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).