And Then Jeremy Corbyn Came Along – Predicting The 2020 General Election.


Six months ago to the day the Conservative Party won the  2015 General Election by the smallest of majorities. Having predicted that this would happen three months beforehand I turned my thoughts to what would happen next. Within weeks I had come to my conclusions, asked an artist friend to draw me a Venn diagram to illustrate my thoughts and in June came very close to writing my predictions as to what would happen in British politics up to and including the next election.

Then I thought it might be prudent to see what leadership changes there might be and see if any changes affected my thoughts.

And then Jeremy Corbyn came along.

Before that happened I was convinced that the following scenarios were more than likely to happen –

No significant changes in Scotland (let’s ignore the referendum issue) and the SNP would still hold the vast majority of seats in Scotland at the next election.

No changes of any note in Ireland.

The Liberal Democrats would find no way back, flounder and possibly split and as a result end up in some sort of coalition with the Green Party.

The Green Party likewise would make no notable ground and might end up in a coalition with some reincarnation of the Liberal Democrats.

UKIP would be the party that was most likely to take a significantly large number of votes from both the Conservative and Labour parties and stood a  chance of becoming the opposition party after the 2020 Election

Labour would lose tens of seats at the next election and in the intervening years suffer an identity crisis of such monumental proportions I even considered looking more closely at the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) to evaluate whether such a movement would be likely to influence heavily what would happen to the Labour Party.

And then Jeremy Corbyn came along.

I suspect he will be leader at the next election and Labour are likely to poll more seats than UKIP. His becoming leader has helped put the Blairite legacy in perspective and has given so many a jaded and disillusioned Labour supporter hope and a feeling of putting things right that I see it as being very difficult for there to be any significant undermining of his position. He will at least give a direction to a party that lacked identity and purpose for years.

On the other hand his perceived idealism, forthrightness and honesty will be seen as such a hindrance and embarrassment to so many who consider voting Labour that I can see them losing more votes than they gain with him as leader.

Moreover too many people will perceive him as being  a liability as far as defence issues, religious fundamentalism and foreign affairs are concerned, and dread to think of him dealing with the likes of the EU and America, let alone the threat of terrorism on mainland Britain.

Ultimately he is a Labour leader who appeals primarily to the middle classes and unless he finds some way of making Labour more attractive to the working classes than UKIP, Labour could even lose their place as opposition party.

Perception is the key word here – with a press that will happily portray him as a republican with a lack of respect for the queen, for example, I cannot see his image changing for the better in the media the working classes are likely to engage with. But that does not mean he won’t be able to steady a sinking ship.

As for UKIP becoming the opposition party a few things need to happen – and happen they must in the next year or eighteen months for this to be so.

Firstly major money from donors to buy experience and establish a viable infrastructure.

Secondly, attracting MPs both from Labour and the Conservatives to give them respectability.

Thirdly, a drive to get potential MPs in place so that they can have candidates in at least 600 seats would be absolutely essential if they were to become the opposition after the next election. It is doable but I am pretty confident they simply won’t be able to stand enough MPs.

So little attention has been paid to the fact that one in eight people voted for them at the last election. To me they are the party most likely to take the most votes from both the Conservatives and Labour and I see them doing exactly that and significantly increasing their percentage of votes gained. The rise of religious fundamentalism and associated terrorist acts around the world makes UKIP seem more relevant to the working classes and if there is a series of serious terrorist attacks linked to extremist Islamic groups on our shores their stock will go up even further.

As for the Conservatives, compromise is just around the corner. Fear of losing one too many by-elections, revolts in the House of Lords and not least on the streets of Britain and their own back benches will curb their more extreme policies. It might take a winter of discontent to make it happen but I would have to say that if they do find a happier medium the next election will see them polling the most seats again but not with a majority.

Finally I was very tempted to add another circle to the Venn diagram and mark it Internet Pressure Group Party. Sites such as 38 Degrees and Avaaz as well as the Greenpeaces of this world could very easily form a political party and be a major influence in British politics but I decided that it was unlikely to happen this side of the next election. But I am quietly confident that in the next decade such a party will either become a major force or at the very least pressure groups will utilise the power of the internet and fundamentally change British politics in a way we have not seen before.

Manu Tuilagi – The Loss of the Final Piece of the Jigsaw Puzzle

Over the last six months or more I have been pleasantly surprised by the optimism of  so many of my customers. Virtually to a man they have predicted that England will at least reach the semi-finals of this year’s Rugby World Cup and probably half think we will become World champions again.

I have thought for many months that there are two problems with the England squad which suggest to me that such optimism is heartwarming but a bit misplaced.

Having followed the World Cup since 1987 I have noticed that time and time again world champions win with a settled side. Their players have played together dozens and dozens of times. Have a look at the England team that won us the World Cup in 2003 for example. Key units like front rows and back threes have been decided on months, if not years, in advance and players know each other’s game and the team strategies inside out.

Whilst we have an excellent squad now, and I think we pretty much know the best two players in each position, injuries to so many players have prevented that essential continuity happening and we have left it rather too late for the best combinations to gell.

And boy have we had too many injuries to too many key players. Besides Tuilagi there is Wilson, Cole, Launchbury, Parling, Lawes, Morgan, Woods, the Vunipola brothers, Farrell, Barritt, Nowell and Brown who between them must have had close to three years off injured in the last twelve months. Such a spate of injuries to so many frontline players makes it so much more difficult for the coach to play his first choices together and find out what works and the extent of these injuries makes me wonder how people can be so optimistic.

And secondly there is the problem of who to pair at centre which for me was the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle that needed putting in place.

Before this week’s announcement that Manu Tuilagi won’t be going to this year’s World Cup, I thought that only the pairing of he and Jonathan Joseph would give us a realistic chance of progressing all the way to the Final. Now, I have to say that the options available to partner Joseph just don’t look anywhere near as attractive. Or that the selectors have to throw caution to the wind and try and blood someone new to the position which I sincerely hope they do give serious consideration to.

Now don’t get me wrong we do have several  centres who can do a job.

The man in possession, Luther Burrell was for me the weak link in England’s backline during this year’s Six Nations and obviously still has much to learn but he has the heart of a lion, gives 100% and has never really let the side down.

Brad Barritt can fit back in and do the job he does better than  any other centre in England but his being the link between George Ford and Joseph rather compromises England’s attacking options. Being as hard as nails is a great plus but we need guile and out of the box vision to bring our back three and Joseph into the game more.

If Exeter had made it through to the play-offs Henry Slade would have had at least two more games to impress the selectors but now his chances are more limited. He would however be my outside bet for the inside centre birth and may well get selected as fly half ahead of Stephen Myler which again I would prefer and that would give the selectors the option to try him there but time is against him.

Billy Twelvetrees has definitely had his moments in an England shirt and I am pretty sure he will be in the final squad but he was never going to be my first choice due to his inconsistency.

And then it gets a bit darker.

If I was a betting man I would put money on Owen Farrell starting at inside centre for the first match of the World Cup. I just cannot get out of my head the thought that having your dad as one of the selectors really does influence selection. Think first amongst equals rather than favouritism.

Until injured I watched him play in most, if not all of his matches for England and could not believe how much better George Ford was when he got his chance. When I saw him at centre he did a decent job but his overall lack of vision in both positions makes me think that at best he should be second choice and hopefully make his mark from the bench.

He is still young, has been on a very steep learning curve and should become world class by the next world cup but with his lack of match practice through injury this year and his limitations I really don’t think he is the solution.

Others have talked about Kyle Eastmond. He is as gifted as pretty much anyone qualified to play for England and at club level plays between Ford and Joseph, but his newness to Union still shows and being roughly the same size as Ford you can see why many worry if someone like Jamie Roberts decided to target either of them. I think I hold a minority view and that he should be persevered with.

I have also noted that George Ford barely missed a tackle all 6 Nations and having read pretty much every match report concerning Bath this season and I can’t remember anyone saying the Ford/Eastmond pairing weakened the side defensively. but then my memory is not my strong point.

So, of all the regular inside centres Eastmond would have been my first choice but the chances of that happening at this year’s World Cup are near to non-existent.

Sam Burgess is a non-starter as he has started playing club rugby at flanker and has made much more of a success of that position than he did at centre by all accounts. Wonderful talent that he is, this World Cup has come round too soon and when the present England Captain plays on one flank and Lancaster’s other golden boy is pencilled in for the other flank the chances recede into the far distance.

Moreover someone like James Haskell is a much better bet on the bench as he can and has the experience of covering all three back row positions.

Then finally there is a chance that Danny Cipriani will be given the opportunity to play No.12 and rise to the occasion. He has the talent, not a little experience and I suspect that his personality is such that if he were entrusted with a new role as a centre he would grab it with both hands. He must realise that George Ford is likely to keep him out of the fly half spot for the foreseeable future. How important a second receiver is in the selectors’ plans I know not  but Cipriani would be my left field choice.

And there is a distinct possibility that, excluding injuries, Ford, Cipriani, Farrell and Slade will be picked for the final squad, ostensibly as fly halves, with Barritt, Burrell, Twelvetrees and Joseph as the centres.

I suspect we will be none the wiser as to whether the selectors will play safe for some time to come.

There is a squad of  up to 50 England players to be announced this Wednesday, 20th May for training purposes only and I would be staggered if any of the names mentioned here were excluded unless they were injured.

Whether we win the World Cup this year or not, in four years not only will we still have the likes of Ford and Farrell still in their prime, but also a certain Manu Tuilagi who hopefully will also be in the mix and still in his prime.

Accurately Predicting The 2015 British General Election Three Months In Advance

On the 7th of February 2015 I uploaded an article to this blog  in which I predicted exactly three months before the General Election that the Conservative Party would win, gaining a slender majority.

Here is the link should you wish to read it –

I went as far as predicting how many seats each party would win and briefly stated why they would do so.

Whilst I managed to predict to within three seats how many the Conservatives would win I came slightly unstuck when I failed to appreciate just how big a swing there would be towards the SNP.

For me the Scottish referendum made the average Scot  realise that they could be ably represented by their own party and not have to put their fate into the hands of Labour or the Liberal Democrats. I predicted the SNP to gain a couple of dozen seats when in fact they gained about four dozen. This I put down to the excellent display the SNP put up during the televised debates in the few weeks preceding the election and it was something I did not foresee.

I realised that if the Conservatives only held one seat in Scotland it would be the Liberal Democrats and Labour who would suffer most at the hands of the SNP. Hence my predictions for both of these parties were a little skewed and I miscalculated by twenty seats between them.

The Liberal Democrats were slaughtered in this election and not just because of losses to the SNP. I picked up that many of their supporters outside of Scotland had abandoned them because they  were perceived to have failed pretty much completely as part of the coalition government and lost their identity in the process.

As for Labour let’s just say nice guys finish last. OK Ed came second but he was seen as being simply too nice and too many people perceived that The Labour Party just did not have the policies that would draw voters to them and away from any other party.

The fates of UKIP and the Green Party were so much harder to determine. I thought both parties would win millions of votes but as to how many seats I thought it very difficult to judge. I made the decision that the problem with the Green Party was that they were still perceived as being rather amateur and unprepared for an election letting alone being part of a coalition. (That radio interview was an absolute body blow).  I said they would win no seats and they won but one.

So what about the actual winners – why the Conservative party? Choosing the lesser of two evils and better the devil you know than the devil you don’t sum up a few million voters’ perceptions in my opinion. Millions more thought the Conservatives were the only party that could be trusted with the economy. And which other party was seen to have the potential to acquit itself at international level?

Most depressingly of all though, quality of life did not seem to be as important as quantities of money for even more millions. I suspect they voted Conservative in this election because they were the only party likely to put pounds back into pockets.

Whether there will ever come a day when politics is about policies that reduce stress in individuals’ lives, or encourage happiness and contentedness and focus on quality of life I don’t know but I am not holding my breath.

There are two very interesting statistics concerning this election which I think are worth commenting on briefly.

Firstly the Liberal Democrats and the SNP combined won 64 seats with 12.6% of the vote. UKIP on the other hand won but one seat with 12.6% on the vote. I thought that UKIP would win ten seats so whilst I was quite a long way off as far as the number of seats won I did pick up on they fact they would win millions of votes. That’s one in eight of the votes cast should any of you think they will be going away any time soon.

The second interesting statistic is that two-thirds of the electorate turned out to vote. Which is more than at the previous election.

I did wonder what effect Russell Brand would have on turnout after his earlier pronouncements but it would seem he was largely ignored and rightly so. I think David Cameron did his chance of being re-elected no harm at all when he called Brand a joke and said he was not going to meet him. I suspect we have not heard the last of Russell Brand as a political commentator for all his back-peddling after the election.

In my next blog are my predictions about what may happen in British politics between now and the next election which might be much sooner than 2020. Just need to find someone to draw me a Venn diagram………..

Janet And John – A Case Study In Alcoholism

Janet and John have now grown up and grown apart but the one thing they still have in common is the large amounts of alcohol they consume. John knows all about Janet’s drinking but Janet knows very little about John at all anymore.

Both have become pretty damned successful in their middle years.

Janet is one of those high-flying business executive sorts who pretty much every day has a business lunch that is always accompanied by a bottle of wine. It happens more often than not that after work she goes out with work mates to enjoy a few cocktails and then home to the family meal her house husband cooks which is always eaten with another bottle of wine. After putting the kids to bed it goes without saying that a large glass of brandy or two helps her get a good night’s sleep to make sure she is ready for work the next day.

John is self employed and runs a computer consultancy business on his own from an office in a building which houses two big firms. He has become matey with both sets of employees and every lunchtime he is down the pub with one set and at the end of the day in a bar with someone or two from the other office.

He always used to drive home. John works on his own and if he had felt too hungover to have a few glugs of vodka from a mineral water bottle kept in his car whilst he drove to work, he had a similar bottle by his desk in work to get him through to lunchtime. Now it is more complicated as he has lost his licence because of drink driving. He doesn’t like taxis or their cost so ‘works’ from home more often than he used to.

Janet has an active and social life which includes playing a bit of tennis or badminton. The exercise bike in the basement gets used for a couple of hours a week and she is more curvaceous than fat. She can afford three family holidays a year and because she is in charge of three kids for much of the time away, barely touches a drop till the kids are in bed and then enjoys sharing a bottle of wine with her husband who ain’t that fussed about drinking but likes indulging her a bit.

Twice a year she goes on a detox bootcamp week away type break which no one would ever call a holiday but she enjoys it and never misses drinking whilst there. In fact she does not even think about it. Whilst alcohol permeates pretty much every social aspect of work and eating on a daily basis, when she is away from that environment drinking just fades into the background.

The same cannot be said for John. From waking up every morning to going to bed every night John’s every tenth thought is about drink. He drinks from his first to last hour awake. He used to go on 18-30 type holidays but is now too old and what with the cost of his drinking is now reduced to treating himself to a dozen or so booze cruises throughout the summer. And all the planning and preparation to go on holiday became too much for him once he had come home from work.

He used to play sport but he broke his leg in a pub after a particularly heavy weekend away with the lads. Quite timely really as the month before his best mate got beaten up sticking up for John up in a bar after an away match they had lost and he’d been thinking anyway that so many of them were lightweights who did not know how to enjoy themselves on a night out.

Not only has Janet’s husband discussed her drinking habits with her. Her cousin is a GP and her aunt’s husband is a consultant liver specialist and both have talked to her about the physical implications of drinking up to 200 units of alcohol most weeks. Janet is open and frank and says she will always listen but hasn’t had a day off sick in five years and feels happy and content with her life which just so happens to include an awful lot of booze. And if ever her husband is ill and bed ridden she takes a few days off work, looks after him and the kids, does the housework and doesn’t go near a drop.

Since his last girlfriend left him John has not talked about alcohol to anyone, especially his sister. Nor does he talk about why his last girlfriend left him.He is too embarrassed to say that he was unable to satisfy her anymore which he thought was unreasonable given his age. Forgetting Valentine’s Day and her birthday didn’t help either. John has had a few weeks off work in the last year and in pretty much every case it was the day after he had had one too many bottles the night before.

John’s New Year’s Resolution for 2015 was to give up drinking. After two days he felt so awful he drank a bottle of whisky on an all night bender at home alone and felt so much better.

Janet’s New Year’s Resolution for 2015 was to get back in touch with her brother John. Not least because she felt he was missing out on his nieces and nephew. One Sunday they all turned up at his place for the first time in ages only to find him not at home – he had forgotten they were coming. The next time he was too hungover and cancelled saying he had a virus.

This is a recurring theme with John – he has lost touch with most of his friends due to his ever developing commitment to drinking and its predominant place in his life. He just hopes the one major contract that has been renewed several times before is renewed again in a few months’ time as he has lost all the others through missing deadlines.

He also missed his last appointment with the doctor who wanted to discuss the last set of blood tests. And why should he go? He has looked up online all there is to know about diabetes and it does not run in the family. Perhaps he should not have lied when he told the doctor that he only drank 50 units a week but he feels better now.

If you are a Janet then you are a remarkably heavy social drinker verging on being a freak of nature who owes it to yourself to get regularly checked out by a doctor and tested for physical damage caused by such drinking.

If you are a John, the news is not so good and you must realise that you exhibit several signs of alcoholism. A visit to your doctor is as good a place to start as any – just don’t keep using things like the internet as an excuse not to do something face to face with those qualified to help.

You really would be a freak of nature if you could do it all by yourself, telling no one, and giving up pretty much completely for the foreseeable future.

Rich And Famous Living Authors – Children Need Your Generosity To Help Keep Reading Alive

I run two bookshops which face each other across a passageway in the market where I work. Next to the smaller one is a mobile phone accessories shop and next to the larger one a sweet shop. At least once a month I hear a conversation along the lines of a small child exclaiming to its parents that they can see a bookshop or library and then I hear them being told in no uncertain terms that if the child wants a case for their mobile phone they will not be going into the bookshop. Sometimes I see the child in question and cannot believe one so young should possess a mobile phone in the first place.

You can imagine for yourself a similar scenario where sweets triumph over books.

You have to hear for yourself the contempt some parents have for books and reading and I can be forgiven for thinking that some parents actively dissuade their children from having such an interest.

Sometimes teenagers walk past with  the first saying something about my books and the second saying something like they’ve never read a book in their life. By the sound of it they never intend to either. And see it as a badge of honour of sorts. When 50 Shades of Grey came out it became very clear that there are middle aged women who have never read a book or been in a bookshop before so I know it is not just a recent thing.

All is not doom and gloom – there are still millions of children’s books bought, borrowed and read every year by children and teenagers and last year there was some even better news. James Pattterson, arguably the most successful crime writer of the recent times, announced that he would be donating £250,000 to independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland. If your shop had a dedicated children’s section and a turnover of less than a million pounds you were eligible to apply. All you had to do was explain how you would use the £250 – £5000 if you were successful. He stated quite explicitly that he was particularly interested in funding schemes that would encourage children to read.

I had the idea of using whatever money I received to offer a 50% discount to anyone of school age buying a book. So if a book was bought for a fiver I would charge them £2.50 and take the balance from what I had been given and continue to do so until all the money had gone.

Wouldn’t it be great if such a scheme was expanded so that other authors put up money in a similar way. It needn’t be limited to independent shops or concentrate on children’s books. Whatever gets children reading to encourage their interests and hobbies or help them discover new ones can only be good for everyone in the long run.

The only trouble is that I know no rich authors or anyone working in the publishing world. But maybe you do or perhaps you belong to an author’s fan club or can think of some way I can’t to get others like James Patterson to participate in a similar sort of scheme.


When I left university I decided to go straight into secondhand bookdealing. I rented a storeroom two roads away from an auction house that had a specialist book department and started to sell at various locations in Bristol including the Central Library. Within three years I had obtained a market stall specializing in academic books.

Things were so different when I started in 1988. Bristol had over a dozen secondhand bookshops and George’s alone had more secondhand books then than there are in the whole of Bristol today. Perhaps up to ten dealers operated from home. We even had Twiggers which offered a booksearch service. Such a business would take out pages of adverts in Bookdealer magazine and we other bookdealers would search our shelves to see if we could offer them what they had advertised for.

In fact, in the 1990’s the secondhand book scene was so vibrant we all clubbed together to produce a leaflet listing where we all were. People used to visit Bristol just to go to these shops and dealers – a form of destination shopping which now no longer happens as so many secondhand bookshops and dealers have ceased trading largely as a result of the internet.

Now in 2015 there are just four secondhand bookshops in Bristol with probably less than 40,000 books between us and maybe half a dozen dealers operating from home. Bookdealer magazine is now defunct,and I am not aware of a single business in the whole of the UK which specializes in booksearches.

There is no need – you just go online and try and find what you want on Ebay or use a meta search engine like to trawl through 150 million books available online. Nineteen times out of twenty I can find any book I am looking for using such methods.

And if I can do that then anyone searching for a book can do likewise and that means they do not have to come to my bookshop or phone me to find the book they want. Remember ‘Fly Fishing’ by J R Hartley? Being in the Yellow Pages was of the utmost importance in the 1990’s. Now it is an irrelevance thanks to the Internet. One of my wiser moves was to give up offering a booksearch service early on in my career.

Whilst some second-hand book dealers still issue catalogues they are very few and far between and I haven’t seen a recent one for years. And let’s face it why would anyone go to the expense of printing one up and then posting them out when you can list all the books you want to on the kind of internet sites mentioned above and potentially reach hundreds of millions more people than your catalogue could ever hope to reach? Moreover, when you sell an item online you just delete it at the click of your mouse and everything else listed is still valid. Catalogues are now almost exclusively the domain of highly specialised dealers and the internet is the main reason for their demise.

And if all such bookdealers are advertising their books online then it is less likely that people will consider me to find the book they want.

And it is not just professional dealers selling online. The British taxman has largely turned a blind eye to this cottage industry of amateurs and it means I am up against people who are able able to sell books at discounted prices because they don’t have to pay any tax or business costs. Also prices at auction can be driven up by them because they have more of a profit margin to play with for the same reasons. And people who sell their books on the likes of Ebay don’t come to me to sell them, which means the internet also affects adversely my supply of books.

Bookfairs have suffered likewise and though I didn’t do many of them they have dwindled to one or two a year – because of the internet? I suspect so. Bookfairs are hard work, so why do them when you can put your stock on the internet and spare yourself the physical exertion, the driving and cost of a hotel?

Then there were the stalls I used to do in the various departments of the universities and colleges in Bristol. Now students don’t bother with books very much. During the nineties I could expect to see three reading lists a day during the summer break. A couple of summers ago I decided to count how many reading lists I was shown during July, August and September and there were just three. Not one student showed me a list – it was their parents.

Needless to say I no longer specialise in academic books and am more likely to sell a book to an art student as an object that ends up being cut up than to a student who plans to read it for an essay or project. And talking of art students there was a time when my shop sold books solely because of images it contained. Now it is straight to Google images.

The internet has also meant that certain categories of books are now difficult to sell. If you have a hobby then there are loads of sites dedicated to your interest which not only can give you the information you want but often also enables you to sell what you have to other collectors or people with the same interests. Many sorts of reference books and price guide books have become redundant as a result. Anyone remember Lyles and Millers Antiques guides?

General information books and books for the educated layman are now very hard to sell. Books I used to sell for a fiver a decade ago are now in my pound boxes outside. Many specialists bemoan the fact that books they used to be able to sell books in their field for between £25 – £50 are now readily available online for between £10 – £20. One suspects it is only the exorbitant cost of postage in the UK that stops book prices online falling even further.

People prefer the community and forums that the internet offers to talking to a secondhand bookdealer who is ignorant of, and not particularly interested in your passion for Icelandic Pixie Juggling music books.

And believe it or not, many a sad soul used to come to my shop just to have their prejudices confirmed or to tell me what’s wrong with the world. They would often buy a book to sweeten the bitter pill I was being asked to swallow but now they can go to forums aplenty on the internet which are much more accommodating and accessed from the comfort of their own warm home.

And there is more good news for the customer. The internet has resulted in the price of books coming down generally. Every time a book comes into the shop that I do not recognise or remember I go to the internet and check what it is being listed at on and then maybe look at what it sells for on eBay. I then sell it for cheaper. People used to start haggling over the price of a book by saying it was too expensive. Now they say they can buy it cheaper on the internet and I have to make sure I am competitive.

The internet has had a negative impact on reading books generally. If you are on Facebook playing Candy Crush Saga or reading an article on Buzzfeed entitled ’19 Magical Bookshops Every Book Lover Must Visit’ you are not reading a book. When there is so much free stuff online why pay for a secondhand book?

Poorer people used to go to the library to borrow books they could not afford. The Bristol Central Library is now full of computers, DVDs and CDs for hire and just a fraction of the books it used to have on display a few decades ago. And more library closures are on the way.

It is great that people can log on to so many sites to learn how to speak a foreign language, look up the capital of Iceland or a recipe for tonight’s meal but it sure ain’t good news for your local secondhand bookdealer.

The idea of building a library of your own is alien to so many people who now turn to websites instead of books on their shelves at home.

Every bookshop, both new and secondhand, is now competing for people’s time and disposable income in a way that was unthinkable 25 years ago. Put bluntly, the internet has led to such shops being marginalised as a source of recreation, betterment, information and interacting with other readers and booklovers.

I just take hope from the fact that literary phenomena like the Harry Potter series is still interesting kids in reading and that a trilogy like 50 Shades of Grey can get people into a bookshop for the first time or in some cases reading their very first book.

All is not lost. Just don’t be surprised if any secondhand bookshop you go in is full of really good condition popular fiction, lovely bindings from a century ago and titles you never dreamt of being written. Variety may be the spice of life but it is sure-fire winners that keep us few secondhand bookdealers in business. If it was not for non-English speaking foreigners buying the likes of Dan Brown and collectors purchasing Dandy Annuals, Ladybird books and Commando comics I could be out of business.

But I am not and just hope that I am not having to still sell books in a market in 24 years time.

PS – I am not unaware of the irony that it is the internet that is providing me with the medium to express such opinions about how my living as a secondhand bookdealer has changed so. Or that whilst you are reading this blog you are not reading a book.

Bendy Wendy, Peter Pan and Crooked Captain Hook

Peter Pan said Wendy –
There’s something I want to tell you.
I am neither straight nor bent
But what you might call bendy.

Captain Hook stopped reading his e-book and eavesdropped more intently.

Peter knew what his flexible friend meant and spoke to her quite innocently.

Wendy – I am as vanilla as Manilla envelopes in a creamery with whitewashed walls
And identical twin albino Godzillas fighting snow leopards with cue balls.

No gimp suit in fifty shades of grey for me.

I am pretty much hormone-free,
More than happy with asexuality
Playing pirated computer games on one hand
And others’ loves that dare not speak their names which fewer understand.

In my world of dreamery certain flights of fancy pass me by.

I love to fly and you Wendy.

And I love you too Peter – Not Everygirl’s Ideal of A Real Man.
But I can understand the attraction of Lost Boys and their toys in Neverland.

We’ve known each other for all these years
Shared too many troubles, thoughts and fears
To be anything other than in each other’s hearts.

If I never visit Neverland again
I know you will always be my closest friend,
What, where, whenever happens
To the bittersweet end.

May we both be dying for an Excellent Adventure,
If not together then separately.

There is nothing better than to know
That you will always be there for me
No matter how we might grow
Into this 21st century.

And one day I may straighten out

Captain Hook put down his e-book and Facebooked a friend……………

And that is where our story will end.

Bored with literature? Some suggestions for making reading interesting again.

I have been a second-hand bookdealer for 25 years. I have had hundreds of conversations with people who are bored with what they are reading. Some of these people read mainly literature and over the years I have come up with some suggestions to get them back into reading some sort of quality fiction.


Some people tire of literary novels with dozens of inter-related characters and loads of sub-plots which make the reader feel they need to concentrate all the time. Try one of these pre-novel classics – Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais, Don Quixote by Cervantes or Boccaccio’s Decameron in a good modern translation. Reading self contained episodes with only minimal progression to the story line can be a breath of fresh air for some. I am a fan of Rabelais and his Gargantua and Pantagruel is one of the maddest, most bawdy and surreal books I have ever come across. It is also hilariously funny in parts. All three titles will take you into a world quite unlike most novels, can be dipped into at your leisure and you do not need to have your thinking head on to read and enjoy them.


I am amazed at how many people who come into my shop have only considered literature written in English. I am a huge fan of Spanish, Portuguese and South American literature. If you can get your hands on Clarice Lispector’s Hour of the Star, Machado de Assis’s Epitaph of a Small Winner or Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate you could be in for a treat unlike any English novel you have ever read. Whether it is Spanish or African, French or Chinese give some foreign literature a go.


As a teenager I ploughed my way through Dracula and decided life is too short to read supposedly great and important books just so you can impress other people. Ask anyone who has read Finnegan’s Wake if this is true. Don’t turn your nose up at quality fiction. In my Historical Romance section you will find Dorothy Dunnett who has written a House of Niccolo series which has been described by some as literature. Likewise Patrick O’Brian and his Aubrey and Maturin series found in the Historical Thriller section. Or you could dip into some Sherlock Holmes which will give you some of the best short stories ever written. Some customers just needed to take time out and to start enjoying reading again without worrying about their reputation. Which leads neatly into……..


Science Fiction? You don’t want to read about intergalactic spaceships battling it out to save the universe and neither do I but you could try Philip K Dick’s Counter Clock World. He is a very limited writer but with more original ideas than any writer I know. Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is better written and thought provoking in a different way, and if you want something different again there is Peter F Hamilton’s Greg Mandel trilogy. Mandel is a psychic detective operating in the near dystopian future and the series is, without a doubt, the best example of mixing two literary genres that I have come across. I could suggest P G Wodehouse, Margery Allingham or John Buchan who have a foot under the literature table but can also be classified as humour, crime or thriller respectively.


Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, a classic if ever there was one and not much longer than a hundred pages. Or how about The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway? Or Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad? Many great writers have written short novels and some customers have dismissed such works because they are not deemed substantial enough. Concentrate on quality over quantity and vastly increase your chances of both finishing and enjoying the literature that you read.


Ever heard of Djuna Barnes? Try Nightwood. Her style is pretty much unique in my experience. People like Martyn Millar and Richard Brautigan take an approach to writing that I found lazy and shoddy. Both have a bit of a cult following and it may be just what you need. When Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh became popular I was amazed at how many rose to the challenge of reading a book that contained so much Scottish dialect. And whilst not exactly unconventional Hemingway brings a terseness to his writing that can be refreshing if you are tired of the airs and graces of more conventional literature


There are so many epic novels that there is nearly always one of them on my shelves to recommend to someone feeling adventurous for something substantial and different. I have Weymouth Sands in the shop at the moment by John Cowper Powys and I would just as happily recommend his Glastonbury Romance. John Dos Passos and his U.S.A trilogy is as long as they come and a landmark of 20th Century literature. Tressell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is unlike any other novel I know. If politics and the working classes interests you give it a go. Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow exhausted me but then so does Captain Beefheart’s album Trout Mask Replica but I think everyone should at least give the Captain and Gravity a go.


Not everyone reads literary reviews and some trust a book-dealer’s observations. There is often little point in recommending the likes of Dickens and Hardy as so many people have negative, preconceived ideas about them. Instead I pick books written this millennium that they often have not heard of. Here is a handful of titles that have been repeatedly requested over the last few years. David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas is definitely up there as is the Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke is another to consider. Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind ain’t as popular as it was with would be travellers but still worth a mention if you are thinking of backpacking in the near future and want some inspiration. Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time sells well out of both the children’s and literature section. And if you want the latest candidate get Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. And believe me there are very few frequently requested Booker prize winning novels.

I could go on multiplying examples but lists have a limited usefulness and if you have read this far I have done my bit and you are hopefully more interested in visiting your local secondhand bookshop and asking the staff for five minutes of their time. Best of luck.

Monty Python City versus Kafka United – the last fortnight’s religious news.

Let’s play a different sort of fantasy football with two appropriately named teams chosen to match the spirit of some of the last fortnight’s religious news.

Reading an article on a small village in Derbyshire called Bolsover, I discovered that the city in which I live has the highest number of Satanists of anywhere in England and Wales. According to the Census of 2011 there were 34 Satanists in Bristol. The same census recorded under the same religion category 176,632 Jedi Knights which is under half the number recorded in the previous census. A Priestess of the Church of Satan was asked about the census and she said she thought someone was playing a prank and that Satanists are actually atheists and do not worship the Devil. No one saw fit to ask George Lucas about  making Gods.

Monty Python City 1 – 0 Kafka United

And talking of atheists, Richard Dawkins tweeted, albeit very briefly, that he wanted to fight Islamism with erotica. ‘Why don’t we send lots of erotic videos to theocracies?’ he said. The short answer to that would discuss legal , human rights and moral issues not to mention invasion of privacy, young children being exposed to porn, censorship and technological difficulties. Another sort of revenge porn to contemplate it would seem.

Monty Python City 2 – 0 Kafka United

Stephen Fry on the other hand caused a storm on a chat show with some comments about a capricious, mean minded, stupid and monstrous God who created a world full of injustice and pain. Then he mentioned Greek Gods whom he preferred because they did not pretend not to be human in their appetites, capriciousness and unreasonableness. The interviewer failed to ask if such a lack of pretence made the existence of insects that burrow into children’s eyes any more acceptable.

Stephen Fry got married the other week and it wasn’t in a Greek church, Orthodox or otherwise.

Monty Python City 2 – 1 Kafka United

The Archbishop of Canterbury joined in the debate and said that Stephen Fry has a god given right to express such views and not be abused for saying what he said. People must not be persecuted for their beliefs whether they are religious or atheist.

No mention of the Book of Job in the Old Testament. As for two thousand years of apologetics including discussions about theodicy, not a single reference to any of this extensive tradition. Instead we hear about rights God has given to atheists for which there is no biblical precedent that I know of.

Monty Python City 2 – 2 Kafka United

Perhaps the Archbishop made the above comments because he was speaking at a Convention held by The Religious Liberty Commission to highlight the spread of religious persecution. During it he thanked Evan Harris for his efforts to abolish blasphemy laws as he opposed all restrictions on freedom of speech concerning religion which did not constitute hate speech.

What we are witnessing here is not unique to the Archbishop. Many Christians who stand up in the media to make a statement in the name of Christianity seem to feel a need to commit intellectual syncretism and use terms, concepts and ideas from non-Christian beliefs, ideologies and -isms to make their point, or more precisely to give what they say credibility.

If you advocate the abolition of blasphemy laws in the name of free speech are the numerous references to blasphemy in the bible to be abolished as well? And if not, why not? Taking away the law does not take away the offence that blasphemous comments can cause either. And where does this leave Richard Dawkins ?

Monty Python City 3 – 2 Kafka United

With all that has happened recently I doubt if there has ever been a period in my lifetime when there has been a greater need to educate about religion and its part in shaping our past and current world. Ignorance of facts help make it easier for prejudice to thrive. TV Programmes on church history, medieval history, critical thinking and philosophy could help redress the balance and give the young especially the tools to assess extremism, fundamentalism and prejudice. So what has the BBC just announced? It is axing the post of Head Of Religion so that religious programmes will be merged with history, science and business under a new Head of Factual Programming. Own Goal!

Monty Python City 3 – 3 Kafka United

PS – there is no extra time.

Predicting the 2015 UK General Election three months in advance.

There are few things that we English like doing more than being wise after the event – especially if we are in a pub. Today is the 7th of February 2015 and in exactly three months time the next UK General Election will be held. I am happy to try and be wise before the event – a full three months before the event – and to not only state which party I think is going to win the most seats, but to go as far as to state the exact number of seats won by seven of the parties involved plus a figure for seats won by the ‘other’ parties.

Here are my predictions in numbers and then words.

  • Conservative – 328 seats
  • Labour – 245
  • Scottish National Party – 30
  • Liberal Democrat – 15
  • UKIP – 10
  • DUP – 8
  • Green Party – 0
  • Others – 14

  • The Conservative Party to sneak an overall majority.
  • As a consequence of the recent referendum in Scotland, The Labour Party to lose out heavily to the SNP , but to still remain The Opposition Party.
  • The Liberal Democrats to lose out heavily all round, and regress to where they were a decade or so ago.
  • UKIP to make a limited impact (mainly due to the small percentage of seats they contest) and yet become the Liberal Democrat’s nearest rival.
  • The Green Party to discover just how steep the learning curve is in the run up to an election.
  • No significant changes in Northern Ireland.

  • There could of course be an event of Falklands War proportions to change everything. The TV debates could throw the biggest political spanner ever known into the works but both scenarios are so unlikely as not to be worth considering.

  • Will report back in three months or so.
  • PS – have not been in a pub for weeks.