Saturday, September 28, 2013

Real bargains outside Mr. Books for £1....

Mr. Books has been selling loads of books priced at a round pound from outside the shop today. No wonder when you consider what some of them were. For example there were some hardback Terry Pratchett first editions in amongst the usual selection of paperbacks. Some lucky customer just picked up the complete works of George Bernard Shaw for a quid also. It's always worth having a quick browse if you're up this end of town....

Juice Master....


The Funky Fresh Juice Book [Plus Jute Bag & 7Ibs Book]Despite the bad night's sleep last night (see earlier post) I have become an over night fan of Jason Vale the self proclaimed Juice Master. The often unlikely blends of apple, celery, spinach, lime, pineapple and ginger for example are absolutely delicious over ice. I bought a juicer last week really just because I didn't want to waste the bumper crop of apples we've had this year on my one tree. It has been very effective at juicing all those apples I'd usually discard but has become much more than that. Think I'll try the carrot, apple, beetroot, celery, lettuce and avocado recipe later on. I'm so impressed that I've approached the Juice Master himself to do a book signing and demo at Mr. Books. He's sold millions of his raw diet and recipe books and watching his videos there's no wonder why, he just oozes enthusiasm for the delicious juices. Let's hope he can squeeze me in!...

A Mad night....

Feeling very tired this morning. I now realise that getting home and making several energizing juice drinks, Jason Vale Juicemaster-style, with my new juicer machine, having a very late Chinese takeaway (their fault not ours) half a bottle of Pino Grigio whilst watching the first two episodes of Mad Men Series 5 on dvd and then, to cap it all, staying up till 2am to watch 10 Rillington Place, the story of serial killer Reginald Chrisitie does not a good night's kip make!...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mr. Books Dilema....

This may sound a bit like a book title but actually this is no joke. Sometimes blogging can be a bit of fun. Sometimes it can be a way of breaking local and even occasional international news. Today I'm getting something off my chest.
I've been getting quite anxious over what to do with Mr. Books now for quite some time. Since moving from around the corner 16 months ago the shop has become a lot busier and, whilst not what I'd call thriving, the move has more than paid for itself. So why be anxious then? Well, you only have to pick up a newspaper or, as is increasing more likely, an i-pad, to see that bookshops have been closing at a rate of aprox. two per week across the country. So you might appreciate that it's not just my dilemma. The thought of struggling by for very little profit for another ten years or so is a little heart breaking. I love what I do but, as I always joke, this is the hardest I've ever worked, for the longest hours and for the least money! That's fine so long as your labour of love is occasionally rewarded. Those rewards are becoming less and less frequent as more and more people buy online, or cheap from supermarkets or, worst of all, down load e-books. Then there's the dreaded charity shops whose proliferation has choked the market still further. The rise of Oxfam Books, a dedicated charity bookshop with over 130 shops and a huge book barn in Huddersfield, might be the final nail in the coffin. There's little point in barking on, as many book dealers do, about how Oxfam pay little or no business rates, (Mr. Books pays around £3,000 a year btw) get all their stock free and have an army of volunteers. Little point really at all as it's all been said lots of times before. In short with all these combined forces it's becoming more and more difficult for it to make any kind of business sense having a bricks and mortar shop. You can only hold back the sea for so long. Eventually, inevitably it will break the defences and come crashing over you. Whilst new book sales have picked up a lot since moving onto the High Street one is still left with the feeling that you are being thrown the scraps from afew groups such as the lovely community minded folk, the older people who aren't computer savvy and those people who still like good old fashioned service. The problem is, and to a large extent I don't blame them, people will generally vote with their pockets and they have more and more opportunities to do so. Consequently the physical High Street bookshop is being hit from all angles and not really being helped very much by anyone. So what would I do instead? Well the obvious choice would be to do what 95% of book dealers do which is to trade online, by catalogue and at book fairs. The London Book Fair I often attend usually earns me more in a day than the shop does in a good week. That with no overheads, no lease agreement, no long term risk. Most book web sites charge around £30 per month and once again, there's no long term commitment. To be honest the only advantage of having a shop, apart from the sheer love of it, is the amount of books which get offered to you means you have constant supply. That said at present my storage is bursting at the seams. The books come in a lot faster than they go out!
The other possibility, and definitely my preferred solution, is to genuinely turn Mr. Books into a community shop with the community having a part share in the business. I haven't thought this through in any great depth yet or, for that matter, costed it out, but it might work something like this: several individuals, societies and interested bodies get together with myself and decide the value of the business, I keep half the business and they the other half between them. It could possibly be turned into a registered charity which becomes non profit making and gets all the benefits enjoyed by these organisations such as huge business rate relief. I myself would provide expertise and still help to run the shop along with volunteers and young work experience people helping out.  If anyone is interested in this idea then please do get in touch. I hope it wouldn't be too big an exaggeration if I said that it could help save part of the heart and soul of our little town....

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Litter bugging me.....

Litter is a constant nuisance in Tonbridge and pretty much every other town up and down the land. Why don't people just put their cans, bottles, crisp packets, cigarette butts and, especially, kebab wrappers in a bin, or carry it home with them? It really is that simple. Other countries cope with litter by better education and instilling a sense of civic pride in people. The sign outside the Alms Houses on Pembury Road, next to the Police Station, sounds a bit of a desperate, feeble plea against the inevitable and just shows how big a problem this is. Will it make the slightest bit of difference though to the kind of selfish, ignorant morons who are either too drunk of stupid to care? I doubt it....

Heritage Weekend.....


I think the organisers of Heritage Weekend in Tonbridge were quite lucky in the end as they just about missed the worst of the storm which swept across England that day. I'm told that most of the strange folk dressed as medieval knights, merchants and peasants slept in their tents over night so they were even luckier to escape the eye of the storm. I did manage to go along briefly on Sunday to the Medieval Fayre and got to see this little fella. It's a Pygmy Owl and the cutest thing you've ever seen. Some people say that I have a bit of an owl-like face so maybe I have a soft spot for these nocturnal creatures being as they may be an ancient ancestor! Less cute was the open air toilet which made me wretch slightly even though it was clearly a fake; if you look closely you can just about make out the rat crawling among the foul mess. What's that? It wasn't a fake? The exhibitors had actually been using it? That's just disgusting!....
Number two 13th Century style!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Heritage Weekend....


Apparently it's Heritage Weekend today and tomorrow. Medieval events going on the Castle lawn, stuff happening at the parish church. Free entry to the Castle Gatehouse and probably other things. Please someone tell us more. I may even open up Mr. Books on Sunday to mark the occasion....

Tonbridge Blog & Tonbridge Mirror.....

Hope you like the new name. I thought about making it just The Tonbridge Mirror but considered this a step too far in one go so, depending on the reaction it gets, the name change could become a permanent fixture. I thought Tonbridge Mirror because this blog could be said to Reflect (geddit?) the events, views and opinions of it's readers. As you know TBlog always likes to take into account the views of its audience!...

A night out in Goudhurst....


Now I'm feeling a little groggy today after a bit of a late night. No not the sort of late night that my 19 year old son puts himself through. You know what I mean: pre-lash at his mate, Tom's, house, followed by Spoons till 10-30, Fusion till 4am and doner kebab on the way back to another mates house where he's crashing down for what little remains of the night. No not that sort of late night. My younger teenage daughter and her friends were going to a party in, of all places Goudhurst and my wife and I had, in a weak moment, offered to drive her there. So we thought, rather than drive there and back twice we'd spend the evening in Goudhurst or Cranbrook. Last night was a rotten night for driving with the rain lashing down all the way down the busy A21 so I was in a pretty irritable mood when we finally arrived. Dropped daughter and friends off in some quiet country lane at a stranger's house, gulp, and then had four hours to kill before the pick up time. Tried the Peacock, on the main road to Cranbrook, first but felt a little uneasy in there, you know like that scene from American Werewolf in London when the two back packers walk into the pub on the Yorkshire Moors and all the conversation stops whilst the regulars observe them. Well it wasn't quite that bad but getting somewhere close to that. There was no one eating in there even though the menu looked okay. It was a rainy night but that didn't excuse it so we went with our instincts and walked out. On to the Goudhurst Inn which looked very nice and plush indeed. The menu wasn't cheap but looked affordable enough. Posh Beer Battered Fish and Chips and mushy peas on the side for £13.25 that sort of thing. We'd noticed an Italian ristorante, as they say in Naples, on the way through so we asked in the pub about that and the reports were quite glowing so that's where we ended up. We made a mental note to go back to the Goudhurst Inn later for a night cap if we had time. The Italian is called La Zia Maria and it was lovely. Lovely food, even though we only had pizza, lovely friendly service, not over attentive or sucking up to you but just the right balance. It certainly seemed natural to the waiters. The spiciness of mine was a little too much though I have to admit so that'll teach me to go for the Piccante! Should have opted for the Quattro Staggioni probably. The deserts looked fab as well and we tried the tiramisu which was divine and, we were told, home made. The selection of beers, as is nearly always the case in this type of restaurant was a little limited and I can't really say much about the wine as I didn't have any but I'm sure that the list was fairly extensive. It would have been nice to have seen the odd micro brewery, craft bottled beer on the list but maybe that's just asking to much. The waiter even pointed out to me when I tried to leave a tip that we'd already paid a 10% discretionary service charge which was honest of him. Oh and he also brought a small glass of cold milk for me to cool down the mouth after that chilli pizza. All in all I would definitely recommend La Zia Maria and we will definitely return soon. Even the name of the place itself gives you a nice warm feeling. Doesn't quite have the same ring to it in English but it means The Auntie Mary and everyone has one of them don't they? Named after the owner's favourite Great Aunt with an old black and white photo of her given pride of place. We rounded off the evening with that night cap in the, now mostly empty, Goudhurst Inn in the outside covered area by an open fire. Then that drive back to Tonbridge in the rain....
Image of La Zia Maria set in the pretty village of Goudhurst

Demise of the Post Office....

My comments on a Charles Moore's column today about Royal Mail privatization.... See article here on Telegraph web site  He points out that in less than a hundred years we've gone from 12 punctual deliveries every day to just one half hearted delivery six days a week. How did this happen? How did we get here??


"Sadly I have to agree with this. My experience of the postal service in recent times is mainly queuing up at the central post office in Tonbridge. You wait 5 or ten minutes to be called by a computerized voice to the relevant counter. You are then served by, usually a woman, who looks like she'd rather be any where else but serving you. As they used to say on Coronation Street "A face as long as Rosamund Street!" Being a bookseller I go to the PO at least twice a week and it's my least pleasurable part of the week.  Not so long ago I used to drive to a nice little sub Post Office which was on my way home. Olive was lovely and knew everyone by name; she'd often remind me to put "Printed Papers" on my boxes and envelopes. Of course they closed her down in the last round of sub PO closures. In fact when I moved to Tonbridge 20 odd years ago there were, I think, nine sub POs around the outskirts of the town. Now there are just two. Would privatization improve this situation? Let's hope so because, as you say Charles, a virtually monopoly means that, to paraphrase an old ad campaign, they try less harder!..."

And...

"I do hope that they keep the post boxes red. I still remember the great feeling of pride when my mum trusted me to run to the post box on the corner of the street. I was about six I suppose. Somehow the memory wouldn't be quite the same if it had been a clear plastic box!..."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

New Harry Potter film....

Great news for Hogwarts and Harry Potter fans....read on using this link

That comment about the Castle Inn....

She is a bit naughty that Tonbridge reporter, Shams, on the Courier. She phones me up and asks me to comment about the closure of the Castle Inn on the bridge and I said that I didn't know it was to close. She then pushes me in her own special, innocent, quiet way to make some sort of comment and I think I said something, words to the effect, that it would make a nice bookshop cafĂ© being in such a great location. "There..." I said, "...that's my comment." We then went on to chat about it and, before I know, my motor mouth has made reference to me being put off every time I walk past by the karaoke and the pool table and the feeling of it being a bit of a regular's place, I may have said estate- type pub. I thought about it after our phone call and wondered whether that would be the comment she'd use and, sure enough, it was. Next thing I know I've got people jokingly shouting You snob! through my shop doorway at me. Very sneaky Shams, very sneaky indeed. Still it's only what I'd do in her job so good look to her....

Filming Tonbridge....

Film crew out at the north end of Tonbridge High Street this morning. Anyone have a clue as to what they were filming? Perhaps it's another one of those documentaries about the demise of the tradition high street and how they're full of empty shops, hairdressers, estate agents, charity shops and cafes....

Strange Brew.....

ChapelDown Vineyard
Here's a subject that's closer to the hearts of a few T Blog readers. Beer. I've tried a number of bottle conditioned local (ish) ales over the summer and I particularly liked Hopsmack by Groombridge Brewery. That would be my winner. The draft beers I've particularly enjoyed have been Brew Dog and that one by Chapel Down called Curious Brew. I tasted these in Sankey's, Tunbridge Wells and will be back for more before the autumn leaves start to fall....

Edwin Apps back to haunt me!...

Edwin Apps was in Tonbridge recently for an exhibition and book signing. He was the guy who wrote All Gas and Gaiters, the long running comedy series with Dereck Nimmo as the bumbling clergyman. Edwin was a smashing chap and this is his latest exhibition if you happen to be near La Rochelle in the Vende area of France! There's something about his paintings I find fascinating and quite haunting. In fact I've got one on my wall at home and wouldn't mind this one as well....

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Live book viewing with Skype on Mr. Books web site


Two new features on the Mr. Books multi coloured web site: You can now pay directly through the site on Paypal by simply clicking on the button. The other new feature is the Skype live viewing button. Customers can now click on the Skype button and view books live (and me for that matter) which is a lot quicker than trying to describe them on the phone. I think that you'll agree that this will revolutionize the book trade!...

Multi coloured bookshop....

MR. BOOKSBookshop

The new colourful Mr. Books website

Booker Prize coming up....

I've been at it again on the blogosphere. With this years awards coming up soon here are my thoughts about the Booker Prize in response to a Telegraph article:

"Bringing Up the Bodies? Haven't read and won't as I hated most of Wolf Hall. A Sense of an Ending I enjoyed v much; Finkler Question was superb; White Tiger was pretty damned good, The Gathering was good but wrist slashingly depressing; Line of Beauty was beautiful provided you don't mind copious gay sex descriptions; Vernon God Little I thoroughly enjoyed; Life of Pi was ace and a still haven't watched film which I've been meaning to all summer; The Blind Assassin wasn't too bad, Disgrace was harrowing but fabulous; God of Small things I couldn't get on with; Rites of Passage is a must read. That's not a bad record of the ones I've read. The one that I thought let them down (and this is controversial I know) was the supposed Booker of Bookers, Midnight's Children. Perhaps it was over my head as customers in my bookshop have said that it's their all time favourite book. Maybe I should stick to flogging them instead of trying to actually read them!!.."

Anyone have anything to add to that?...