Nothing says Christmas like rubber eyeballs

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Image: Pixabay

 

It’s a bit late in the day to be writing a blog post. Late for me, anyway.

You see, I’ve been out this morning, trawling the high street, eschweing the decadent comforts of online shopping to rub shoulders with the Great Unwashed, the Great Impolite – the Great ‘Getting in my sodding way when I want a look at that vegan, gluten-free, flavour-free cookbook / rubber eyeballs on that shelf’*. 

Yes, I was Christmas shopping.

It can be a painful experience, can’t it? Especially when you have a couple of really important people to buy for and no idea exactly what they want.

It feels a little like a marathon, or a trek through the wilderness, where, overcome by the weight of novelty slippers in the shape of Darth Vader, chocolates resembling reindeer droppings and boas of tinsel as thick as your arm, you begin to over heat.

The blowers are pumping hot air into every store and you’ve worn your winter coat even though it’s an unseasonably warm December day, and you can’t take it off because you’ve nowhere to stow it. And you become so hot and weary and hassled and distracted by all the lights and tinny carols, you are in serious danger of making some rather poor decisions …

Wonder if Auntie Doreen would like a Russian Roulette game with chilli chocolates. How about a knitted willy warmer for Uncle Fred – just his colours …

Needing sanctuary, I ran for the safe haven of Waterstones, probably the UK’s largest surviving book chain.

I wanted the soft lighting, the dark bookshelves, the low music and hushed voices …

I found a pimped-up bookstore with a sofa-strewn cafe where ‘Science’ and the ‘Arts’ used to be, an entire section selling readers’ accessories (magnifying glasses, bookmarks, tiny lamps you clip to your book or your nose or wherever) and what can only be described as a toy shop attached to ‘childrens’  literature’.

It was bright, lively – humming with people. There was a school trip camped out in the cafe trashing their new carpet with destroyed Lemon Drizzle.

I so longed for the dreary gloom of the old shop.

***

What do you think of modern bookshops? Is it a shame they have to diversify to survive or do you think there’s no shop that can’t be improved by tea and cake? Do let me know.

*Yes, that’s right – there’s nothing that says Christmas to an eleven year old boy more than a rubber eyeball.

40 thoughts on “Nothing says Christmas like rubber eyeballs

  1. Another great post, which I loved so much! I actually love Christmas shopping. I love it because I get to drag my husband to the mall so we can go crazy buying presents for our kids lol. As to your question on modern day Bookshops. I don’t like how modern some of them are. I love old, rustic, book shops where the smell of old and new books alike linger in the air. However I am starting to love coffee sections in book stores, especially large ones! Because I could literally spend the whole entire day looking at every single book and that gets tiring! So it is nice to have a little break from shopping after a couple of hours. Because I have been known to literally buy 50 books in one shopping trip! I am just so lucky my husband loves reading as well, but this was me holding back! Lol. Great post Lynn!!!

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    1. Thank you so much. Yes, I have to say, if the cafe hadn’t been heaving with kids, I would have loved to stop for a drink as I was shattered by then. Had to make do with a takeaway from a chain coffee shop – not the same at all 🙂 Part of me thinks it’s a shame to cram the aisles with things which aren’t books when there are so very many wonderful books around they could stock instead. But I’d rather they do that and survive than not have a coffee shop and close down, so – it’s a hot chocolate and a gluten free muffin for me next time I’m in there 🙂

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      1. I know that feeling! But I understand about loads of children! That is why I always make sure I go book shopping during the week during school times! I actually try and avoid going to the mall at the weekends also because of how busy it gets! It actually shocks me how busy they get in America, I thought England was bad! And honestly, having a hot chocolate and muffin during a book shopping break is the best thing in the world!

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      2. I know how you feel – the crowds in the shops were horendous on Saturday. So much better yesterday. Though I’m not the most enthusiastic shopper at the best of times – except when buying books, when I do get rather excited to be adding to my TBR pile 🙂

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  2. I love bookshops which provide food (and drink) for the body as well as for the mind, but not if it’s at the expense of a greater choice of books. I understand (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/feb/28/waterstones-james-daunt-interview-books-bookshops-ebooks) that each Waterstones branch is now under more independent management, with book stock and disposition decided on locally rather than centrally, and staff in civvies rather than a supermarket-style uniform. This gives each branch a more individual feel, more akin to an indie bookshop, and in fact it’s good that indies and Waterstones now seem to have a more collaborative role as co-defenders of the supply of ‘real’ books.

    Bad luck with the school trip. At least schoolkids are being shown such strange beasts exist and, who knows, may come to feel more kindly disposed towards the whole caboodle …

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    1. To be fair, they must have lost some of their range, but much of the floor space for the cafe was just where some tables were and they’ve opened up the kids’ section and seem to have made that bigger if anything, which is kind of lovely.
      Maybe I would have felt more kindly disposed to the new shop if there had been room for me in the cafe . Instead I had to content myself with a coffee chain overly sweet hot chocolate on the go. 😦 Interesting about each Waterstones having more independence – perhaps a recognition that they need to be more flexible to local needs in order to survive?

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  3. I go in for the bookshops with the romance of narrow walkways, books stacked higher than you can reach, and that smell…but they’re hard to come by. Did find one in Edinburgh off Grassmarket that was just dreamy; the kids got a couple old Calvin & Hobbes books there. Yeah, I don’t like the bright-lit ones so much, but I try to buy from them to keep them in business, so spread my money around a bit. There are many great bookshops in Portland OR if you ever find yourself there, for some reason. Some are cash only too, which I like. It’s like, “plan ahead.” Portland is a great city for books, about three hours south of where we live, outside Seattle.

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    1. Funnily enough, we considered moving to Portland a few years ago – there’s an animation company there called Laika and my other half could’ve had a job there. Didn’t come off, though we have friends who were working there this year. If things had worked out differently, I might have become familiar with the very book shops you’re talking about 🙂 I do love an old bookshop – there is nothing like that smell. Though, as you say, we have to buy new too, or all the authors in the world will go bankrupt 🙂

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  4. I refuse to buy anything off Amazon because they almost single-handedly destroyed bookstores. Bookstores were so important to me. I lived in New York City for a long spell and you could spend an afternoon walking from bookstore to bookstore. It’s all gone now. It makes me feel my age. Like an old man complaining about the damn kids on his front lawn. But to hell with Amazon. Bezos is a jerk.

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    1. I know what you mean. I intentionally travelled into our city centre yesterday to order a book for someone for Christmas – could’ve ordered it off Amazon and had it in my hand in a couple of days, but wanted to spend my money in the book shop. Some retailers seem to be rallying after a rocky few years – hopefully consumers are beginning to realise if we don’t use our local shop, we’ll lose them 🙂

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  5. I’ve been working in bookstores since the 90s. What’s hurt us more than anything is simply the availability of free information on the internet. People used to go to bookstores looking for books on baby names, fixing their kitchen sink, building a back porch, tending to their garden. Now they Google that stuff, or watch a YouTube video, or record HGTV on their DVR. Or there’s an app for it. That’s not the only thing that’s changed, but it’s the most significant. Even more so than Amazon and ebooks. It’s the main reason book stores have morphed into toy stores and gift shops.

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    1. My other half and I were talking about this just the other day – the ubiquity of free information on any subject. He was saying how he’d picked up certain bass playing tips from Youtube and that at one time this just wouldn’t have been out there to use – he would’ve needed a book or a tutor (though he’s still had lessons on top, to be fair). In some ways the net is amazing for that, for passing on knowledge for free – it’s democratising, anti-elitist, I suppose. But then it’s also dangerous culturally, because we have a generation who don’t expect to pay for all of these things – books, music, film, specialist knowledge – and quality should cost.
      Some things are just better in book form, anyway – we bought a huge Atlas earlier this year and that’s magical, pawing over the giant pages, learning about all the places we’ve only ever heard of. You can’t get the same experience online.

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      1. Oh yes, I can look at a maps all day long, especially an atlas. It is kind of magical, transportive. (Is that a word?) It’s not the same on a computer screen. Although I must say Google earth is pretty freakin’ awesome starting in space and zooming down to your house. And creepy to see your own car parked in the driveway.

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  6. I have seen our main local bookshop being bought out by a conglomerate, and sod on to Waterstones. I never entirely trusted Waterstones, and time appears to have bourne out my fears. These big companies either buy up or destroy all the competition, and then show their true colours. (Holland and Barrett being another example – because of them we have few real health-food shops in the country, while they make a large portion of their money selling body-building garbage.) I like the idea of a cafe having books in it, but not a bookshop having a cafe. It sounds to me as if they can’t wait to crowd the space out so much with frippery that there’ill no longer be room for books. I hope this hasn’t happened to Foyles.
    Or have they, too, been bought out by Waterstones…

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    1. Not sure of the who-owns-who, though pretty sure our Foyles had a cafe – it’s in the process of moving, so we’ll see whether the new one has a cafe too. Problem is that more and more people are buying online so of course the smaller shops were struggling and the larger ones will always have the scope to survive better. A fellow blogger who’s been working in bookshops for years, says what hit their trade more was people looking online for help with practical things – recipes, DIY tips etc – where at one time they would’ve bought a book on the subject. I do wonder what we’re going to do with all of the retail units which are emptying out. They can’t all be used for pop-up Christmas shops and temporary art galleries 🙂

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      1. I’d forgotten Foyles had a cafe, but the shop was so big that it was easy to miss. I didn’t know they were moving.
        I suppose we’re all responxible to some extent for the decline of bookshops. The thing i always noticed about cookery books was that I would buy one and only use a few of the recipes in it, so I stopped buying them because they were cluttering up space where novels and art books could have been.
        In Barnstaple quite a few of the shops in residential areas have been converted back to houses or flats, but that wouldn’t work in a shopping centre!
        If landlords weren’t so greedy they could rent units out as craft workshops and suchlike, and our high streets would become interesting again.

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      2. Yes, I find I do the same with cook books, Jane – quite often search for recipes on the BBC Food site, cutting out the need for books 🙂
        We have had the odd arty project near us in recent months and years – a little conglomerate exercise set up in a local empty unit and their was another bunch who did some interesting, satirical work. Though, as the latter were squatting, they were thrown out after a while and the place is now sitting empty, metal sheeting up at the windows. Better by far to have someone in there, rather than no one, you’d think.

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      3. I’m sad about the law that stopped people from squatting in unwanted properties. My nephew lived in a squat in Bristol – they went more for politics than satire – although they’re often inter-connected. He went through a phase of getting arrested for his activities, but in the end he got sick of living in squalor and worrying his mum. He’s a lovely guy, and he takes after his dad, who opened a very successful squat in Barnstaple about forty years ago – for a while nobody in this town slept on the streets, thanks to him.

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      4. It’s ridiculous these things can’t be organised in some way – there are willing volunteers everywhere who could keep an eye on things, though I’d understand if people felt nervous about it . For all the homeless people who just want somewhere safe to be, there are few who’s problems cause them to be violent. According to my Big Issue friend, it’s what makes living in a hostel so awful.

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      5. Yes, true – guys needing money to support their habits, perhaps. I have heard some say the streets can sometimes be safer than hostels. A lot of rough sleepers here in Bristol now – seem to be more all the time. There’s one regularly sleeps in the vestibule of the City Museum, so he has a nice view of their Christmas tree lights at the moment! Let’s hope the weather stays mild for their sakes

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      6. Yes. We have a guy here in Barnstaple in a wheelchair. He’s probably hardier than he looks – been on the streets for years, but one day the cold will take him out. It’s tragic. There’s a really good project here called the Freedom Centre. They have a centre where they feed people daily and provide showers and sleeping space in freezing weather, as well as finding housing and all kinds of support and essentials, but they can’t let this guy in because he has a tendency to kick off. It’s terribly sad. When I was speaking to him a few weeks ago he said he was “Just an alcoholic.”
        Just an alcoholic – what happened to his hopes and dreams?

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      7. I remember wathing a few snippets from the documentary series ‘Seven Up’ a few years ago. Did you ever watch that? Where the programme makers revisited the same kids every 7 years? There was one particular child – in the original black and white programme he was seven, sweet faced, full of dreams and possibilities for the future. In subsequent programmes things were darker – he was homeless, had mental health problems. Then in one catch up programme they couldn’t even find him. Then in the next they found him again, he seemed less lost, a bit straighter. All those little boys and girls who dreamed of being ‘something’ and ended up alcoholic, on the streets. Tragic

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      1. Thank you, but when I read people like Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell and Patrick Ness, I feel very pedestrian. But then, we can’t all be hugely successful, genius writers, can we? 🙂 I have had the odd idea inspired by my dreams – the basis of a children’s book and its title, for instance. But most ideas just come through linking a couple of things together. It’s a joy when something just pops in your head and you think – yes, that’s good 🙂

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      2. That’s the trouble with reading good books – it’s hard to believe you could ever write anything that matches up to it. Some writers don’t care; all they want is success. I can’t be like that – at the age of ten my ambition was to write as well as Somerset Maugham – I just checked the spelling of his surname; I didn’t realise it ended with an M…

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      3. Yes, oddd name, isn’t it? I’ve never read any of his books – I don’t even know any titles. You wanted to be Somerset Maugham at the age of ten? I was still reading Enid Blyton then! Blimey, your reading was very advanced.

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      4. I ran out of books I wanted to read, so I read the ones on my parent’s shelves. I read “Not So Quiet” while I was still at primary school. It’s about the women in the ambulance crew on the Western Front during WW1. Truly horrific.

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      5. I thought so at the time, but I haven’t read anything of his since I discovered Camus, Hesse, Kafka, Huxley and Orwell in my teens. During that time the only uplifting books I read were Asterix and The Moomins. I was a model art student, and these things had to be done. At least I gave Jean-Paul Sartre a miss…

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