Friday, September 25, 2009

The original 'SrAlan'

A favourite quote from my success literature-reading days is "if someone gives you a million dollars, best you become a millionaire so you get to keep the money". It goes to the core of the nature of wealth, being about the mindset rather than the actual dollars and cents. I imagine it's much the same with celebrity and fame. Whether it happens overnight, or over the long-term - you need to have the right mental attitude to handle it when it arrives. This quote came to mind last week as I was reading Alan Titchmarsh's memoir "Knave of Spades" in the run up to our wonderful book event last Friday with the man himself. As I've already fessed up to the fact that I'm a fan, I think we'll take it as read that he was a wonderful guest, and I felt very privileged to be able to welcome him to Abingdon on the night. Courteous, genuine, with a rare sort of humility - Alan is someone who handles fame very well indeed. In an era of 'instant fame' it is interesting to discover just how long Alan's apprenticeship was, not just in terms of becoming a world-renowned gardener, but also in achieving the fame and regard large swathes of this country hold him in. He left school at 15, with one O-level in Art, and started at the very bottom: apprentice gardener for the Ilkley Urban District Council. The quintessential elements of success were all there at the start though: a combination of 'doing what you love', hard work, a hunger to learn, and some key mentors who helped guide him on a trajectory that was to take him to college, then Kew Gardens and eventually on to the BBC. We had a lot of fun on the evening. After an hour regaling us with stories and anecdotes, we then ushered him out to the signing table to meet and sign books. Cue lots of banter, the odd saucy comment - and a few well-meant harangues to 'get back on the telly doing gardening programmes'... As usual, Gaskella has done a much better (and more timely) job of reporting on the event itself - but one of the undoubted highlights of the evening was when ur-fan Edna presented Alan with two 2-foot high knitted dolls to coincide with his 60th birthday. We'd been a bit worried when she'd called the shop a few days before, warning us that she would be presenting them to him on the night. Her use of the phrase "and one of them is fully clothed" did cause some alarm bells to ring. But she was a delight:
Thanks to St Helen & St Katharine for making their wonderful Yolande Patterson Hall available to us at short notice, for the Mostly Booklovers who turned out to help 'marshal' the event, to everyone who turned up to make it a special evening - and of course to Alan himself for coming down to Abingdon after a gruelling week on the road.
(P.S. About the title. I know he's an MBE, but it's surely just a matter of time...)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Alan Titchmarsh at Mostly Books

This Friday we'll be welcoming Alan Titchmarsh to Abingdon - and I have to say, I'm a bit nervous. Not because it's a big event for us (it is), and not just because I've got to introduce him (because, between you and me, I love doing that sort of thing). No, it's because I'm a fan, and - like most fans - there's always that risk of behaving like an idiot when coming face-to-face with your heroes. I have a signed copy of How To Be A Gardener, I watched quite a bit of Gardener's World whenever it was on - but it was Ground Force that I was totally hooked on. Don't ask me what it was about that programme: was it the conflicts, the jeopardy, the ludicrous deadlines and the over-ambitious garden plans? Or perhaps it was just that you were kidding yourself that - given a whole weekend - you might just be able to transform your poor excuse of a garden into something amazing. Dream on... Anyway, for me, the absolute zenith for Ground Force was the makeover the team performed on Nelson Mandela's garden in South Africa. Broadcast (from memory) about 3 days into the new millennium (boy, does that seem a long time ago) the genius was in taking the quintessentially British GF format (complete with banter, the ludicrous deadlines, etc) and transplanting it to a completely different country - and involving a man who was arguably the world's most famous individual at the time (Mandela that is, not Titchmarsh). I couldn't find any clips on YouTube to include here (although I did find an old BBC website story here) but from memory, when Nelson eventually returns to see the garden, and gets over his surprise, he queries whether or not it is the BBC behind the transformation. Up to then, everything has been very light and easy-going (typical GF) until Mandela has his question confirmed. When he discovers it is indeed the Beeb, he suddenly becomes all serious. "Do you know how important an organisation the BBC is?" asks Nelson, intensely. Quick as a flash, Alan - probably intuitively, knowing there isn't the chance of a retake, realising the need to keep the tone light for the end of the show - replies in equally serious tones "we do indeed sir, it pays our wages.". And cuts to the end of the show. It was a masterstroke. And showed the touch of a consummate broadcaster, not just a master gardener. Anyway, I'm sure for those of you who can take or leave Mr Titchmarsh, this'll all seem a bit gushing. I'll try not to babble like an idiot when I introduce him on Friday. More about the event here. It takes place at the School of St Helen & St Katherine (the marvellous venue we hosted Joanna Trollope at back in January) and there are still tickets if you get in touch with us at the shop...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Well, that was embarrassing

It was a genuine mistake. Honestly. I was vaguely aware that it was out this week. But our delivery didn't turn up yesterday, and what with our upcoming event with Alan Titchmarsh a week Friday, and a few other events that we are putting into place I must admit I lost track... So when someone came in this morning at about 10am keen to have a look at the latest Dan Brown, there were a few seconds of embarrassed silence behind the counter. "Ah. Dan Brown. Yes. I think we're expecting it this morning..." This wasn't some independent bookselling act of militancy BTW. Just a bit of a screw-up... Anyhoo, apart from that and not having a single copy of Pride & Prejudice in the shop this morning ("call yourself a bookshop?)" we feel firmly back in the saddle after our almost two-week break once we'd waved Griff off back in the middle of August. Since our return it's been Ch*stm*s planning and ordering, catching up with all the news from our customers, playing admin catch-up and feverishly putting our Autumn schedule together ready for our next newsletter - which might be out as early as next week (with a following wind). Ooh, loads of events which are *almost* finalised and we're bursting to tell you about...but it'll have to wait (aside from Alan of course - did I mention him?) Anyway - what's been happening to us over the last few weeks? Well, we've been a bit remiss in keeping up with the wider bookselling world (see start of post) but I feel particularly bad that the opening of a new independent went by without a comment from us. Not just any old bookshop, of course, but the new Edinburgh Bookshop opened by bookselling supremos Vanessa and Malcolm - doubling their bookselling empire. Go take a look at the photos of the new shop because it is gorgeous. And are those some Persephone books I see in that bottom photo? I think so... The independent world needs good news like this because I was really shocked to discover that Crockatt & Powell closed their doors sadly over the Summer. I knew that were under the cosh a little following their expansion into Chelsea - but even so, I was really shocked by the news. I can't think of anything more traumatic than having to close your shop. Matthew and Adam were the punk rockers of indie bookselling, often controversial, never dull. They have helped us out over the years with a tonne of useful advice. I'll miss their blog, and Lower Marsh must be a quieter, sadder place if you are a booklover. Hurry back soon chaps...