Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lucky for some....

Well here we are at the end of another year. For me it's been a very busy and eventful one. Just before Christmas my brother had a new baby which is always a nice thing to happen any time of year. I had been anticipating a move into new shop premises for Mr. Books for most of the first half of 2012 and was on tenterhooks for much of March and April. I got the go ahead from my landlord in March and signed a lease in May, opening the very new look Mr. Books on June 1st. What some of you may not know is that this was the shop I'd looked at almost as soon as I opened the old shop around the corner in Bank Street. I saw it in an old Tonbridge Guide from the 1950s advertised as Greg's Bookshop and Stationers. I looked through the window one day and saw its huge potential even back then seven years ago. In fact, as I later found out, 142 High Street was a bookshop and/or stationers for most of the 20th Century. So you see, in a way, I've restored it to it's traditional use. Sadly though the move was tinged with sadness as the owner of the previous business passed away just after I'd moved in. So a big thank you has to go to Christine Izzard for being so lovely, putting a strong word in for me to my new landlord and for putting up with my cheek! She always said that my business would do well in this location and, so far, touch wood, that is proving the case. The last six months have flown by for me but, right now, I'm really feel the need for a few days off having only taken Christmas Day itself. Even the serfs in Medieval times would have 12 days off!
So onwards to the brand new year of 2013. That sounds like a date well into the 21st Century. No longer can we say the dawn of the new millennium; we're in the teenage years already. Lets hope that those years are a sight more peaceful than the teenage years of the last century. 1913 was the dawn of an age far more frightening than most of us can still imagine. Here's hoping then that 13 is a lucky number for all of you....

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Merry Christmas but Kids of Tonbridge don't read this.....

This has to be the most amusing, if cruel, story I've read this Christmas. It's the story of the Santa who was recently sacked from Notcutts Garden Centre for telling children that he wasn't real! I kid you not read it here if you don't believe me. On the face of it it seems somewhat inappropriate to tell children this particularly as their parents had just paid £5.99 for the privilege of meeting him but then he was, after all, only telling them the truth. So could he not have a good case at the North Pole industrial tribunal! Can someone be sacked for simply telling the harsh truth? I remember telling my son that there was no tooth fairy when he was about seven years old and he said, rather astutely, "Next you'll be telling me there's no Father Christmas." I managed to keep my job as a dad by staying silent for the next few minutes and the moment and the temptation to tell him was gone. You see kids aren't daft. Though, as my wife always says, they believe in him because they want the eggs. In other words it's in their interest to keep believing in Santa even when the story doesn't quite stack up and that face seems suddenly very familiar!  Anyway a very Merry Christmas to everyone in Tonbridge, with friends and family in Tonbridge or anyone who cares about our town. Whatever you believe in.....

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bob Ogley's Hurricane of Information....

Went along to the Tonbridge Civic Society Christmas talk yesterday evening to enjoy a mince pie (or two) and a glass of mulled wine (or three) followed by a talk by guest speaker, Bob Ogley. As he informed us Bob has been a writer since 1987 when his first book, In the Wake of the Hurricane, found immediate success nationally following the storms of that year which had such a devastating effect on Kent. Most of Bob's other books have not, by his own admission, found anything like the same sales success as his first but he's managed to produce over 20 books related to the county including famous ones like Biggin on the Bump, Ghosts of Biggin Hill and Kent A Chronicle of the Century. The last of these is chocca full of facts about Kent, its history and its people. Facts are Bob's stock in trade, if last night's talk was anything to go by, as a great blast of them came blowing over his audience. Indeed it was almost as if a great hurricane of information was hurling towards us. We were informed, and entertained, at gale force speed, about how Dickens had almost died on the railway track between Ashford and Tonbridge, how poet laureates had lived and worked nearby, how Van Gogh had lived, studied and worked on the Kent coast and how inmates of the infamous prison hulks were treated and how the only one who ever escaped from one alive was the fictitious character, Magwich, from Dickens' Great Expectations. The great author himself of course was from nearby Rochester. You get the idea. Ogley is clearly a man with huge passion and enthusiasm for Kent facts and history and an infectious desire to inform everyone about them. Indeed I and most of the rest of the evening's audience were swept up in Mr Ogley's tornado of information (that's enough wind metaphors now, Ed.) He wouldn't win any modern prizes for delivery and use of interactive aids to reinforce his lecture, but I very much enjoyed hearing him. And the mince pies and mulled wine went down a treat as well....

Friday, December 14, 2012

Jane Austen and Tonbridge....

I had a whole load of people buy tickets from me for the Jane Austen talk which was taking place this afternoon at the parish church. An Australian lady who was in the shop this morning had come all the way from Brisbane, or was it Bromley, especially for the talk and walk in the rain. I know that on other occasions people have travelled from the States, Canada and other far flung places for similar events. So what's the connection with Jane Austen and Tonbridge then? What's all the fuss about? Well, aparently she did visit Tonbridge since quite a few family members lived in the area. I believe that her father had been a master at Tonbridge School and that other close family had owned property in the Bordyke region of Tonbridge. The infuriating and frustrating bit though is that there doesn't appear to be any hard, historical evidence to say that she definitely did visit the town only a supposition that she must have. If only something would turn up, like a note book to give us a piece of hard fact, then people would flock from all over the world constantly. Interesting talk though I'm sure it would have been. I certainly managed to sell a dozen of so Pride and Prejudice (a book whot she wrote!) Penguin mugs and a few books on the back of it. So long may Jane Austen's association with Tonbridge flourish....

High Street Christmas Lights Worst for 45 Years....

That's the headline in the Courier this weekend and I think it's disgusting. I thought that they looked the best they've been since I moved into the town 23 years or so ago. They reflect off the river and, from the bridge, in the early evening, with the castle in the background, they look quite delightful, stunning in fact, romantic even. So where the heck does the local paper get off talking about them in this way. Come off it you Courier journos, have a heart printing this utter garbage about our dear old town.  What, what's that you say? They're speaking of Tunbridge Wells High Street, not Tonbridge. Well, Lord have mercy, I'll let them off then and agree with them; their's do look a bit crap. Okay now why can't they do a feature on how great our Christmas lights look then?!.

Town Team says TLC needed....

Tonbridge Town Team Loyalty Card or TLC for short could be launching soon. I have only one criticism of this scheme today: I'm afraid that it's just never going to catch on if the picture on the front page of the Kent and Sussex Courier, Tonbridge edition, is anything to go by. Too big you see. It'll never fit in anyone's handbag, let alone pocket, wallet or purse. You need to work on a credit card sized version guys!
Okay that was just a joke but I'm sure I'll be getting letters about my comments in any case. My more constructive comments are reserved for a future post which might be in a few minutes or it might be tomorrow or next week, depends how busy my shop gets. Feel free to add your twopenneth in the meantime....

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mr. Books Christmas Window display....

My creative director and head of  Mr. Books window designs, aka Mrs. Books, has been a very busy bee over the weekend. It's meant to be a typical 1940s (or is it 50s) Christmas scene. Back in the days when books were still our main presents instead of a just stocking fillers. You know the sort of thing. Anyway hope you like the results and, even better, come along for a browse at the shop. Perhaps buy the odd Christmas present in the shop. If you're really pushed for time its just possible to pick up all you presents here. I'll be happy to offer advice to tailor to your friends and family's needs!

For those with a keen eye maybe you'd like to enter the Town Team's Odd One Out competition. The idea is that there's something in the window display which doesn't fit in with the theme. There's a card in the window of each participating shop and you have to compile the results and take them to Gateway at the Castle to pick up your prizes and entry forms. Something along those lines. In Mr. Books window there are actually two odd ones out. No not me that would just be ridiculous. I may be a bit odd but not odd enough to be the odd one out surely!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

It's the weekend

What to look forward to this weekend. I say weekend because for me the weekend starts now and not, as for most non-retail workers, Friday.
Phase II of the Christmas window dressing at Mr. Books tomorrow.
Tonbridge Farmers Market I reckon should be on Sunday morning being the second Sunday of the month. I'll pick up some lovely bread, cheeses, real ale bottled beers and maybe some Christmas crafty gifts.
Probably go for a run as I'm in training again. Perhaps I need a goal. Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon in Feb should do it. 13 miles of cold gruelling hills. Okay it's probably not that bad but, hey, I was a sprinter at school not a distance runner. My sinews just aren't the right length/shape!
I've been really enjoying reading Simon Armitage's "Walking Home- Travels With a Troubadour on the Pennine Way" Not that surprising really as (a) I too walked the Pennine Way not so long ago, inexperienced and on my own and (b) I love Simon Armitage's edgey poetry. Some people say it's not poetry at all but, frankly, what does it matter what you call it. Anyway at the very least he's poetic and the book is bringing back some beautiful memories for me....

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Aleister Crowley's love of cats!...

Just heard a disturbing story about an old boy of Tonbridge School. If you know who I'm talking about then you'll realise that just the mere mention of his name is disturbing enough. I'm  talking about the famous poet, mountaineer, drug addict and devil worshipper, Aleister Crowley, who attended the Big School in the late Victorian period. By all accounts he didn't fit in all that well. In fact that's putting it very mildly indeed and it's nearer the truth to say that he most likely hated every moment of his few years there. He vented his frustrations one day, so the story goes, by skinning the then Head Master's cat! (Well the school was founded by The Skinners Company after all!) Whether this is true or not seems unlikely ever to be verified but the boys of the school seem to relish believing in this macabre tale....

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christmas lights look stunning....

Yes and I almost forgot to mention the Christmas lights in Tonbridge. Thanks to the comment by 'Outraged' for reminding me. The lights do look absolutely lovely; they're not at all tacky as so many are but instead they're really rather tasteful. I love the ones along River Walk especially as they make great use of the riverside. From the town bridge at night they look quite stunning as they illuminate the river. So, a big well done to Tonbridge and Malling Council (one assumes) Look at me I'm doing it again, praising the council, being positive about the town. It didn't even hurt me as well! Photos to follow at some point....

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bags of Thanks....

Special thanks go to the ladies of The Gift Box, near the Big Bridge, for supplying me with the lovely antiquey-style bags which books bought at Mr. Books are gently dropped into. They look superb and so much more stylish than the old plain brown bags which I made do with when the shop first opened all those yeas ago. Elisa at the Gift Box orders these in for me purely out of camaraderie with a fellow trader and it is very much appreciated. I would insert a link to their web site here but I couldn't find it on Google. Go one better then and go along and have a look in the shop for yourselves (on the way to Mr. Books of course!)....

Town Team Gangs up on Tonbridge Blog!...

Blimey I wasn't expecting to be swiped in the face this morning by Susan Adams with whom I have had many a polite and friendly conversation with over the past few years that I've been in business. The only thing I can say to Susan is to ask her respectfully if she has actually read the piece that I posted a couple of weeks back on this blog? If she had she would have realised that, despite admittedly having a bit of a dig at the Town Team/Business Alliance the post is actually brimming over with some positive suggestions of how to put the £10,000 to use. If there are other comments attached to the post which she's taken exception to then that, I'm afraid, is what you call freedom of speech. It's why blogs and social networking sites have become so popular because they allow people to express their true feelings even if the price is sometimes a virtual smack in the face. So long as it stays the right side of legal and decent then it only serves to the good from where I'm standing. Susan suggests that I might learn that good business practice is not to "continually" moan on about the town. Well, again, if she actually reads the blog instead of just forming a general opinion of it then she would also see that the proportion of moaning articles to positive, entertaining and frivolous is actually quite small. In any case there's nothing wrong in moaning sometimes; it can have the effect of getting things done if, as my post was, backed with helpful suggestions. I'm still waiting to see a list of the Town Team's suggestions or are they still in a committee room somewhere discussing them?!..

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fame at Last!...

Well it looks like Mr. Books shop is famous at last. The story about the break in has not only appeared in he Kent and Sussex Courier now it's in the Daily Mail as well. For those of you well wishers who have commented here and on twitter that it's kind of done me a favour I say I'd still swap the publicity for not having had all the hassle of the last week. Sorting out glazers, secuity companies invoices, clearing up the crushed book related gifts, speaking to restorers about antique sliding book end repairs, endless conversations with my landlord and his maintenance men etc etc. Not to mention that paranoid feeling that this sort of episode brings on. I've spent much of this week in the shop thinking that every one who looks slightly scruffy (which includes most book collectors!) is about to come and rob me at gun point. So no I don't feel "lucky" as one customer suggested; I'd just rather it hadn't have happened and I'd just had a really normal non-eventful week. But since it did I may as well have something positive out of it and a little publicity never did no harm. Was it Oscar Wilde who said: There's only one thing in the world worse than being robbed and that's not being robbed?! Or something along those lines....
For those who feel sorry enough for me, and all those other local independent bookshops up and down the country,  you can always come in the shop and have a browse. If everyone in the borough of Tonbridge and Malling came and spent a fiver in Mr. Books I could retire next week! Feel free to make a donation by paypal by clicking on the button to the right if you can't make it along to he shop. I'll donate half of all the money raised to a victims of crime charity or a booksellers in need type charity....

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Unbearable....


Tonbridge Ted in happier times
Tonbridge Ted is still not talking about the trauma he must have suffered when Mr. Books was broken into in the early hours of Sunday morning. The shock though is written all over his little furry face and the experience must have been truely unbearable for dear old Ted, now in his 61st year. To ease his pain we've decided to give Ted pride of place in the Christmas window display next to the tree so that he can forget his troubles and listen to some Frankie Vaughan or Bing Crosbie on the gramaphone. His silence is however stretching the patience of the detectives asigned to the case. The word on the street is that they think Ted might have been the inside bear and that he's been in on the blag right from the start. They've even secretly gone to the trouble of sending a special paw print forensics expert along to tie him in. Fit him up I say! Ted's mother, 93, from Kiev and now living in Mile End Road, London, commented: There ain't no way that my Ted would do anyfing like that. He's a good young bear who buys his mavver flowers and salmon and that. He'd never do noffin like that!" She growled. The police claimed that Ted's mother had helped them with their enquiries with several other similar crimes and that they found her cries of Ted's innocence unbearlieveable!!..
The other bears are keeping schtum

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

There's Been a Break in at Mr. Books....



This is the scene which awaited me when I arrived at the shop on Sunday morning. The police phoned in the middle of the night to say that "there's been some damage." A drunken man had broken the door window in and then trashed the place a bit and later had phoned the Police from my shop to turn himself in where he as then arrested. Here's the bit you may not believe. He told the Police at 4 am that he had broken into Mr. Books and was sat reading a copy of Fly Fishing by JR Hartley. I wish I was joking but it's absolutely true and the weird thing is that he actually was looking at that very book which I found next to the phone. Fact really can be stranger than fiction sometimes. It would be funny if it hadn't caused me two days of agro with police statements, insurance claims, clearing up the mess and organising glazers etc. The shop's bear, Tonbridge Ted, is still in shock and refusing to talk having silently witnessed the whole thing!... 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Red Bull wings clipped in Tonbridge.....

In response to popular demnd Mr. Booooks today announced tutal cannng of the uses of all "so-called" energy enhancing caffynne style druggy halucinagenic drinks in canns. (and maybe bottles that hasn't been decided yet.) Apporantlyly they mak u unuseable to concentrote throat n fuckus on certin tusks an should be stopped before a school child actually manages to stay awake thru an hole history lesson! From now until the beginning of time back dated, anyone discoveredly to be drinking or has drunk on or benear the shop will have the contents confiskate parked and stomachs will be pumped up. Skirt lengths will also be taken into consideration if rolled up too the ankles and/or shoes. The abuse of flavorred so-called "milk drinks" are also being poured over in time for New Year hogday celebrations.

Asked to comment on the situation Mr. Books commented on the situation by saying: "Actually I blame that Mark Webber racing Aussie fella. Why does he want wings anyway when he drives cars? and Vettel, they're all having it....and another thing history lessons are bunk aren't they and have you sin the price on kindles? they're available on the cell i mobile smart box you know...."

I should be sticking with me herbal tea from now on! Trouble is these drinks are almost addictive. Mine's a red bull n coke....

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Right Here Right Now....

Here and Now. I'm sorry to be so negative but really what is the point of this glossy excuse for a magazine. It isn't that it's badly written or anything like that but rather that it is so typically local government. It tries to be all encompassing, to bring together the borough of Tonbridge and Malling with it's zillion or so towns and villages in a way which is, by necessity, so watered down that you end up just binning the thing in disgust. To make it relevant and informative the magazine would have to be as thick as a telephone directory to cover everything that went on across the district. Be honest though do the vast majority of Tonbridge folk give a rats arse about what goes on in Borough Green, or Kings Hill, East Malling or Snodland (is that even in the borough? I'm not entirely sure.) I did however want to find out when the Christmas lights were being switched on in Tonbridge but I could have done that via their web site. Sorry guys but time to call time on Here and Now right now before you waste any more of our taxes in the form of the community charge. It's glossy and therefore most probably expensive to produce and so editorially widely spread geographically as to be pointless. Put the information on the web site instead. That way you can regionalise the information so that readers only need to read the bits most relevant to them....

Quiet at the back Holmes!...

I hear that Dame Kelly Holmes put in an appearance at John Ray's talk last Friday night, at the parish church hall, all about WWII experiences (not her's obviously!) I very nearly went along myself because I know that John can be very thought provoking and above all entertaining. He has what so many lesser speakers lack. The right balance of information and humour and a real stage presence. The result is that his audience hang on his every word. Kelly had a special reason to go along as, so I'm told, Mr. Ray used to teach her at Hugh Christie back in the 1980s. There is no truth in the rumour that John was heard last Friday night shouting: Holmes stop chatting or I'll move you to the front of the class or that he threw a piece of chalk at her! I'm told she was looking particularly smartly turned out and lovely though

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Come inside the shop for a virtual tour....

Remember I mentioned that I'd been Googled a few weeks ago. Well now the Google maps page which allows you to come inside Mr. Books and take a virtual tour of the shop is up and running. Roddy Paine Photograhic studios in Tunbridge Wells convinced me that this was a good idea just in time for the Christmas shopping rush. I'm warning you though they won't be satisfied until the whole of Tonbridge has been Google mapped! If you're thinking of spending the money I'd say it's worth every penny especially as I got it for nowt being an early guinea pig Certainly got to be worth looking into. Click on the link and have a play. Better still actually come into the shop and have a browse....

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Post you comments about Tonbridge....

There, that ought to keep you going for a bit. But if you feel the urge to comment then do so below if you have anything to say about Tonbridge places and people, or anything to moan about, to shout about, to write home about. Get it off your chest, it's quite a good feeling actually....

Lazy Sundays and Mondays....

Saturday: worked all day, had a drink in the Slug and Lettuce (which some of you may well finding shocking in itself!) and had my brother and sister over for dinner. Very lovely to see them it was too and the food was to die for (well I have to say that but really it was.)

Sunday: didn't have much of a hang over after a long lie in so went to the farmers market to pick up some nice bits of food I didn't particularly need and bought a new Harris Tweed titfer which I'm told is called The Newsboy hat. My wife thinks I look a berk in it but I think it looks rather dashing. (Maybe a picture to follow then you can all vote on it!) Then on to the shop to sort out a few bits and bobs, process a few internet orders etc. Decided to have the shop open while I was at it for about three hours. (Turned into more of a semi work day but actually I like it anyway so not much wrong in that.)

Monday: (for this is usually still part of my weekend) got up around 9am, so a bit of a lie in again, cooked my son breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast. Did a few household chores, surfed on the internet a bit. Realised I was due to meet someone at my storage unit about a bit of business, so spent the next few hours sorting through books. Not much of a day off when I come to think about it. (Reflected in the evening that I realy do need to stop making excuses to myself and start running again.)

That was my weekend. How about yours. Hope it was at least as interesting as mine or, frankly, don't bother sharing it!...

Keep Singing Leopards (and breathing!)

So let's see. What did I do over the weekend? Well had a lovely afternoon on Friday attending Skinners Day at the Assembly Halls where my son was receiving not one but two prizes. Naturally we are very proud of him. When you first go to this day you could be forgiven for thinking that it's going to be a stuffy occasion as the Skinners Company governors parade on to the stage in their furs and regalia like I imagine a Grand Lodge meeting to be. (Not that I've ever been to one.) But very soon into the proceedings you quickly realise that this is a warm and friendy event and the procession is all really that's left of the tradional days gone by. By the end of the day you can feel the warmth and companionship which is the very heart and soul of this magnificent school. Even the way the school song is sung by the boys echoes both the tradition, the sense of belonging and also the fun. Anyone connected with the school will appreciate what I mean as the chorus of the school song, The Leopard Song, is roared out "Sing Leopards Sing...." and where probably a hundred years ago a long forgotten teacher has tried to teach them to pause by saying the word the boys, as one, shout "Beathe.." before the next line of the song. It fills me full of warmth every time I hear it. You see, underneath, I'm just a soppy old man....

The Rise and Fall and Rise of Tonbridge Blog....

Yes I know I've completely failed in my endeavour (NB. not promise!) to post at least 3 a week on this blog. I will keep trying but, frankly, I have gone off the boil a little what with twitter, facebook, moving into a new shop, inflation, house prices, worrying about the economy etc etc etc. It's also quite nice to occasionally have a bit of time to myself and the family. But fear not Tonbridge blog will rise again like that thingymabob from the ashes....

Friday, November 2, 2012

All the T's: Tonbridge Town Team, Town Day, Town Shop....

I see on page 14 of today's Courier the Tonbridge Town Team (or is it now called Business Alliance?) are looking for ways to blow er, I mean spend wisely the £10,000 they have been awarded by the council. I'm quite amazed that they don't already seem to have much of an idea of where or what to spend it on and are looking for suggestions from businesses and residents. Well here's a few of  mine: Give me and several other newish businesses half the money that those money grabbers at the council take as business rates! That way traditional businesses like mine will be given a lift and be more inclined to stay on for longer. I know that this suggestion wouldn't be entertained so here's another: Have a competition for a new start up retailer to be given a grant to help them get going. £10,000 would go a very long way for one deserving business owner I can tell you. Maybe it would be a family butcher, farm shop or whatever. Better still: the town team should get their heads together with the Tonbridge Civic Society and others to see whether a Town Shop could be set up selling local produce on a non-profit making basis from a town centre location. The Civic Society has a small army of willing people who, I feel  sure, would be prepared to roll up their sleeves and muck in as volunteers if it was for the good of the town. Use an empty shop of the right size and that would do much more for Tonbridge than a Town Day that has been suggested which frankly would just flush the 10k away. When it happens and thrives, just remember where you heard the idea first....

Thursday, November 1, 2012

You know when you've been Googled!...

I had an approach the other day from a photography company called Roddy Paine of Tunbridge Wells who made me an offer I simply couldn't refuse. They wanted to come and Google me. Ooh er, sounds a bit cheeky! But it was a genuine offer. More precisely they wanted to come to Mr. Books and take photos of the inside and outside so that anyone who searches for the shop on the well known search engine can not only find out how to get to Mr. Books but they can also take a look at the street outside and then take a guided tour INSIDE the shop. "Wow" I thought to myself as they took photos around the place. I've seen how this works on other clients of there's and it is quite amazing. Normally this kind of service would set me back a few hundred quid but, since they wanted me to help them build up a portfolio of clients, and were offering to do it gratis, who was I to stand in their way?! You'll be able to see the results of Roddy Paine Studio's work in a week or so. I know you can't wait!...

No more Comet anymore....

I see that Comet is about to go into administration. That's another big name to fall of the many since this financial crisis began. Tonbridge High Street just won't look the same without Comet. Oh, hang on, wait a moment. There is no Comet on Tonbridge High Street and hasn't been since about 1990 (if indeed there ever was one.) In fact, come to think of it, there aren't any electrical retailers on Tonbridge High Street any more. No Curry's, no Dixons, no PC World, no Tandy (remember them?) nothing unless you count the mobile phone shops and Robert Dyas, who themselves nearly went under not that long ago. Soon there'll only be cafes, hairdressers, kebab shops and Mr. Books left!....

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tonbridge Cricket in 1919....

I love this old photo of the Whitefriars Press Cricket team for the 1919 Season. I'm not sure where they played, probably on the Sportsground park. I have no connection with any of the men. But I still love the picture which captures just a split second in time but speaks to us 93 years later. I wonder how many of these proud men had served in the First World War, how many of their friends and family had paid the ultimate price. People in old group photos are often serious looking as I suppose it's hard to hold a smile indefintely but I think this group of men had a special reason to feel this way after what they'd been through. I wonder what they were thinking at the precise moment that the shutter was released. Probably something like "Hurry up so we can get on with the game!" but maybe their thoughts were wandering to deeper matters. The young lads in the front row were probably too young to have served in the war but many of the men behind would have come through it, relieved, possibly angry, certainly changed for ever. Some of the faces look strangley familiar to me. Perhaps some of their grandsons and great grandsons have visited my shop at some point as their names, faces and spirits live on in their descendants. Mr. Authers (Hon. Sec.) was clearly not concentrating on the photographer as he seems to have been distracted at the crucial moment. I'm probably totally wrong on this but, I like to think, Mr. C D'Arcy (Umpire) was a right rogue, a smart-arsed joker who fancied himself with the ladies and wasn't put off by the many rebuttals! C. Boorman is, most probably, related to the Boorman family who are well known in Tonbridge. H.E. Simmons looks like someone straight out of The Great Gatsby and was probably the inspiration for Clark Gable's movie appearance! And Captain W. May looks like the serious sort who led by example and was, by the look of his lean lanky frame a good all rounder in the Frank Woolley mold. T Wickenden (Tommy) the young lad sitting at the front, was the grandfather of the old lady who brought in the photograph. Hard to imagine him as a grand father, great grandfather and probably great great grandfather but it's true. Not an ounce of fat on any of them which is probably a good advert for getting back to basic home made cooking and clean living. I really could study this picture for hours. I'll never know much about any of these men, least of all what they might have been thinking but it's great fun guessing. Please get in touch if you know any more about any of them and we'll try to build up a complete profile of the team....

The Autumn leaves....

Yep, Autumn has definitely arrived in Tonbridge. I found myself kicking through leaves down Springwell Road on my walk to work the other day. Beautiful in a way but, in another, quite depressing....

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Towns....

I didn't see last week's Courier but there's a very nice letter in this weekend's issue pointing out that Tonbridge does indeed have a secondhand bookshop! The article, apparently, told readers that only two towns south of London, Lewes and Tunbridge Wells, had rare and secondhand bookshops. Oh contriare! points out Mr. Eaton in his letter today. Tonbridge does indeed have it's very own slice of Charing Cross Road in dear ol Mr. Books at 142 High Street. "You can even order new books from them," he goes on to say. So no need for anyone to go toddling off to the upstart daughter town when you can get most things right here in good old Tonbridge town. Thanks Mr. Eaton and that fiver will be waiting for you next time you're passing!...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Three Times a Week

I know that I've been somewhat neglecting TonbridgeBlog of late and that some fans of this site will be wondering what the 'eck's goin on. Well I have had a busy old summer what with the shop move and all and then the creative juices kind of take a back seat as your mind focusses on more practical stuff like do I need to buy new bookshelves and staitionery? So to make amends I'll try to post something, however small and insignificant, at least once a day. Alright then maybe that'll be pushing it a bit. We'll try for three times a week....

Shoulder ache....

Can't wait to get out on my canoe again. The nights are drawing in though so I'm leaving it mighty late if I want to complete the Medway Trail section from Yalding to Allington Lock, the other side of Maidstone.  I'll check the weather forecast for this Sunday and, if it's fine, I might just slip into Tallulah (the canoe) and paddle off to Teston. It's been a while though so I'll expect aching shoulders!....

London Town....

Went to London yesterday on a book and book care/repair materials buying spree. (And that's what I like to do on my day off!) Walked from Charing Cross to Baker Street, across to New Oxford Street, Covent Garden, up to Holborn and then back to Charing Cross via Covent Garden. Had a lovely pint in the Sun Tavern on Long Acre which is a place I used to frequent around 25 years ago when I worked around the corner in Drury Lane. The place has hardly changed in all those years. The price has gone up though. PB will perhaps not be too shocked if I say that it was £4.10 for a pint of Alfred Wainwright's Best Bitter. I told the barmaid that the last time I was in there a pint cost around 90 pence! Even so it was very welcome after all that walking. Very pleased with myself that I can still manage to walk around quite a wide sweep of London without a map or other navigational aid.....

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tonbridge Castle at Night....

Spooky that Tonbridge Castle at night isn't it? I often wonder as I quickly walk by after dark what horrors those old walls have witnessed. I'm almost certain the other night I heard the clanking chains from deep down in the dungeons of the gate house, a cry of pain and the cracking of bones and was that screaming from soldiers as boiling oil was poured over them? Surely not all of this was in my imagination! Neyaa ha ha haaa (evil laugh)

And speaking of baking cakes....

A special mention to the imaginatively named local catering company, Planet of the Cakes, whose James Bond themed cup cakes I picked up at a rained off boot fair a couple of Sundays ago. I think the guy said that they were left over from an event the night before. Anyway I picked up the whole box for a fiver and jolly tastey they were too. I particularly enjoyed munching into Jaws which seemed appropriate. But can you name all he other film references?...

Friday, September 28, 2012

P'd Off with the PO....

Masses of people are stopping in wonder at Mr. Books shop window which can't be a bad thing can it? One or two have even been in to say how lovely it is and how, in their opinion, it has "lifted the High Street." This is of course music to my ears. That said I'm having one of those days when nothing seems to go right. I've even had (another) bust up with one of the post office workers over having to wait nearly half an hour in the queue. If it was genuinely really busy in there then you could just about stomach it. But to wait that long when the reason seems to be that only 3 counters out of a possible 8 are open then that becomes totally unacceptable. There were 4 windows serving, which is bad enough, but at least 50%, then one just disappeared off to her break! I'm sure some of you will sympathize with them and say "Why shouldn't they take their break on time?" but in any other business, when it's that busy, you put more staff on the tills let alone take one off. The trouble is I can complain (and blog) until I'm blue in the face but what can you actually do about it? Take my business elsewhere? Oh that's right they have no competition and they've even closed most of the sub post offices down. I've probably said this before but when I first moved to Tonbridge there were no less than five sub PO's south of Tonbridge railway station alone. Now there are none because we were told that they are unprofitable and we don't need them. Well that's hard to take when the queue lengthen by the day at the central PO. They need to sort this mess out and quick. The only excuse they had was "We're trying out the new work rotas!" The lady at the desk actually said this to me as she continued to serve me with the false politeness she's perfected over the years to placate moaning customers such as me, smiling through gritted teeth when she probably felt like screaming at me that it wasn't her fault and that I should foxtrot off or something like that. Well I can tell the Post Office right now: your new work rotas ain't working! In short I'm P'd Off with the lot of em!...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

If I'd known you were coming I'd have baked a cake!...

Lots of people looking in Mr. Books shop window at the moment. So what's all the fuss about? Well we started off with World Traveller, we've just finished with Summer of Sport and changed the display over to Baked a Cake. I say "we" but really it's all pretty much my creative director's work. (Otherwise known as the missus!) I did hold the screw driver and make the tea but she did the rest. Come and have a look at the result for yourself....

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tonbridge Half Marathon Latest....

I've just heard that the Tonbridge Half Marathon, taking place on Sunday September 23rd is booked to its capacity of 1,300 runners. That's amazing as the event is only in its second year and they've actually allocated 300 more places this year compared with last. Alas those Tonbridge Blog readers who will be turning out in droves to see Yours Truely will be disappointed this time round. My sweaty red face and jelly like legs will be otherwise engaged, probably sitting in my canoe or perhaps just doing a little gardening or going for a strole to the pub. You see since opening Mr. Books # 2 I just haven't had time to do any serious training so my target time of sub two hours and the chance to have a medal placed around my neck by Saint Kelly of Hildenborough will just have to be put on hold for another 12 months. As Arnie once said though: I'll be back!...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A date with Tallulah....

Well that's the end of another working week for me. It's all right for all you lucky people who don't work on Saturdays sat at home with your feet up watching the last day of the Paralympics or some footy, or maybe down the pub with a few close mates (assuming you have any!) No, for me Saturday is, more often than not, a working day. So I'll be on my way very shortly on my bike homewards ready to get up early(ish) Sunday morning to clean off my paddle to take Tallulah (that's me canoe) out for another paddle along the gentle flowing Medway. I'll be off to practice new strokes tomorrow such as the J Stroke and the Canadian stroke and, no this is not some seedy boating/sexual inuendo! And you thought paddling a canoe was a simple case of sticking it in, pulling and off you go! I'll tell you more about my date with Tallulah next week but in the meantime let's hear some more stories/gripes about life in Tonbridge. Tell the readers of this blog where the best shops and restaurants are; where the best pint is to be consumed that sort of thing. In fact pretty much anything you want to get off your chests....

Friday, August 31, 2012

Olympic Banners a waste of time? (and Money)

It's been a wonderful summer of sport but did we really need all that bunting and those dirty great banners draped across Tonbridge High Street to tell us that?! Or am I just being a miserable sod for having a(nother) dig at the council who, no doubt, spared no expense in putting up these things. Afterall the Olympics hardly needed advertising did they? So what exactly was the point of the banners then??..

Olympic Window Competition....

The winning window in the Tonbridge Olympic window competition was.... wait for it.... this by Country Gardens. In the words of the owner: I have been doing it for long enough so I ought to know what I'm doing! And she certainly seems to. There were lots of other great efforts. Apart from Mr. Books' 1948 style effort of course there was The Gift Box and lots of others. Not a winner but I particularly liked Bonners who had actually madea bit of carpet with the Olympic rings set in it. A bit of fun for traders and shoppers. We should do another one soon. Ideas? Best Halloween window. Bonfire Night. Christmas. Autumn and seasons. Any other thoughts anyone??..

Tonbridge Farmers Market Coming up....


Tonbridge Farmers Market 9th September and then......
Second Sunday of every month.
Sovereign Way, Tonbridge TN9 1RG
9.30am – 1.30pm


You know what they say: Use it or lose it!...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Surfing Scenes from Cornwall....

Because I'm still in holiday mood I thought I'd share this pic with you. It's certainly one way of beating the holiday traffic queues when you want to be first in the surf!..

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Facts about Tonbridge High Street Accident....

Car around 2-30 in the early hours blaa blaa crashed blaa blaa metal signpost. Blaa blaa police hot pursuit blaa blaa young driver blaa blaa drink? blaa blaa drugs? Heck of a mess blaa blaa road closures blaa chaos blaa blaa traders moaning blaa new sign blaa new road blaa blaa unanswered questions blaa blaa chunky police report blaa blaa forget about pedestrianising Tonbridge High Street blaa blaa huge repair bills blaa blaa who pays for that then? blaa blaa blaa....

The New Look Tonbridge Station

What does everyone think about the new railway station frontage? I'm yet to see inside the building but will report my findings when I do. Not sure it'll make the trains arrive any quicker but, hey, you'll have a nicer experience whilst you are waiting! (Right commuters?!) Naturally a picture should appear along with this post but I haven't got around to taking one yet. Just go and have a look for yourselves if you're that bothered....

Car-nage in Tonbridge....


This was the sorry scene that greeted me when I arrived at Mr. Books this morning. Twisted traffic lights, sand and debris strung right across the road near the Chequers Inn. Highways lorries and workmen clearing up the mess, police tape cordoning off the road, several police cars and an ambulance. Was this the Pedestrianise Tonbridge group taking direct action? I thought to myself for a brief moment! If so it was a pretty effective way of clearing the cars, buses and lorries from the centre of Tonbridge. Trouble though is that it was a scarey reminder of how quiet it would be without the vehicular traffic as it you could hear a paper bag blowing down the street. In fact is was almost as silent as the West End of London during the Olympics!
Apparently though it had nothing at all to do with Tonbridge activists and everything to do with someone careering off the road and into said traffic lights at around 2-30 this morning. The road is still closed off at the time of writing; so that's a heck of a long time to clear up some mess. I don't know whether or not anyone was hurt in the incident but an ambulance did arrive a few minutes ago. Come to think about it that's a bit of a delayed reaction if it happened in the early hours! Hope all is okay and that I'm not being too flippant if it was more serious than a traffic light being demolished....

Monday, August 6, 2012

Boogie on Down in Cornwall....

And for those of you who didn't guess from the photo that I was on holiday the last two weeks no prizes or points. Yes I've been off on my annual trip to my spiritual home of North Cornwall. I love the crashing waves that come off the Atlantic in that part of the country; they make me feel so alive. And, I can tell you I certainly spent a large part of my time there in them swimming and bodyboarding. If anyone thinks that that bodyboarding, or boogie boarding as it's sometimes known, is just for kids sploshing about at the shore then have a look at me in action on this YouTube clip. Good to be back of course although I'd be lying if I said that I couldn't have managed another couple of weeks there....

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Half a £billion on car parking fines!...

After Tonbridge Blog's recent lapse into praising the council, in the interest of a balanced view, it might be worth looking at how councils across the country have now gone over the half a £billion mark for revenues raised from parking charges (yes that's right BILLION.) If you don't believe me look at this Telegraph report. In fact it might even be worse than that since this figure, if you examine the figures closer, may be the surplus after costs incurred in collecting the charges. Now, okay, Tonbridge isn't the most expensive place to park but, let's be honest, it's still high enough to put motorists off when there are other towns with more shops not that far off. Some of the charges in other towns and cities really will make your eyes water though if you read the report. I've said this before but I'll say it once more. The council should try to encourage trade into Tonbridge with free parking or, at least, not fine people for over staying. If the emphasis is not on collecting fines then why not go back to the infinitely more sensible method of paying for the time you've stayed as you're leaving. Just like nearly all car parks used to be like and many, like some in Maidstone, still are. As a trader in the town you hear time and time again from customers that they have to go because their parking ticket is running out. Off they dash without spending money in the bookshops, cafes and boutiques! Still at least it looks like we're in for some sunny weather....

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Aussies Are in Town....

Here's one for sports fans and the ladies. A hunky guy just walked into Mr. Books saying how impressed he was with the Olympic themed widow display. He was wearing a track suit top and had an Aussie accent going on so it didn't take a genius to work out that he might be something to do with the Australian Olympic team. Only turns out that he was a certain Joshua (Josh to his mates) Ross who has been the Aussie 100 metres champion many years running. Yep, that's correct, you heard me, right here in rainy old Tonbridge.  So I asked him what he thought his chances were against Usain Bolt and the rest of the Jamaicans and Americans. He said his PB (that's personal best to you non athletics fans!) is 10.08 seconds. That's easily as fast as Mel Gibson in the film Gallipoli but, just those few fractions of a second, will probably mean that he'll be pleased to make the semi finals and ecstatic if he gets through to the final. Seemed like a nice bloke to me and I've promised to tell him where the best boozers are (for after his events of course.) Good luck Josh I'll be cheering for you when I see you run, provided your not up aginst one of Team GB of course. And ladies check this out on the official Olympic web site. I'm sure there'll be a few more of the team around town. I doubt whether many of them will be in Spoons though on Friday night so you might have to go and try and catch a glimpse of them at the running track which will be their training base for the next few weeks. Meantime I'll be walking around trying my best to hold the beer gut in!...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Olympic Torch Comes To Tonbridge....

Peter Ellis of Tonbridge Community Films sent me this link to yesterday's torch bearing event. So, if you missed the live event of the making of the Legend of Saint Kelly and the Olympic Flame, which will be told for ever more in Tonbridge and Hildenborough, I hope you enjoy the edited highlights....

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Saint Kelly and the Olympic Flame....



I've just returned from seeing the Olympic Torch and the Flame being lit at the Castle. It was all a bit hastily arranged by the council but actually they did a half decent job of it. The Castle wall turned out to be the perfect setting for showing the torch from up high sort of Olympic styley and it worked. Quite a sizeable crowd had gathered around the bridge and the Watergate for the hope of a glimpse at the legendary flame and the even more legendary Dame Kelly Holmes who was instrumental in bringing the torch to Tonbridge. We were truely honoured with an appearance by Tonbridge MP Sir John Stanley and Gregg Clark (who'd been allowed over the border from Tunbridge Wells!) We had a speech from the new Mayor of Tonbridge and, I think it was 'er off the TV, Caddie Lee Preston, although I couldn't be sure from a distance doing the time filling in bit before the, delayed in traffic, torch actually arrived. Then Kelly came down among us to show us the flame closer up. No doubt, in the process, breaking every 'ealth n safety rule in the book! That she will be one day be renamed Saint Kelly of Tonbridge and Hildenborough seems beyond doubt. And the legend of Saint Kelly and the Olympic Flame shall be told for ever more! I never thought I'd see myself writing this but I am forced to say: well done Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council for pulling this off. (and it didn't even hurt that much to say it!!)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Olympic Torch in Tonbridge latest....

Olympic Torch updates....

News of the Olympic Torch making a guest appearance in Tonbridge is so hot off the virtual press that the council's web site cannot even tell us what time it will be here. Watch this link for updates. What we do know is that it will be sometime on Tuesday and probably in or around the Castle. Should be quite an event and even at short notce it's sure to draw quite a crowd....

Anyone remember John Creig's shop?...

Thanks to the comment from Alandal who pointed out to me what I'd missed in the 1938 Kelly's Directory that 142 High Street, now Mr. Books of course, was a stationers called John Creig. In fact I've been told by some of my customers that Creigs was a bookshop and stationers right up to the late 1950s. After that I think it became Featherstone's, also a stationer. So you see I'm simply carrying on a tradition....

Olympic Torch here on Tuesday....

The Olympic Torch is coming to Tonbridge on Tuesday. Well Hallelujah! Bit of an after thought but at least that wrong has been put right. It seems we have Dame Kelly to thank for this. A headache for the Leisure services team at the council to organise something in three days I'm sure but the rest of the town, not least the traders should all benefit....

Reasons to be Beerful: Part Two....

I was wondering yesterday evening who would come with me to the mini beer fest in TJ's Rugby club (replacing the cancelled one in the marquee) when in walked my son about 8-30 last night. In a flash it came to me. He's 18 now so about time he was introduced to the delights of a real pint. A quick spruce up, change of shirt and off we went down to the clubhouse walking, obviously, right across Tonbridge in search of hop heaven. Well I'm not sure we found it with our first two choices of Shere Drop, a best bitter by Surrey Hills Brewery, or the very flowery, but lovely, Foundry Man's Gold. We did get pretty close though with our last choice of Hopspur, described in the programme as 4.5% Premium Bitters- Amber ale, citrus fruit, chewy biscuit sticky sweetness. A right treat for your taste buds is how I'd descibe it. The mini festival continues today at the club with a further choice of beers available. Think I might just be stopping off there on my way home this evening!...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Stop Press on Beer Fest...

Unconfirmed reports are coming through that there is, after all, to be a beer festival of sorts. As Tonbridge Blog understands it the event is to be moved partially inside the rugby clubhouse. There won't be anything like the same number of beers on offer at any one time as that wouldn't be possible given the space and the time they've had to turn things round. It will be tonight and from lunchtime tomorrow (Sat.) A great shame that the main event isn't happening but at least something has been salvaged. Just hope that my Skrimshander ends up being one of the guest beers. Apologies to readers who really don't care whether or not the event goes ahead and that I've become obsessed with that coppery, chocolatey undernoted nectar, with a slight hint of sea salt, but it is quite delicious!...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Beer Fest Cancelled....

I'm afraid that I have some very bad news to tell the people of Tonbridge. An event that I've been looking forward to all summer has had to be cancelled due to the unseasonal, abominable weather we've been enduring. That's the latest news I have anyway. The torrential rain of the last few days had caused the organisers a real headache and, with much deliberation, they've had to cancel the SIBA Beer Festival which was to be held in a large marquee at the back of the rugby club. My taste buds were preparing themselves but now I'm going to have to make do with a couple of bottles at home or a pint down the P&J! I really feel for the organising team who must have put weeks of hard work into the festival but, with 18 inches of dirty water lapping around your feet it might well have put off a few visitors. Mind you, I'd have still gone even if I'd have had to swim half a mile to get there. Just for one sniff of that Hopdeamon Skrimshander! We'll just have to make up for it next year I guess. If they find a alternative venue which, I have to say, is looking extremely unlikely at this late stage, then of course Tonbridge Blog will try to bring the news to you. In the meantime there'll be lots of unhappy organisers and real ale lovers crying into their beer this weekend....

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What's in a town name?...

This from the Place Names of Kent by Judith Glover:
Tonbridge (Pronunced Tunbridge)
Farmstead bridge: bridge beside a farmstead (OE tun brycg - Tonebridge 1086 - Tonebrigga c1100 - Tunbrigg 1206 - Tunbridge 1610)

There were also some odd looking accents over letters, presumeably to tell us how to pronounce parts of the name, but let's not complicate things. So you see there's further evidence that there's no point in worrying about whether Tonbridge should have a "u" or an "o" because the name has changed gradually and evolved over the years anyway. Maybe in another 400 years it'll be called something else like #townofbridgesonahill

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Reasons to be Beerfull Part One....

Yes a whole year has gone by since TonbridgeBlog was last able to slur his way through telling you all about how he'd enjoyed the SIBA real ale beer festival and how it had changed my life (in terms of the beer I drink anyway.) Well it has you know because this Friday, Saturday and Sunday you can sample over 100 beers from all over the South East. If you intend to go along there, and I really think you should, then just remember to sample two fingers of a few first before committing to your choice of nectar which you can then raise up to see the full bodied copperyness and talk about the chocolatey over, or is it under, notes (and just generally pretend you know what you're going on about!) After a few halves of course your friends really won't be listening much anyway as they too will be caught up in hop heaven. You'll spend the rest of the evening telling them how much you love them (in a blokey, back slapping, macho, friendship kind of a way of course!) The event is in a large marquee at the back of Tonbridge Juddians Rugby Club which normally only serves Larkins which, in itself, is worth the trip but with barrel upon barrel or other stuff makes it almost essential. Obviously this is an occasion to leave the car on the drive at home and don't even think about driving the next morning either. (Always drink responsibly folks. In this case that means don't join the the 10% abv club. Real ale fans will know what I'm talking about!) Let me know you favourites....

Tonbridge High Street in 1938....

One of my latest acquisitions in Mr. Books is a rare 1938 Kelly's Directory of Kent. If you don't know, Kelly's were the leading business directory of the time and for many years before and after. The sort of Yellow Pages of their time, only nicely bound and traditional looking. This acquisition got me thinking about businesses on the High Street. In particular I was intrigued to find out what 142 High Street, the address of my new shop was back then. So I started wading through the listings out of sheer curiosity. After about an hour of looking through every business listing I still didn't find out what was at 142 but, in the process I did start to build up a picture of some of the other businesses at the north end of Tonbridge High Street. In 1938 Brownes the tailors were at 132 High Street; then there was Mollie a milliner at 134; Catling Cafe, later Smiths at 136, Mac Fisheries at 138, obviously a fishmonger; 140 was, and still is Clarke and Coleman Chemist;  Curry's Ltd. cycle agents were at 146. Charles Baker the motor agents were at 150 and the White Horse pub at 162. Opposite was the Rose and Crown, as you'd expect since its a 17th Century coaching house; the Tonbridge Free Press Newspaper offices were at 129 High Street, right opposite Mr. Books. Mansfield a ladies hosiery at 141, Bronsdon tobacconists at 143 and still of that name now. There were grocers, shoe shops, auctioneers, solicitors and everything else you'd expect to find in a thriving little market town. A customer who said he used to live above what is now the Pepper Grinder sandwich bar swears that 142 was a toy shop in the late 1940s when he was a kid but was it in 1938 necessarily? Can anyone fill in the gaps?...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hand Painted Signage....

On a more positive note about business in Tonbridge I feel rather excited about Mr. Books Bookshop at the moment. Normally I don't like to overtly promote my own little enterprise on this blog. (Well all right then just a little bit sometimes!) But when you have a brand spanking new shop front, which has been hand painted, and looks absolutely superb then maybe it's time to shout from the roof tops. Yes the borough council finally granted my listed building consent, as they told me they would probably do some ten weeks ago, so I didn't waste any time in getting it done. So here it is in all it's glory. My thanks to sign writer Steve Bronson, who I've known for over seven years now and he's always done a great job. Don't let him know that I'm singing his praises otherwise he might start putting his prices up! He doesn't just hand paint everything freehand, which is an art in itself, he also comes up with ideas along the way to make a greater visual impact. According to his web site he's been sign writing, man and boy, since 1987 and, for most of that time he's been self employed. So he must be doing something right. Apart from doing a great job he seems like a nice fella. Give him a try but don't blame TonbridgeBlog if all the paint peels off after a couple of weeks!...

Friday, June 29, 2012

Barriers to Business in Tonbridge. Part Two....

I said in the last posting that I wouldn't get started on the subject of business rates which is code in the blogging world for: That subject will probably be appearing on this blog very soon! So here goes. Probably the most often sighted reason for businesses failing is that of crippling business rates. I said in the last article that I'd speak from recent personal experience having moved my bookshop very recently to its new location. Let me tell you that experience has been a very steep learning curve for me indeed. When I was weighing up whether or not to take the plunge in moving from just off the High Street (Bank St.) to the more prominent position I'm in now, after rent, the most important consideration is that of business rates. In Bank Street I was enjoying 50% small business rate relief (SBR as the council calls it) and this rose to 100% relief due to a temporary government scheme which I still haven't fathomed although, obviously, I wasn't complaining.  I understand that this scheme finishes in 2013. When I enquired with Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council (TMBC as the council likes to call itself) a person, who I could name but that would be cruel, told me very adamantly that, in my new location, I would still get the 100% SBR that I been getting before. That is to say that I would pay a big fat zero business rates. I thought this was too good to be true so asked him to check it over not once but twice which he said he'd done. I'm not saying that I wouldn't have gone ahead anyway with the shop move but clearly it was a crucial part of my thinking when doing my business plans. So imagine my horror when, about a month in my new premises, I receive a Non Domestic Rates (Business rates to you and I) bill for nearly £2,500 for the year! "Bit of a difference between zero and £2,500" is what I screeched down the phone at another assistant in the council's rates department. She was pretty matter of fact about the whole thing, which only served to rile me even more, and just passed it off as a mistake by one of her colleagues who, in any case had now left the organisation. (Turns out even that wasn't quite correct.) All she was interested in was getting my bank details so that she could process my bill and get another moaning idiot off the phone (or at least that's how it felt.) I enquired later as to whether I could take this provision of mis-information up with anyone more senior to which she replied that there was no one around until the following week and, in any case, it wouldn't make any difference. She was probably right on that score but, not being one to be put off, I got the names and email addresses of al the senior people in that department and wrote to them to vent my spleen. Oh yes and I copied in the Chief Executive of TMBC also (that usually makes the pen pushers sit up and take notice!) In my later exchanges with another seniorish person, who seems to have been allocated this annoying idiot (me) I got other things off my chest like why do charity shops get 80% SBR when retailers like myself only get about 30%? Don't they want to encourage community shops as well? Surely, I told them,  TMBC must have some influence over the government directed policy of business rates and some disgression as regards the level of rate relief given. In the USA and other countries business rates, so I understand, are linked to the turnover of a business so that, as a business grows, the business rates would increase, therefore helping a business past the early stages and not, effectively, discouraging them from even giving it a go. This system to me seems like an infintely more acceptable method of charging for business rates instead of just a blanket charge for all. Unless of course Mary Portas is right. That councils are quite happy to let the High Street become waste lands, gettos of derelict buildings, boarded up shops and row upon row of charity shops each rubbing their hands after receiving their 80% rate relief....

Barriers to business in Tonbridge. Part One....

Anyway, enough of all that nicey nicey arts festival stuff and time for a good old moan. Today Tonbridge Blog asks: Am I living proof of what Mary, Queen of Shops, Portas has been banging on about? Remember she was the one who the Government took on to compile a report into British High Streets and concluded that there were far to many barriers to successfully launching and succeeding in setting up shops. In particular she sighted the demise of the traditional independent shops and the incessant rise of the charity shops. So how much is our dear own old council helping to encourage small businesses and retailers onto our increasingly desparate looking High Street? Having recently moved Mr. Books Bookshop from Bank Street to the High Street I feel quite well placed to examine some first hand evidence based on my own very recent experience. Now, on the whole, I'm a calm natured sort of bloke but it really does start to rile me when you find that you have to chase up the planning department of Tonbridge and Malling Council who, let's not forget, are supposed to be serving us and not the other way around, for listed building consent just to have your shop name painted over the shop window where it's supposed to go. Eight weeks they told me, which is poor to say the least in the current economic climate. Eight weeks it has know been and not a dickie bird out of them. There's no wonder the vast majority of businesses in the north end of the High Street simply ignore the need for such consent and just go ahead anyway. Eight weeks or more is totally unacceptable and goes against their claim to be pro-small independent retailers. It's just not on. Why can they not just send someone along to discuss your plans and give you the go ahead there and then if the application is a simple one? It beggars belief that you have to fill out ridiculously complicated forms, of which of course they want 3 copies of each, and becomes just another of the many hurdles to jump over when setting up a business. I'm sure that it's not the case but, it feels as though, the borough council are actively trying to put you off doing anything enterprising. And don't even get me started on Business rates....

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Working the Door for The Three Degrees....

And speaking of the performance by The Three Degrees last Sunday evening at K College myself and another big fella (Alan) from the organising committee offered to be on the door for the evening. Actually I believe the phrase is "working the door." A little known fact about Tonbridge Blog is that I did used to be a doorman, okay let's call it what everyone used to call it, a bouncer. Back in my student days, in order to earn a bit of cash me and my mate Steve used to be "Security Men" on the door of Loughborough Student Union building. Because there was always a little tension between the students and the young people from the town (Townies as we used to call them) quite often, charged up by alot of lager, things would kick off, mostly the trouble was nipped in the bud but, just occasionally, there'd be a mass brawl which could be quite scarey and a little exciting too. So you see for me the Three Degrees concert was not only a very enjoyable performance but also like going back thirty years. In those days I took the job pretty seriously; you had to have your wits about you if there was trouble. So, last Sunday, although the body has slowed down a little, the old instincts I found were still very much intact! I found myself eyeing people up to size up whether they were likely to cause trouble. I looked people over, especially the blokes, to see whether they were likely to be packing, you know, tooled up. I greeted the band members at the door in a doorman-like fashion, directing sponsors, artists and public with a calm, confident and assured smile. Friendly yet no nonsense. Ready to respond if necessary. I was tempted to say to people "Sorry mate no trainers or jeans" but then I realised that they are now allowed these days, encouraged even. If I'm honest I don't know which I enjoyed more. The performances or being back working the door!...

The Three Degrees and Me!...

The Three Degrees, me and some of the Tonbridge arts Fest committee at K College theatre
Well come on it's not every day you get to meet some living legends! The Three Degrees were superb at the the K College Theatre last Sunday Evening as the finale of the Tonbridge Arts Festival. You still got it girls. Way to go!! Sorry I came over all American there for a second....

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tonbridge Arts Overdose!...



The unusually named but brilliant Sorrel Nation on vocals
 




A touch of glass!

Last week was, well and truely, a massive overdose of the arts in Tonbridge. I was closely involved in the whole festival; in my capacity of committee member I was involved in the planning of it over the last, well, year really. In my capacity as loud mouth I was involved in some of the events themselves such as the poetry evening and the literary day on the castle lawn. In my capacity of lover of the arts I went to see paintings, photography, drama, musical performances, pottery and craft demonstrations and much more. Like I said, I overdosed on the arts for a whole week and it was marvelous. Right up to the finale which was the Three Degrees playing K College. Yes that's right, you didn't miss hear me I said The Three Degrees, the actual ones, and not a tribute band, who were doing a rare UK performance at our very own K College theatre. Incredible I know! If you missed all this arts extravaganza I do feel slightly sorry for you, especially since much of it was free or at least cheap. Was it well enough publicized? Difficult one really. I thought it was, the rest of the committee thought it was. Were we all too close to it to really know the answer to that? Probably. Why have I started to ask myself questions and then give the answers? I can't say! But, having said all that, I'm sure we could have done more to promote the festival, it's just knowing where to stop and deciding what's reasonable. Certainly many people have said to me that they didn't know very much about it until it was upon them. That bit we have got to get right for next year's....

That old fashioned printing's hard work!

Great demo of wood turning at The Vision on Sunday at the castle

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Poetry at the Rose & Crown last night....


Guest poet, Sarah Salway, in action


Lovely poem called memories
The Tonbridge Arts Festival is alive and kicking. Anyone who's ventured into the town centre over the last few days couldn't have failed to notice at least something. The Big Picture depicting an Olympic scene against the Castle Wall, the bunting and paintings along the riverside railings. Last night's Poetry night at the Rose & Crown proved at least one thing: that poetry, as an art form, is well and truely in fine fettle in Tonbridge. The organisers (and I was one of em) really didn't have much of a clue up to a day before as to whether there'd be ten people turning up or a hundred. The lack of football on the TV probably helped for, as it turned out, there was a sell out audience of around 70 people; all lovers of poetry in one way or another. The range of ages was encouraging, we even had a nine year old girl read out her winning poem from the under 16 competition, as were the varied styles of poetry. There wasn't quite any Scroobious Pip or any hip hop but the range was still pretty broad. The prizes for the poetry competition, which had been organise a few months ahead of the festival were awarded. Congrats to the winners and also everyone else who took part. If you missed out on this competition then keep an eye out for the next one as the prizes were hard cash of £500! Worth putting pen to paper for I'd say especially as it was free to enter. A fabulous evening and a real breath of fresh air. I can feel a regular Poetry at the R&C Night coming on. Watch this space! I'll leave you with the line I used in my introduction to the evening, which I actually paraphrased from the singer, Sting, who once, when accepting some prestigious music award, said that there was no need for any awards at all as: "Music is its own reward" So I'd like to say this to anyone who writes or appreciates poetry: Poetry is its own reward....

Guest poet Susan Wicks reads her powerful poetry


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Flash Choir amongst the shopping trollies....

....and speaking of the arts festival in Tonbridge over the next ten days, customers in Waitrose the other day were given just a small taste of the many delights in store. If you are in any doubt of the power of the arts, in this case the "flash choir," to surprise, entertain and to catch you unawares and to take your breath away. Then watch this YouTube clip of them in action.... 

The BIG Picture....


The Tonbridge Arts Festival is under way wth a big bang, well, more accurately, with a Big Picture. Cycling in to work this morning, as I often do on a Saturday, I just couldn't miss the huge painting of Olympic runners the whole height of the Castle wall. On closer inspection you'll see that it is made up of small individual squares, each one painted by a school kid or member of an art group. It's a real community effort and completely encapsulates what the spirit of the festival is all about. It catches you unawares and takes your breath away even if just fleetingly.
Further along by the river there's Art on the Railings which brings a distinct flavour of Rive Gauche right to the heart of Tonbridge. The various artists will be exhibiting (and selling) their art over the weekend. If you don't really have time for such trivialities then really you are in too much of a rush and should slow down the pace a little. Spend ten minutes down by the river at some point over the weekend and I guarantee it'll make you feel better about life and more relaxed....

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Eve of the Arts Festival....

Tonbridge Arts Festival starts tomorrow. You may have seen the Big Picture being erected against the Castle wall by the river as the first clue that something special is about to happen. For me this has been a long time coming. Over a year in fact since the first meeting I attended about the 2012 event. And here we are on the eve of what is sure to be a fabulous ten days of arts overdose. Pick up a programme from various places including Mr. Books (naturally) the Angel Centre and libraries. There are loads of free events and quite a few cheapo ones like the poetry evening at the Rose and Crown hotel and The Word on the Castle lawn, as well as some spectacular events such as the actual Three Degrees performing at K College. Look at the festival web site and get yourselves out and about. It will be a right royal celebration of the arts in your own town....

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tonbridge Carnival Highlights....

I haven't looked at this film on YouTube yet but someone took the trouble to film the whole of the Tonbridge Carnival on Sunday. Anyone with the brass neck to call himself Trevor "Spielberg" Arnold deserves at least to be given a chance! So click here and don't blame TBlog if its no good....

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tonbridge Arts Festival starts next Friday the 15th....

There's a good write up in the centre spread of the Courier's ents guide this weekend all about the Tonbridge Arts Festival. Having worked on this as part of the main committee for over a year now I find it staggering that, with less than a week to go before the ten day event kicks off, hardly anyone seems to know about it. Everyone close to the festival knows how much effort has been put in however there's still a way to go before ticket sales will reach levels at which we can all sit back and pat ourselves on the backs. Despite what it says in the programme which many of you may have received by now, you can book many events online and not just at the Angel Centre. You can also phone the Angel Centre to block book tickets for most events. And yes you will be able to pay on the door for events as it's highly unlikely that many will be completely sold out. Better to book in advance of course but otherwise just turn up. There's a great selection of events to choose from and you can view them all on the festival website. You can even follow it on twitter if you're into that social networking malarkey. I know I am. I'm sure, as they say, it'll be alright on the night. PLEASE!!!!

Sunday in Tonbridge should be pretty exciting....

Tomorrow should be a nice day out for Tonbridge folk. I mean how often do you get the Tonbridge Farmers Market, the Mabledon boot fair, Tonbridge Carnival and fete all in one day? And as if that wasn't enough quite a few shops will be open for business including of course the new look Mr. Books at 142 High Street. So that's a working day for me then but a great day out for most other people. As Winston Churchill once probably never said though: "Find a job you love doing and you'll never work another day in your life!"

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mr. Books is completely round the bend....

Goodbye 2 Bank Street. Hello 142 High Street!

....and take a deep breath! Mr. Books has now moved around the corner to 142 High Street. That's it I'm completely out of the old shop in Bank Street and installed in the new one. It's open although there's still quite a bit of work to be done. The sack barrow is back in storage though and the month long sort out has been done. It proved to be a very worthwhile excercise sorting through over 12,000 books. The new shop window has proved to be very popular as passers by stop and marvel at the array of old trunks and suitcases, hats and typewriters, letters and post cards. What's all that about? Well it's the first of many window themes and this one's called World Traveller. So watch out for the others coming about once a month. I'd love to say that it was all my own work but have to confess that none of it was. All the credit has to go to my Creative Director, otherwise known as my wife. She calls it work but secretly we both know that she loves doing the displays! Anyway must go as there's much more to be done tweaking here, arranging there, sorting and aphabeticising (if that's a word) and other stuff. I had masses of help moving in over the past week or two from a few very kind customers and members of the Tonbridge Civic Society in particular (you know who you are) as wel as my family. You could say it's all been a bit of a community effort which can't be a bad thing. That help is very much appreciated if not always rewarded. I hope to be in business for at least the next ten years so please come in, have a browse, buy some older books, order brand new ones instead of using the dreaded Amazon and just come in for a read and a chat if you like. More later as things develop and time permits....
The Old Mr. Books disappears without a trace!