So, if you don’t get your Oxfam retail act together for Christmas sales, you are in trouble.
We, or less modestly I should say, I have been hoarding books for Christmas since late August – and not just any old books but those which are in such mint condition no one would know they are second hand.
Upstairs in the shop there have been teetering piles of plastic crates with imperious labels on them saying ‘please leave for table display’ or ‘please leave for Lucy to deal with’ or ‘gets your mitts off, I have these put aside for special use’ – no, not the last one.
Now here is a weird thing.
In the autumn sometime I had found an art book called Pastoral Landscapes which had lovely woodcut images which had links to pastoral poets. Never seen one before – and it was worth a bit.
A fellow volunteer, let’s call him Jim, was recently in the shop and, as ever, more than diligently sorting books, when I reached into one of those crates to show him this nice book.
We chatted about it and I went back to put it back for later use – and then he called to me.
I went into the other room, where he was, and the next book he had pulled out of the bag he was sorting was, yes dear reader, another copy of the very same book….
They have both sold.
Indeed by now almost all of the excellent Christmas gift books have sold so I am down to sorting out the ‘dregs’ and working out what table display to make of them.
When I work it out – actually that will be Thursday – it will be I think a green and red display and then next week we will go for the nativity look – though you have to race in immediately after Christmas to get rid of it as there is nothing worse than a nativity after the event.
We open Sundays in the run up to Christmas and so I had the key to the shop and, against the rules, went in early to create a Christmas table I had been planning – a blue table.
It was all blue china set out like a table setting with blue books on it and loathe though I am to take any credit, so many people said how lovely it looked.
Now here is the thing, the table stuff sold slowly – but that is not just what it is there for (though that is nice too.)
It is there to get people into the shop and to appreciate what an effort we have made, how nice it looks, how we work to make the window and table look good every week of the year and especially at Christmas – and then go on to buy other books.
And they did.
That week, we made £2,499.87 – I think any volunteer in the shop would have put in that extra 13p to round it up if we had known.
By the way, you see that books called Snowflake and Schnapps? Well, it was a lovely cookery book – and dear reader, I was tempted.
But, lacking milk for essential tea-making one day, I went to Waitrose to get some and bumped into a regular customer who I knew to be a cook/proper chef type and I told him about it.
Once I had the milk, I went to the bank or something, and by the time I got back to the shop, there he was with it in his hand.
I had to take a photo of one recipe I had my eye on and he said we would share the books’s recipes, but no way was he letting it go.
So, one or two other little stories:
I have a habit of setting the people on the till a challenge to sell a particular book that shift.
So, we had a volunteer, let’s call her Margaret, who had a book to sell and when I came down from sorting things out upstairs (aka behind-the-scenes), it was still there on the desk.
I was berating her, in an oh-so-jocular fashion about the fact it was still there, and a couple heard us talking and said they hadn’t noticed it before but how lovely it was.
The man said his daughter was an artist – and it was an art book – so Margaret and I went into overdrive extolling its attributes.
But, he said, his daughter was a children’s book illustrator and this book wouldn’t be for her.
Oh, said I brightly, I can’t stop now, I have to get home, but I am sure I have a book on children’s illustrators somewhere upstairs. Give you number to Margaret and I will call you when I find where I have put it.
He did. I did. He bought it. Margaret sold the other book to the next customer.
The small books are often the interesting ones and I found one which was Sappho’s poetry with art nouveau illustrations of the period, about 4 inches tall, handcut pages and rare-ish.
I was showing it to a volunteer, let’s call her Judith, and we were admiring the illustrations.
She is a lovely woman who gardens, paints and decorates not only her own house but her son’s, she and I talk auctions, antiques, cooking, she also is an excellent needlewoman I understand, and she treks in by bus to volunteer with us.
She is a woman of a certain age and, given that we were talking about Sappho, the subject got onto sexuality, gender, homosexuality, gender fluidity, transgender issues, what a waste a good looking gay man is to us heterosexual women – however older we may be.
And, how all these issues should be on a live and let live and let’s get past it basis – all the normal chat of an Oxfam volunteering conversation – but apparently not one her granddaughter had expected to find so easy when she had broached the subject.
(Don’t, granddaughters, assume stuff about your lovely grandmas.)
The book was worth a bit, so we agreed what we needed was a relatively well off lesbian shopping in Oxfam Petersfield for that just so unusual Christmas present.
The book is still in our cabinet should you be that person.