Tuesday, 26 May 2015

I Spy

An overheard game of I Spy in the shop yesterday, between a boy of about 4 and his slightly older brother.

Younger boy:  I spy with my little eye....um......something that's .....um....begins with...BLUE!

Older boy:  Is it this?  (Holding up a small bag of Skittles, bright red in colour.)

Younger boy:  No.

Older boy:  Is it this?  (Holding up a caramel Freddo bar, definitely not blue.)

Younger boy:  No!

Older boy:  Is it this?  (Pointing at a bag of beef crisps.)

Younger boy:  (by now hugely excited) NO!

Older boy then wandered away, tiring of the sport.

Younger boy:  I'll help you!

Older boy:  Ok.

Younger boy:  It's somewhere in Space!

In other news:  Mr WithaY and I have bitten a large, expensive bullet and booked the holiday of a lifetime.  We are going to Japan next Spring.  This is a long-held wish, and we decided that if we wait until we can afford it, we'll never go.  So we went and booked it at the weekend, and now it's really happening.

The catalyst for the trip was this:

Forgive the dreadful quality picture, I stupidly scanned it, rather than just taking a photo, like a sensible person would.

I bought this book in 1985 in Winchester, as it was required reading for my degree, used it throughout the course, and it has lived quietly in one of the many WithaY bookcases ever since.

For no reason, a few weeks ago whilst idly browsing eBay, I thought "I wonder if anyone else has one of those weird Bell Jar books for sale?" and searched for it.  Nothing on eBay, so I Googled it.

Readers, I found out a couple of interesting things about my old book.

1)  It's jolly rare.  According to a Sylvia Plath website - this one - there are only 8 copies known to exist. I don't know if that means mine is Number 9, or one of the existing 8.

2)  The last time one was sold in the UK, it went for quite a lot of money.

Well, what would you do?  I sat there for a few minutes, looking at the Bonhams photo of the cover of the book, which was almost exactly the same as mine, and then went in to Mr WithaY's study, where he sat researching Neolithic sporrans, or some such arcanery.

Me:  Look at this picture.

Mr W:  Oh yes.  A book.

Me:  Look how much it sold for.

Mr W:  Heavens!

Me:  Yes.  I've got one of those.

Mr W:  What?

Me:  I've got that same book. Upstairs.

I ran upstairs, located the book, ran (carefully - with my track record) back downstairs and showed Mr WithaY.  We both looked from my book to the Bonhams website, and back again.

Me:  I'm ringing Bonhams in the morning.

I rang Bonhams, where I spoke to a charming chap in their books department.  I told him that I had found their auction page about the Bell Jar uncorrected proof.

"Oh yes?" he said, politely.  I got the impression he was lounging negligently in a fine quality leather club chair, possibly smoking an untipped cigarette in an amber holder.

"Yes.  Well, the thing is, I've got one of those, and I'd like to sell it please."

In my head, he sat up abruptly at this point, dropping his cigarette onto the green leather of his desktop.*

Anyhoo, the upshot was, that he told me they had a sale coming up in June, and that if I could get the book to them for evaluation in the next day or two, they could include it, assuming it was what I thought it was.

I posted it to them that afternoon, they telephoned me the following morning to say it had arrived, and that they were happy to include it in the sale, and so, with much excitement, I waited for the sale catalogue to be published.

And here it is:   https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/22714/lot/289/


So, if there are any avid Sylvia Plath collectors who read this, or you know anyone who has loads of money and a suitably-shaped hole in their library, please tell them to bid.  It's funding my holiday to Japan, at least in part.

*Yes, yes, yes, I'm well aware he was probably doing nothing of the sort, but I don't get to London much these days, and it's all morphed into a Bertie Wooster/Mapp and Lucia fantasyland now in my imagination.

Saturday, 23 May 2015


We get all sorts of people in the shop.

When I am working a late shift, it's remarkable to see the number of customers who dash in for last-minute emergency beer or wine before we shut for the night. On sunny afternoons we get quite a few people calling in for booze for impromptu barbecues on their way home from work.  There are one or two who come in for small bottles of cheap vodka, and who I suspect are not going anywhere to drink it.

The one who stands out for me this week though, is the Drunk Socks Man.

He came in for the first time mid-afternoon, buying a four-pack of chilled cans of cider. Fair enough. It was a sunny afternoon, and sitting under a tree with a cold cider would be very pleasant.

Two hours later he came back and bought another four-pack.  Ah. Maybe he has some mates there too, and they're all enjoying a cold drink together.

Another two hours passed. By this time I was on my own in the shop.  He reappeared, this time drunk. Very, very drunk.

"Hello my petal!" he said cheerfully. I said hello back, ignoring the over-familiarity. Well, you have to sometimes.

He selected a single bottle of beer and brought it up to the counter, then dug into a pocket for cash.  I told him how much it cost, and he squinted at the handful of change, old receipts and oddments he was waving about in front of me.

"Have I got enough there, darling?" he asked.  I told him no, he didn't.

"Well can you do me a deal then? Can I have it for *rapid counting of the coins he held* £1.28?"

I said no sorry, we wouldn't do that.

"What have you got that's cheaper, then?"

By now, I had realised just how drunk he was, and was beginning to wonder how I was going to get him out of the shop if he got stroppy when he discovered that I wasn't going to sell him any more drink.   Cunningly taking the bottle of beer back to the fridge on the pretext of looking for something cheaper, I was able to convince him that we didn't sell anything alcoholic that he could afford just then.

"How about if I give you a cuddle? Can I have a deal then?"

Oh fantastic.  The "drunk bloke is irresistible to women" stage has been reached. I declined the cuddle and got back behind the counter, wondering how much longer this was going to continue.  He stood there, swaying a bit, then had an idea.

"What if I give you my socks?"


"Look.  Here.  You can have my socks."  He tried to hand me a pair of balled-up socks which he pulled from another pocket.

I declined politely.

After a few minutes of loudly telling the next customer who came in how terrible it is to be an alcoholic - the customer agreed politely whilst paying for his diesel - the drunk left, staggering over to the pub.  He did tell me "I'm always around if you need me, darling," before he left.  How reassuring.

I waited with some interest, and a little anxiety in case he came back to the shop.  A police van then drove onto the forecourt and parked up, I waited for the police driver to come in and buy sweeties. They're buggers for sweeties, police.  However, the driver simply stayed in his van.

The drunk left the pub very soon afterwards, and started making his way up the road towards town.   The police van immediately pulled out into the main road, the driver got out and spoke to the drunk. I watched, interested, as they had a long chat, the drunk smoking a cigarette.   A short time later a police car arrived, and took the drunk away.

You don't get that in the Civil Service.