Friday, 29 July 2016

WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE! Or, On Second Thoughts . ..

Yesterday afternoon, I spoke without thinking about the full consequences. (There’s a lot of “forgetting the full consequences” in the air at the moment, in my opinion.) I'd left the CRANKY LAPTOP to itself and gone into town to buy a few needful things.

Now, in the morning, I’d been pondering about the plight of Jo Cotterill’s LIBRARY OF LEMONS. The week before, when I'd been in my local Waterstones, I'd expected to see a copy on the shelves. There wasn't. When I asked why, their system replied that it was out of stock. As the title's been mentioned in the media recently, the absence was a puzzle.  I’ve since checked and there are plenty of copies. They just weren't in my Waterstones. 

So, though I got no Lemons, there were books I wanted. I bought the new David Solomon’s MY GYM TEACHER IS AN ALIEN as a present and Terry Pratchett’s THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN for myself and a couple of other titles. Quite a big spend. 

However, what with all the flourishing of Gift Card and my SoA discount card and the bookseller's nudge about Why Not Choose a Half Price Title?, my itsy-bitsy little Points Card missed being stamped at the till. (Still with me?)  

So, yesterday, as I’d be passing, I decided to call in again and claim my red-stamped rights. Gradually, as Waterstones Central has pulled itself together again, this smallish two-storey branch in town has become busier and better. 

I could hear faint hammering and sawing sounds overhead. Workmen passing purposefully in and out from vans outside. 

"Improvements," I thought, idly, as I waited at the till. "More shelving. Good."

Then I saw a printed Notice: an A4 sheet apologising and announcing that this Waterstones branch would soon have its own in-house coffee shop.

I was, at that moment, delighted. Enchanted, even. I love being surrounded by books and I do like coffee. In fact, I was surely in need of a coffee right then? Immediately I started daydreaming about sitting in such a place musing, scribbling notes, all that Being A Writer stuff.
 “A great idea”, I told the nice young man stamping and squiggling on the grid on my Points Card.
Instantly enthusiastic, he told me he'd been drafted in from the big city branch and that he missed having the scent of coffee around him. We nodded our mutual approval. The shop might not be that large, but a coffee shop is a coffee shop, right? Surely? 
However, as I stepped back out on to the pavement again, all at once I was definitely not smelling the coffee. Suddenly I thought Oh! Coffee Shop? That means FEWER books!” and I felt very dim and stupid. 

My just-a-fantasy coffee shop would be taking up real world space. Furthermore, this is in a town that has a host of coffee shops but only one such bookshop! Even worse, after my positive response, I could now imagine those higher up in Waterstones being told “Yes, the customers are really happy about it.” 

How I wished I’d kept my mouth shut! But that wasn’t all. I remembered, back when I’d been browsing for Solomon’s book, that there'd been a notice by the front door: a friendly, wacky, hand-written advert for a Full-time, Experienced Bookseller. I’d wondered which of the long-term staff had gone but the queue had made it impossible to ask.   

Now I wondered if that "coffee V. book-stock" choice had been a real book-lover's last sip? A change just that bit too far? Especially as there was now an equally friendly, wacky advert for an Experienced Coffee Shop Manager?

Ah, well. Ah, well. I do truly wish my Waterstones bookshop – all bookshops – well in these tough times. None of it is easy. Will the planned coffee shop work out? I don’t know. Will it bring in more book-buying customers or attract more book-selling staff? I don’t know.

Nor, thinking on it, could I be absolutely certain that those upstairs improvements are why the teen and Y/A section was currently squashed back into the children’s corner? Or if that was why there was no shelving space or stock for A LIBRARY OF LEMONS?  

I must say that the coffee had taken on a bitter taste.
Onwards. Where else can one go?

Tuesday, 26 July 2016


The Cranky Laptop is back already, although by stealing a post from my old blog but one that I rather liked . . .

. . . On my Books To Be Read shelf, there’s now a most interesting title: NIGHT WALKING by MATTHEW BEAUMONT: A NOCTURNAL HISTORY OF LONDON: CHAUCER TO DICKENS”, a book which isn’t, I think, likely to be sitting in your local Waterstones.

I haven’t read the book yet so it’s waiting like a little treasure-box waiting to be opened. I found the title about a week ago in an independent bookshop I’d been meaning to visit for a long time: THE NEWHAM BOOKSHOP in East London.

It wasn’t the most thorough of viewings. I'd driven all the way from Oxford-shire, got caught in the late afternoon traffic and arrived way too late on a Thursday afternoon.  The youthful staff were very kind and polite. I’d heard good things about the bookshop from children’s author Catherine Johnson and others and I’d been following the bookshop on Facebook for a while. I hated turning up that late in the day, not that anyone expected me. My hurriedly low-key visit took hardly twenty minutes - but what a joy it was!

One side of THE NEWHAM BOOKSHOP is crammed with a wide range of children’s books. I picked up THE COLOUR OF DARKNESS by RUTH HATFIELD (who I’d met earlier that week) and, planning ahead for the summer holidays, a pleasing and well-designed Usborne Activities book of General Knowledge Quizzes that was just the right size for a bag or pocket. I did ask if they had a copy of the word game TABOO (because I'd played it a a couple of days earlier) but was sweetly and firmly told “We only do books.” Good for them!

I could have looked at the children's shelves far longer but the other side of the shop beckoned. A curved passage from one side to the other offered an excellent selection of teen & young adult books and was just where such books should be, well-placed to lead the older teen through to the stacks, piles and shelves of intriguing books on offer for grown-ups. 

I wish I could name more of the titles spread around that small room. The display wasn’t artistically elegant but I’m someone who finds a big generous book-hoard beautiful enough in itself. I glimpsed a good spread of novels I’d like to read, several (non-celebrity) cookery books, some poetry books and a very wide selection of non-fiction books on social issues and a host of books about aspects of the East End and London. I’m sure I spotted a poster for a book of photographs mentioned in The Gentle Author’s SPITALFIELDS LIFE blog

For a moment, gazing around, I fantasized about sneaking in with sandwiches and a sleeping bag so I could stay there till morning. But I couldn’t. By now, it was definitely four-fifty-nine o’clock and the staff were, discreetly but unmistakeably, needing to close. Murmuring my apologies and thanks, I left, cursing the road-works that were holding up all the traffic around East London and left me with so little time. 

Yet the quick trip wasn’t entirely wasted. Now I know where the shop is and what's inside, I hope to make another visit when I’m next in the area, and in funds. THE NEWHAM BOOKSHOP is one of those rare and special bookshops that deserve support. And besides, the bookshop puts on a variety of talks and events around the area, including The Wanstead Tap at Forest Gate, so this is definitely more than just a shop.

Meanwhile, here back home in Yorkshire, I'll soon be NIGHTWALKING the London streets alongside Chaucer, Shakespeare, Blake and Dickens, and all from my own warm and comfortable bed.  

Night night.

(The Newham Bookshop website is . The shop is at 745 - 747 Barking Rd, London E13 9ER. Closed Mondays and most Sundays. I suggest allowing time to find parking space.)

Penny Dolan


I have inherited an old cranky laptop. Occasionally, I try working on it but things don't go easily. I am very bad at adjusting to new spatial patterns and the difference in speed between my PC and this slow, cranky laptop annoys me intensely.

However, I am feeling very kindly towards the laptop right now and therefore I have begun practicing with it. Why?

For a start, the weather - even here in Yorkshire - has been so wonderfully hot that I have been able to sit outside at a table in the garden, typing slowly away. I admit I got a little used to the keyboard or at least stopped cussing. 

The long extension leads had to be trailed out there as well because the Cranky Laptop's batteries die quickly and with little warning. Even so, sitting out there and listening to birds singing in the sunshine was delicious. My heart started softening towards the crabbit grey object that made working this way so pleasant and possible.

Then, today, another joy. I was pondering about various oddments, when suddenly the device upped and shouted a new blog title into my head. Call it THE CRANKY LAPTOP! Do you hear? Unmistakably a good idea. Yes! I thought, A title I can live with! Yes! 

(However, because in no way can I help with IT or computer problems, dear imaginary reader, I added the word WRITES on as a disclaimer, just so there are no hopes of possible IT support here. If there are any difficulties, they will be mine, of which more, no doubt, anon.*)

So - ta-da! - I had been gifted a brand new blog title: THE CRANKY LAPTOP WRITES!

It certainly fits me better now than the title I began with when school and library visits were a constant in my life: Penny Dolan's Diary. Now that school budgets and public libraries have been scarified by government austerities, author visits have become, shall we say, somewhat well-spaced? Visits are fun when they do occur, of course, but they no longer work as a main reason for blogging, or offer a main audience.

So I am migrating, but quietly .  . 

THE CRANKY LAPTOP WRITES feels a good new place, somewhere I can write in my own voice and about my life now and probably just for me. Nobody reads blogs any more, I've been told, which actually feels like a kind of freedom. Sing as if no-one's listening.

So, right now, my plan is to call in here now and again, purely for the sake of writing things and/or remembering things and noting down a few random witterings, mainly because there's more than one cranky item around here.  

Farewell for now but speak again, soon!

*Anon, anon? A Shakespeare moment there, but very relevant. I have booked to see the AlmeidaLive theatre production of RICHARD III at my local cinema. More news, as they say, anon. Though maybe not promptly and directly.

Onwards, determinedly!