will have guessed that an emergency came up and the area manager didn’t come.

I comfort myself with the notion that we are never one of her emergencies and the shop is now ready for us to manage the culling properly.

We now can go round systematically and cull based on the fact that week zero (or week 16) has been established – and more to the point, the only one of our volunteers who did proper culling in moving to Sheffield.

Of course, all of that relies on the good people of Petersfield having a clear out of books.









Surprising Sussex Housewives

As I live longer in Deepest Sussex, I find that my stereotypes of housewives have been challenged – or at least I have found women who baulk at them.

I had a lunch to thank the people who had helped me with the village festivities pop-up bookshop and someone came up with a really good idea.

She said we should create a supper club and get interesting people to come and have a conversation with us.

(Sharing credentials here rather than living on past glories, I need to tell you that I once ran a supper club for ‘the generals’ who were really semi-senior military leaders who wanted, needed and got, supper and a conversation with someone they would never normally come into contact with.

The speakers didn’t need to be famous and the subject was hardly ever anything to do with the military, but they had to be an interesting speaker.

So, we had the Chief Inspector of Prisons, someone talking about amazing Medieval master builders, mother and daughter who walked to the North Pole, an ex-Taliban refugee, a bee Professor, a bishop, someone talking about enduring mental health problems, a magician and so on.

Diligent readers, and my friends, will remember that the Supper Club is how I met the ‘best beloved’ who shares my Sussex idyll.

Anyway, enough living on the past glories I said I wasn’t going to do.)

Back to the main story here, a few of us went to the local pub last night to make this idea happen.

( Thank you, Vicky.)

We will create a membership of like-minded women who will pay say £10 per month and get four suppers a year and a conversation with someone interesting.

The issue is how to get people to speak to us – for expenses only.

After all, you can get all sorts of people to speak if you pay them handsomely enough, but we need to make ourselves interesting enough for speakers to forgo a fee.

Ahh, I hear you say.

A bunch of pony-tailed, four wheeled driving women living in very nice houses and fitting in a Pilates class between the private school sports day and a lunch with the girlfriends in that great little place we love so much, during which  you mention the simply wonderful gardener you’ve found – that will, indeed, be quite difficult to sell as an interesting audience.

Well, and I am amazed to hear myself say this, we are not all bloody like that.

Here in Deepest Sussex, again I say with some force, at least some of us are definitely not bloody like that.

So, whilst I will admit that The Guardian does not fly off the shelves of the village shop and there is a whole strata of our local society which runs the various village societies with an iron rule and impeccably good manners.We are not all blood like that.

And scratch the surface and you will find smart, funny, interesting women ( some living in lovely houses and driving 4x4s ) who want to keep their brains stretched.

And we are going to harness them and make this supper club work.

We will find a way of describing ourselves out of the stereotypes and to show ourselves as the women we really are – smart, funny, interesting, as I said before  – and get all sorts of fascinating people to say, ‘Blimey, they sound like a great group of people to spend an evening with.’

And there may even be some smart men around who will be allowed to come – as guests you understand – as long as they ask nicely and agree to load the dishwasher for a week.

Daphne Du Maurier and Brexit

“Emma, who lives in Cornwall with her retired grandmother, a famous retired actress, wakes one morning to find that the world has apparently gone mad:

No post, no telephone, no radio, a warship in the bay and American soldiers advancing across the field towards the house.

The time is a few years in the future. England has withdrawn from the Common Market and, on the brink of bankruptcy, has decided that salvation lies in a union – political, military and economic – with the United States.

Theoretically, it is to be an equal partnership; but to some people it soon begins to look like a takeover bid.”

This is on the flyleaf of Rule Britannia, written by Daphne Du Maurier in 1972.

I had never seen this book before – but as you, dear reader, know by now, Oxfam is a Pandora’s box of surprises.

(Yesterday the box opened to reveal an inundation of books – just when Duncan, an Oxfam stalwart if ever there was one, and I thought we had the shop all sorted out – and they were mostly recycling-sack fillers.)

Back to Daphne.  As a (deflated) Bremainer, I am sure that we are living in the phoney war period and the real fall out will come over months and then years.

Yesterday, I was culling the Old and Interesting shelves and although we give them a longer chance than say, gardening, there comes a time when all good things must come to an end, and they have to go.

I picked up a book on the history of the Liberal Party in its early days and was about to throw it onto the reject pile, when I thought again – for the very pragmatic reason that I didn’t have enough alternatives to fill up the shelf.

Now, that book has been there for months but blow me down as they say, half an hour after I had moved it from one shelf to the one lower down, a woman bought it.

I asked her if she was a political historian and she said no but her daughter had done a masters in international politics and was now working in London.

Then she reduced her voice to a whisper and said, ‘ She was so angry about the Brexit vote that she joined the Liberal Party. She would have joined Labour but there isn’t really a Labour Party at the moment.’

(Whilst social and mainstream media is full of stories about vile threats and angry denunciations of Remainers and Brexiteers alike, in Petersfield it seems, we reduce our voices to a whisper when talking politics.)

And that young , likely-to-be-on-the-receiving-end-of-the-bad-news-about-Brexit  womanis right, there isn’t really a Labour Party at the moment and not likely to be one, or for that matter much in the way of a vigorous opposition party, for the foreseeable future.

So, with Trump dangerously likely to end up in the White House and the fallout of our referendum still to come, I am off to read what Daphne Du Maurier prophesied.