Sunday, 2 December 2007

Enter the House of the Lord (at a price)

In London for a couple of days selling investment books at the World Money Show. The venue is the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre - just across the road from Westminster Abbey - a perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself with that huge hulk of a place of worship. I can only spare myself 15 minutes or so, enough time to have a quick muse by Poet's corner and to take in the vastness of the place.

There is a slight catch however - an obligation to part company with a tenner in order to gain admission. Okay, so there is some small print to the effect that if you simply wish to pray then you can enter free, but I reckon that my fifteen minutes would be primarily spent as a tourist (although I might take a quick kneel-down if the knee joints can bear it). I do not enter.

London is a very expensive city, and tourism is vitally important. A hotel room is £100, a short taxi trip can cost more than a month's wages in Petersfield, and the cost of a couple of theatre tickets plus dinner for two is enough to try the bank balance of half the visitors to the World Money Show (many of whom were being exhorted by fellow exhibitors to invest in US property - going cheap with a wonderful exchange rate to help you).

Westminster Abbey is a major tourist attraction and, like the British Museum and National Gallery, should not depend on tourist money for its upkeep. The abbey receives funding from neither the church, or the state, and personally I think that is absolutely wrong. If a building is used (famously) for state occasions, then my tax money should go to support it. Then tourists (many of whom are British) could walk proudly through the great doors without forking out £24 for a family of two adults plus two children (special offer).

Oh heck! I'm ranting again.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Missing Numbers

Always on the lookout for the reasons “why I went wrong” I was reminded recently about my ineptitude at mathematics. Sure I can add and subtract. Multiplication, percentages and even long division are skills I can just about perform. But I went through my formative years regarding mathematics as being much too technical, much too boring. As a result I possibly missed out on both great wealth and, strangely, some (almost incompehensible) element of pleasure.

I could, for instance, have become skilled at computer programming. I would have learned the different forms of Basic, C, C++, the two great aunts (Fortran and Ada), and thence to HTML, Java, and so on. After all this is an area which hardly existed when I was born, and which has developed through my lifetime. As a bookseller I sold the books which inspired the Internet boom of the nineties, but I failed to pay attention to the content of those books and totally missed any opportunity of becoming a billionaire.

And then there is the Square Mile. Could I have been an Investment Banker, a Hedge Fund Maestro, a Stock Market King? Again, probably not. I’m not good enough, or interested enough, in the maths. This week I leafed through a new book on technical analysis, Marber on Markets. Here are the charts that define good trading. The “head and shoulders” peaks, the different variations, the clouds, the bounces. And Brian Marber explains all these with the rather fetching enthusiasm of a man who really enjoys what he is doing. Whenever I select a share (I don’t do commodities, currencies, bonds, etc.) I act as if I’m on a racecourse looking for a horse to back. “Ah, this one is a snowy white grey (like the older brother) and is drawn on Mum’s birthday – I’ll back that”. Never will I check the form book, the breeding, previous timings and draw numbers. Marber was the first man to run an Investment Fund entirely through Technical Analysis and he prospered. Not only that, but he enjoyed himself.

The good Captain Aubrey in Patrick O’Brien’s novels, may have been a swashbuckling, fast-living, Boys Own Magazine hero. But he was also a keen mathematician, and wholeheartedly enthused about the subject which, as a navigator, was essential to his career. Only yesterday a septuagenarian neighbour told me how a long coach journey taken a few weeks ago had afforded the opportunity “for me to teach Barbara calculus – such fun!”

Maybe I’d better stop fighting with Sudoku puzzles and try and learn some healthy trigonometry instead. A little strenuous mental discipline would probably do me good.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

St Pancras

Sightseeing with the wife in London and a good time to have a look at the re-vamped St Pancras Station. It really does deserve all the praise it is getting. Okay the champagne bar may be the longest in the world, but it was packed end-to-end. The roof is a marvel and the building combines its three functions – as a public space, as the new Eurostar terminal, and as a normal London railway terminus (with trains to Nottingham and Sheffield and the like) extremely well.

I'm a bit confused about St Pancras himself (there appear to have been two of them). Anyway one or other gave his name to an area of London. There was a church once but it seems to have disppeared by the fourteenth century. Ipswich has a Roman Catholic church dedicated to St Pancras and, according to Wikipedia, there is a village of St Pancras in Northern Holland.

I suppose the only let-down to St Pancras station is the tube connection. The ticket hall for the underground station may be an engineering marvel, but it isn’t big enough to cope (another ticket hall is in process of construction). And when you descend for the Victoria or Northern line there is all the bleakness of an under-funded transit system (unpainted, unclean, pipework wrapped in tinfoil endlessly waiting for someone to finish a refurbishment started many moons previously).

But I ramble on. When the redevelopment of St Pancras as the new Eurostar terminal was announced I thought the idea was bonkers. The terminus at Waterloo seemed to do the job well enough and to my eye is much closer to Paris, as well as being wonderfully convenient for central London. Appararently 84 million passengers used the now empty Waterloo platforms and I hope they get re-used sensibly. I'll eat my hat over St Pancras - it is a masterpiece of refurbishment.

Remembrance Sunday

In the same way as bonfire night is celebrated over a six-week span, people (particularly TV presenters) start wearing poppies in mid-October nowadays. But, despite all my moaning, it is still a very important occasion and the Royal Albert Hall commemoration was particularly well done. The BBC have found in Chris Stewart a wonderfully solemn voice for the big occasion. How extraordinary to see Harry Patch (the last surviving Tommy from the First War’s Western Front) wheeled out – aged 109.

In my odd way I found myself on Remembrance Sunday, at the 11th hour on the 11th day, in a lay-by off the main Dover-Folkestone road as I hurried in pursuit of a ferry. Other cars had stopped for the two minutes silence including (slightly to my surprise) a French motorist.

Once in France I marked the day by stopping for rather more than two minutes at the Etaples Commonwealth Military Cemetery which has 12,000 graves of Commonwealth soldiers, mostly from the First War, and the almost inevitable Lutyens memorial. A few years back the cemetery was vandalised by yobs with paint spray canisters, but now it looks immaculate. The French were treating the day with just as much respect as the British and the locals had laid wreaths alongside those from Britain and the Commonwealth. Sad though that our troops are still involved in active warfare. Peace on earth would be a very good idea.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Waste of Time - Waste of Money

Oh heck, I'm starting to rant again.

First the poor old Jeep had to be returned to its maker. I'd ignored the first "urgent recall" letter but the rotters tracked me down through DVLA and I agreed to let them do their worst on Tuesday after an hour-long dentist appointment on the outskirts of Portsmouth. "It won't take more than an hour" said the Jeep main dealer - who lives on a modern estate devoted entirely to "main dealers" (Audi, VW, Mercedes, BMW, Seat, etc., etc.) on the other side of Portsmouth, "so you can wait, if you like".

So I waited, and waited, and waited. The first hour passed by okay, I suppose. I had some phone calls to make, a book to read. Like posh car dealerships everywhere I had access to free coffee, a water machine, and the droning of BBC News 24.

There were newspapers and magazines (an odd selection ranging from Harpers and Queen, to Jeep News and 4x4 magazine by way of Esquire and Hello). But I was getting bored. Did Tchibo pay for the coffee machine to be installed, or did the dealership? Does Eden Springs give a bulk rate to all the dealerships on the estate for providing water machines. Every so often Mr or Ms Car Salesman would come by in search of water or coffee - I tried guessing if they were "Jeep" people, or "Mercedes" people (as Mercedes shared the showroom).

Two hours had passed and I thought about blogging about the delay. I even went outside and took a snapshot of the dealership premises. Thank heavens I had taken the day as official holiday. Even so the wife had TV aerial people fiddling with our connections and would doubtless be impatient for my return. I found the viewing area overlooking the Mercedes service area (very clean, lots of diagnostic kit, boring). Having been reassured that work was progressing on my car I sidled off to check the parking area (might my car still be where I had left it? No).

I then started a patrol of the new Jeep salesroom (rubbish), the second hand parking lot (rubbish), and for good measure checked out the other dealerships(all rubbish unless you have £20,000 or so that you are absolutely want to waste unnecessarily).

Pshaw! The three hour mark arrives and there is news: "They've finished your car and it is now being washed". Washed? My car is there for an essential repair at no cost so what are they trying to do by removing the mud and dust camouflage? It'll be another fifteen minutes and so I start photographing the water cooler and coffee machine, I give up! Never again will I visit a Jeep main dealership, unless ...

And then there is the "waste of money". The new laptop I bought myself comes replete with the new Microsoft Vista operating system. What Mr Compaq and friends never told me was that Microsoft Vista is totally incompatible with Orange Livebox technology (which powers my broadband at home).

Sure Orange are apparently working on "drivers" which will lessen the problem, but you cannot buy a new PC today without Microsoft's new Vista operating system pre-installed. So you are stuffed. Somewhat miraculously (and with help from the father of my latest grand-daughter) this blog has come off the new machine, but Holy Cow (to pardon my French)!

Sunday, 28 October 2007


Still feeling as if bits of me are falling apart (housemaid's knee, tennis elbow, a left hand that has stopped working in sympathy with the mail workers, neck a bit troublesome, and the recently done dental work beginning to come apart), but, as the song goes "always look on the bright side of life ... tee-tum, tee-tum"!

Yes, I've been trying to figure out ways of marketing a rather handsome little book on optimism to the widest UK market. Word-of-Mouth is the key phrase in any book's marketing campaign, so the first thing to do is to blog about it.

Every year something comes along (usually a book, or a film, or something on TV) that makes you "think", something that stirs the grey cells, and which leaves something of a mark. This year's "something" for me was actually a radio broadcast (or at least the bits that I heard) that comprised the annual BBC Reith Lecture - Jeffrey Sachs' four-part Bursting at the Seams. Here was an extremely intelligent man talking positively about the world's problems, rather than negatively. I was thus pretty impressed to find that Nick Inman's 'The Optimist's Handbook' acknowledges and quotes Sachs extensively.

That said, it's a pretty difficult book to market. For a start "optimism" is not a bookshop category, it is not an Amazon category, there is no convenient pigeon-hole in library or bibliographical subject indexes, indeed the very idea of "optimism" would be rather frowned upon in many bleak university bookstores. The book cannot be classified as humour (it is serious, intelligent and above all interesting) and has little to recommend it as being news-worthy, or controversial (unless you are a born pessimist); it has no Richard-and-Judy endorsement, the author lives in France and is not a famous personality (so no Parkinson or Jonathan Ross), and it does not have a publishing leviathan's sales force to get it stacked high in Tesco. But on the other hand ... "always look on the bright side of life ... tee-tum, tee-tum"!

If Ben Schott's Almanac can do it (spectacularly), then Nick Inman's book must be given every chance. Tomorrow I'll see if I can get it into art gallery and museum shops as a Christmas pick-up, ditto the National Trust. I'll press forward with production of a bookmark for free distribution in bookshops -using some of the great quotes included in the book:

'Twix the optimist and the pessimist
The difference is droll;
The optimist sees the doughnut
But the pessimist sees the hole.
- McLandburgh Wilson

Trust Allah! But always tie up your camel.
- Arab Proverb

I'm an optimist, but an optimist who always carries a raincoat.'
- Harold Wilson

So, rather than complain about the "housemaid's knee, tennis elbow, a left hand that has stopped working in sympathy with the mail workers, neck a bit troublesome, and the recently done dental work", maybe I'll take the Robinson Crusoe approach to life this week:

Evil: I have a bad knee, a painful hand, and a dental repair job that's gone pear-shaped.

Good: But your other knee works just fine, ditto with your hand, and all the other dental repair work is in excellent shape.

Sunday, 14 October 2007


I'm beginning to feel sympathy (as opposed to irritation) with England's sporting heroes and their constant injury problems. Flintoff, Owen, Wilkinson, Terry - there doesn't appear to be a single sporting hero who hasn't been on a long-term sick list recently.

For myself, I survived the Blackpool adventure more or less intact, but fouled up my right knee trying to clean out-houses in France. Add to that my hauling every single box of books returned from the Conservative Conference from a pallet store in Alton back to the Petersfield offices on Thursday and Friday (four jeep-loads), and then spending most of Saturday unpacking every box, sorting the books by publisher and then repacking them, I have additional difficulties to moan about: left hand non-operational (recurrence of finger-sprain), right hand okay apart from a chunk removed from fourth finger in tussle with trestle table), left leg knackered as it has to do all the work of the right leg (effectively dead). Thank heavens that the neck hasn't decided to join the party.

Today is Sunday, and I will rest up. I'll reflect on last night's remarkable rugby. I may read a book for an hour or two. I'll see if I can lure the wife into a local hostelry for a proper roast lunch. She'll have to cut the food up for me, but a pint of ale, a bottle of red wine and a snooze should set me on the road to recovery.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Depression, Depression, More Depression

Being born under the sign of Cancer isn't much of a help. Every time an important decision comes along I start the sideways manouevre, shuffling about in the sand, delaying and prevaricating, um'ing and ah'ing, a bit like an erstwhile employer of mine of whom it was said he wouldn't say "yes" or "no" until the bullet had left the barrel and was about half-way to his chest.

The principal decision to be made concerns the house in France. It has to go. I need the money. Simple - decision made. So we go to France with every intention of having an estate agent's board outside before our return to England three nights later. And what happens? Well I'm unhappy about my first choice of estate agent. I'm unhappy about the likely price. And, of course, I'm miserable as hell at the prospect of losing my one real refuge.

I dutifully swept out the "grange"; I got on my hands and knees to make the arachnid-infested (and mosquito-infested) gite look rather accomodating; and I drove to the nearby town of Hesdin to see if there was any chance of the first-choice agent coming over to inspect/value the house. Inevitably the gite-cleaning meant that my right knee is no longer functional, and the response from the estate agent was a resounding "Non" (as if I wouldn't have realised that one has to book an appointment at least two weeks ahead). Bah!

Still we collected up the last of a bumper crop of bramley apples, some good-looking pears, and some eating apples. And we forgot to bring back the holly bush, and I got a right bollocking from the wife - "you mean we came all this way to put the house on the market, and you couldn't even manage that. The house will have fallen down before you get round to ...", and for good measure, "You still haven't even managed to sell that Jeep of yours after all these years. You cannot afford even to fill it up with petrol; imagine what happens when something goes seriously wrong with it!"

Oh woe, and more woe. And it's back to work tomorrow and I don't feel too hot about that either.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

One Less Cast Member

Today was notable for England's terrific victory over Australia in the World Cup quarter finals; but to the wife and I it will always be remembered as our last day with Scaramouche - aka Scala, Puss Cat, and more recently in this blog 'the cat (just)'.

Heaven only knows where exactly she came from or the details of her early life. The wife and daughter found her in the cats section of the RSPCA Battersea Dogs Home. They set up an immediate rapport but were not allowed to take her home as she had been cruelly treated somewhere along the line (burns were mentioned) and was still under medical supervision. Eventually, and after much coaxing, she was released and became a pivotal personality in our Wimbledon home.

Through fortune and disaster, good weather and bad, she was always there. Sometimes insistent (particularly when the Rambling Nappa arrived in the kitchen early in the morning and attempted to prioritise coffee over cat food), always affectionate and loving, fond of routine - which included a ritual greeting (with soft claws) for the slumbering wife each morning and a special interest in titbits of bacon or marmite toast when breakfast arrived in the bedroom.

She moved easily to our rented house in South Harting. There she maintained a frosty relationship with the neighbours bantams and adored the garden. On our next move to Rowlands Castle this year she quickly became something of a local landmark - sprawled out sun-bathing behind the french windows of our living room, and much commented on by passers-by ("Oh, look!" or "where's the black cat?").

Apart from the family, she'll be missed too by the owners and staff of the boarding cattery (Kats Kastle) in West Byfleet where she was treated like royalty on our frequent trips to France. If we decided to go abroad at short notice Kats Kastle, which is also a refuge for abandoned cats, would find accomodation for her even if they were full to overflowing. She would take up residence in 'Liverpool Corner' - a compound for geriatric, non-violent cats until more suitable premises were found.

The wife and I are determined to have no more pets. Losing them is just too emotional. But we've said that before. Meanwhile, with senility setting in, we'd better start looking for a 'Liverpool Corner' of our own.

Poor old cat. We'll miss her terribly.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Blackpool Days

The Conservative Conference Bookshop adventure went very well, despite the fact that I never got to blog about it while I was there. The Ford Transit made the journey both ways (we do not mention my pulling out of Sandbach services near Manchester into the path of a fast-moving Tesco petrol tanker forgetting that with a full load of books you cannot accelerate very fast and that a tanker full of petrol takes quite a bit of slowing down - gulp, I'm sorry Tesco).

The hotel was amazingly good, clean and reasonable by Blackpool standards. I got a security pass from the Late Accreditation Office, and by 8.00 last Friday morning (a week ago already) was unloading the van under the watchful eye of some of the 1,179 police officers who were ensuring our safety and security at the Home Office's expense. At 5.00pm on Friday evening we were chucked out of the Winter Gardens as the police needed a 12-13 hour clear period to make a thorough sweep and search of the building. Fortunately the sniffer dogs did not cock their legs on our bookshelves and my colleague and I were able to find a friendly pub to watch England vs Tonga.

I lost a lens from my glasses (the only pair I'd brought) and was helped out by the Blackpool branch of Vision Express on the Saturday (two pairs for £99 in just one hour, with a free eye test thrown in because of my advancing years). I liked the deal although the selection of frames for the "second" pair is limited and my colleagues refer to my 'Swedish Banker' look, as I peer through the small blue frames. Lady co-workers joined us by rail and amazingly at 8.30 on Sunday morning we were open and ready for business.

Over the four days we sold a very respectable number of books (particularly 'The Little Book of Boris', hosted around a dozen signings, and got thoroughly knackered. Boris turned up, William Hague was a sell-out, Sandra Howard charmed everyone, even James Naughtie put in a brief appearance.

As at any "exhibition" event there were moments of hectic (sometimes chaotic) activity followed by strange "angel" periods when everthing went quiet. Odd to see so many TV cameras - often actually on our stand. More than once I asked someone a question only to be answered "Shh! We're filming". We hurried to conceal a remaindered Edwina Currie book when she marched onto our premises. Lots of "Such a shame that Ann Widdecombe isn't here to sign her books"; "When's William coming?", "Will Sandra be here?", and "Are you sure Boris will be here?".

Throughout the event I took soundings about the conference itself - asking journalists, asking politician's wives, asking people signing books how the wider event was going. Throughout the verdict was positive. Hague was good (although his microphone didn't work to start with), George Osborne was "very good", and after Cameron's 69-minute speech-without-notes even hardened journalists were saying that it had been a good result for the Tories.

Sadly for Blackpool this is the last scheduled political conference to be held there for the foreseeable future. Despite the illuminations and general glitter, it is a tawdry place inhabited by pretty awful holiday-makers. Obesity is rife (as are drugs, violent crime, wife-beating and general nastiness) and my stay made me resolve to lose some of my own corpulence. One conference delegate related how he'd received a "hamburger-in-the-face" the night before. The town (and its conference facilities) cry out for regeneration. I hope they get it.

After the closing speech on Wednesday we were able to re-pack our unsold wares, dis-assemble our shelving and get it all packed on pallets. Possibly rashly I didn't go back to the hotel to sleep. I preferred to get out of town and take on the five-hour drive straight away. Soon after midnight on Wednesday night an extremely tired Rambling Nappa parked up his Ford Transit at Rowlands Castle and was thankfully reunited with his wife and cat (just).

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Naughtie, Naughtie

What a dreadful heading! But it was 4.45pm this afternoon and I was, at last, completing my magnum opus - a spreadsheet showing all 400+ titles for the Conservative Conference, their quantities and prices - when the phone rang. A publicist from John Murray, Publishers, asking whether or not I was planning to take James Naughtie's new book to the conference as Mr Naughtie would be in attendance for all four days and would like to sign some. "What book?" I asked, reckoning that I had exhausted every avenue of recent political publishing. "Ah, his new book on Music", came the answer.

How could I refuse? I like James Naughtie's style of interviewing and would have probably accepted a book on pig-farming if he would turn up and sign a few. However it means collecting them from Abingdon en route in my trusty (I hope), rented, long-wheel-base Ford Transit.

Yes, tomorrow's the day I leave the safety of Petersfield and head North for Blackpool. I've got the showcards, the shelving, the cash float. I've got a stapler, some bookmarks and an electric screwdriver. I have a period of peace from the lady co-workers who do not arrive until late on Saturday. And I will probably spend most of the journey northbound fretting about "Les Oublis" - and wondering about what important items have been left behind.

Almost all the expected books have made it, but we are just a tad concerned about Matthew Elliott and Lee Rotherham's new 'Bumper Book of Government Waste, 2008' which has been the subject of heated exchanges with the printers recently. Both authors are at the conference and my modest expectation is that we might sell up to 200 copies. But the books remain stubbornly absent ... as do my credentials and "pass".

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

In search of Boris

Well, I've got Peter Oborne pinned down (thanks to pronunciation advice from a reader well used to frequenting Fleet Street hostelries), and there's still no sign of my Conservative Conference "accreditation". We've agreed that a VW Golf will come to Blackpool as well as the Transit van, and an elderly gent called by the office to personally deliver 25 copies of his self-published book commemorating the life of the late Rt. Hon. Peter Thorneycroft. It is a really excellent-looking book and seems absolutely ideal for my vision of the conference. I therefore doubt that we'll sell a single copy.

My lady co-workers have been busily emailing me to complain about the early starts (8.30am each day) and to suggest that they are allowed to sleep in (to around 2.00pm). The wife has been quizzing me as to whether or not the carer (see passim) is one of the lady co-workers (she is).

Meanwhile Boris remains the problem. Will he sign, and when? I have the mobile number of his PA who likes the idea of a flexible timetable, but I worry that we'll either be over-flexible and miss out altogether; or, worse, that he'll come crashing in at one of my rush hours (on Monday morning I have three signing sessions within a three-hour period).

Looking at the conference timetable it all looks rather tedious. Cameron is not scheduled to speak until 2.00pm on the Wednesday, and the only bright spot looks to be the celebrity appearance of the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, on Sunday afternoon. At least he once wrote a book (before he became Mayor) and I have ordered up ten copies just in case he passes by the bookshop and cares to sign them. A bit sad in some ways, though, as at my preliminary meetings with the organisers we had been led to expect a visit from big Arnie Schwarzenegger and I had lured the lady co-workers because of this. Better keep quiet.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Nerves Creeping In

Still no sign of my security pass and credentials for the Conservative Conference in Blackpool. One publisher has managed to double their order which means that I have so many copies of Douglas Hurd's 'Robert Peel' that the van's rear axle is likely to break. My boss is agitating about whether we need to bring his car (yes!), and my lady workers are agitating about having fish and chips on the seafront one evening (yes!).

My main concern is finishing work by 8.00pm on Friday night (constructing the bookshop/stand) and finding a decent pub showing England's World Cup match vs Tonga. Somewhere that serves a good pint of Guinness is called for.

Other concerns: I must phone Peter Oborne about his signing at the conference and I'm uncertain as to how to pronounce 'Oborne'. Will Boris finally come to heel? A nice email from William Hague's p.a. who seems to have her master under control. Suddenly Francis Elliott and James Hanning authors of 'Cameron: The Rise of the New Conservative' are available for a signing. I have plenty of books but no showcard. Why wasn't I more forceful with the "party" about the 2008 Conservative Diary? They have some printed but want to sell them all from the party stand. Blimey, am I losing control?

Then there is the small matter of my breath! I must buy a bucket-load of mints, and bottles of water. Fortunately the new shoes which I have been wearing all day (running-in) are not too uncomfortable, but I must "run them in" for at least another day. I'm worried about parking in Blackpool. I'm worried about how I'll keep up the blogging momentum from Blackpool. And the wife is giving me a bad time for rashly "organising" a visit to the new house by my mother at the end of next week - "much too soon, we won't be properly prepared, most of the house needs redecorating and we haven't even finished unpacking from the move in April".

Oh, woe!

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Ranting No Longer - Just Rambling

It's been a year since I last blogged, and much has changed. More grey hair, another grandchild, a new house, and a new job. I'm still selling books (mostly online) but I do so on behalf of others and receive a monthly salary - a big change from running my own business and paying for the privilege.

I've become involved in different book "specialities". The "ranting" version of me just sold computer books (and still does), but my new persona specializes in books on investing and politics. The cast of characters from the old blog are still intact - the wife, the cat (just), the daughter - bless her.

Returning to someone else's payroll after fifteen years was an odd experience. The new employers have a swish open-plan office in Petersfield and the 10-12 employees all work together. To my surprise I am the oldest employee by a factor of about 30 years (my managing director is younger than the daughter), and a carer had to be appointed to help me through my first months and to teach me how to use an Apple Mac.

We work as quietly as possible (exciting ring-tones on mobile phones are not encouraged) and employees largely communicate among themselves by email - even if the person they are emailing is sitting only three feet away. When conversation does break out it is sotto voce - meaning that the hard-of-hearing Nappa cannot hear a word of what is being said to him. But we've all learned to co-exist relatively harmoniously. For a while the wife got a little agitated about my seemingly close rapport with the young carer (slightly saucy exchanges of text messages out of office hours), but all-in-all it has been a good move - even if it has led me down some strange paths.

Possibly the strangest of the strange paths is my being responsible for the bookshop at next week's Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool. This is a bit of a worrying call as none of us has ever been to a party conference before and I have brought in some 3,500 books to try and sell to the 10,000-odd delegates. The booklist probably includes lots of really unsuitable stuff, but the given wisdom is that author-signings work really well. Accordingly I've got lots of copies of new books by William Hague, Boris Johnson, Sandra Howard, Douglas Hurd, Peter Oborne, etc., and just hope that they all turn up. I've also had a lot of advice from Iain Dale, the political blogger-in-chief who once ran the conference bookshop operation. He too will sign copies of his new books - 'The Little Book of Boris' and 'Iain Dale's Guide to Political Blogging 2007'.

Anyway, four pallets of books and merchandise are heading north already, and I'll be following them in a Ford Transit on Thursday bringing my electric screwdriver, my security pass - if it ever arrives, my camera and a new suit (having embarrassingly burst the trousers of my last suit whilst unpacking books for an investor's event in Docklands last week).