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Take five

January passed in a blur of protests, marches, outrage, petitions and emails. Time to regroup for five bars’ rest, before returning to the fray. Here are five things I’m going to do in February to keep me fresh.

  1. Plant some vegetable seeds. Nothing says “hope” like tomato seedlings growing on the windowsill.P1040212.JPG
  2. Go book-shopping, in an independent book shop. I’m working my way through the excellent long-list for the Wellcome Book Prize, always stuffed with thought-provoking literature.G Heywood Hill window
  3. Explore the vibrant art of the belle of Bloomsbury. Dulwich Picture Gallery hosts the first major retrospective of Vanessa Bell, a pioneer in life and in art. Starts 8 February.
  4. Bake some cake. I’ve had the builders in, re-making the kitchen, since the middle of December, and I’m craving the warm, delicious smell of a cake baking in the oven. Which one? I think I’ll see which page falls open first in my well-used copy of Pam Corbin’s River Cottage Handbook: Cakes.img_02135: Walk by the sea. For a clear head, wide horizon and lungful of breathable air, I’m heading out of polluted old London and down to the Kent coast.
    Dunes
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Filed under Books, London Life, Out of Town

Book-onomics at the London Review Bookshop

‘Would you like to share?’

The dapper gentleman arrived at the London Review Bookshop cafe at exactly the same moment as me. There was one table free. The arrangement was quickly made, and we settled down to a pot of Darjeeling and a piece of rhubarb and apple tart.

As so often happens in these civilised surroundings, conversation was easy. We talked books, authors, bookshops, theatre, concerts, books again. My companion was enjoying a few days’ holiday in London, before returning, he said rather gloomily, to ‘shuffle papers’ for an IT company in Nottingham. In the meantime he was cramming in theatre, exhibitions, and tonight a talk at the LRB.

Again, I felt how lucky I am to wander the capital at will, popping into world-class museums for a quick half-hour, browsing the many quirky and independent bookshops, even forking out for West End theatre tickets on a whim.

Then he said something that I’ve been thinking for ages. ‘The only way I can affect what happens in the recession,’ he said, ‘is by supporting the places I want to see survive.’

Which of course was why we’d both headed for LRB for books and cakes, rather than Starbucks or Waterstones. It’s the little places that make the difference to an area.

Yes, I am aware I might have paid less for that Dickens biography, newly purchased from Judd Books, if I’d ordered it from Amazon (or maybe not; it was jolly good value). But then where would I browse during a Sunday afternoon on Marchmont Street? And I expect the new Specsavers in the Brunswick Centre is cheaper than the long-standing family opticians Drury Porter Eyecare (don’t know; haven’t tried). But I doubt Specsavers would greet me like a long-lost friend when I pop in for my contact lenses, or give me half a dozen pairs of frames to take home for the weekend, when I was trying to choose new specs.

In one of those trendy pop economics books that was around everywhere last summer, one of the authors scoffed at people like me who opt to pay more, for not being ‘price sensitive’. In a grand example of knowing the price of everything, etc, he explained how we distort the market by not insisting on the lowest price possible. What he doesn’t know is that I’m extremely price sensitive if something isn’t good enough. I won’t pay anything for rubbish, be it as cheap as you like.

So while I have the luxury of choice, I choose quality. I choose good books, in bookshops where the assistant doesn’t need to be told who Chaucer was, good tea sold in pots not ceramic buckets, good food from shops that know where it came from. Buying books from a shop that thinks I might want to read anything by Katie Price, or tries to co-sell me a block of Dairy Milk for half price, depresses me. Support your local shops, yes. But only the ones you’d be sorry to lose.

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Filed under Books, London Life