Gold Stars

So, there I was telling you all about how we were preparing for Christmas in the Oxfam bookshop, when little did I know that a really big cheese in Oxfam shops was planning a (nearly) night before Christmas visit.

He is a nice man and lives relatively locally so this should have just been taken in our stride – but I wanted to have gold stars raining down on us.

I dragooned other volunteers into extra tasks, fretted and chivvied and tidied and organised, and I went into the shop every day in the run up – ignoring my own plans to approach my own Christmas with a zen-like calm and to be festively organised for the rather extensive flow of family and friends.

Making sure the table was all set up and rather lovely – though I say it myself and (metaphorically) patting down my apron and brushing back a lock from my sweaty brow, I awaited his arrival.


He was running late. He had to go back to Oxford to sign something.

I titivated – which in Oxfam bookshop terms, means re-arranged front-facing books, got all the craft section in order of hobby – knitting, sewing, teddy bear making, ancient Chinese calligraphy, etc.

Biography was in alphabetical order of subject, literature was actually literature and no stray copy of Jeffrey Archer was lurking there, all the books which had been donated were sorted, children’s books were all of excellent quality and looked enticing etc etc.

Yes, of course, I had made sure all this was already done….but I needed to keep busy.

I had planned to walk him around what we had been doing behind the scenes to make sure our Christmas sales were a success, and then hand him over to the till – he wanted to spend time in the shop – with a pre-primed lovely volunteer.

But he was late and then when he did arrive, he had phone calls he had to make.

I forced him to admire the table, made him a cup of tea and gave him a delicious pastry made by our Syrian refugee volunteer, and left.

He made his calls.

Then he left – he never made it to the till or to admire just how well organised and lovely the shop looked.

I was just a little deflated.

He did say he would come and volunteer for another shift – I just hope it is not a surprise visit on a wet Wednesday when I have been a little less than enthusiastic about getting everything looking just tickety-boo – I want those gold stars.




Could you give us some feedback?

I am guessing, but there are probably more people in an undiscovered Amazonian tribe than the number of people – like me – who enjoy filling in questionnaires.

Here is a tale of some of the questionnaires I have completed….

When we arrived in Deepest Sussex, and realised we were very oil dependent, as in no gas in our hamlet, we joined the local Aga-oil-buying consortium – and we had to fill in a questionnaire/form.

At the end of it, we were invited to choose which of the local churches we would like the savings (from being in the consortium) we wanted to donate to.

I was all ready to say the Portsmouth Mosque when a cooler head said, ‘ We have only just got here. Not yet!’

In the run up to what has been a very busy Christmas – all those succeeding waves of visitors seemed like such a good idea in October – I was up early and in my email was an invitation to take a YouGov questionnaire.

Among the many and varied questions was one which said, ‘ If you were asked what the wise men should give christ as a present in today’s world, what would you say?’ (or words to that effect.)

I said, ‘An abiding commitment to atheism.’ They didn’t ask me any more questions.

Once, and stop me if I have told this story before, I was in the Charing Cross Hotel in London, having an after-event drink with a good friend.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a mouse skittering across the bar area.

‘I just saw a mouse, ‘ I said, not surprisingly.

‘Ah,’ said my friend, ‘ I saw it too, but I didn’t say anything in case you were scared of mice.’

We agreed that it was probably the case that all large London hotels had mice and ordered another wine and settled down to more interesting conversations.

By coincidence, the then owners of the Charing Cross Hotel emailed me a questionnaire a few days later asking me to rate my stay.

It was fine generally and I said so, but under the ‘any other comments’ section I did mention that they really needed to keep mice out of the bar.

Well, the next thing I knew I was being sent all kinds of emails assuring me that the ‘rodent issue’ was under careful scrutiny and could they treat me to a free night in the hotel with dinner and wine and so on.

Of course they could. I went up to London, stayed a night, invited a non-too-affluent friend for a slap up meal – and not a mouse to be seen.

( I was going to add a final line which included the bad pun about a long tail, but I thought better of it.)



Sappho and Christmas 2017

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.



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) been priced at £2.49 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 he 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 in 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 saved 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.