Charity Begins At Tome – Bringing Charity Shops to Book!

 

My husband and I are both book worms, as a result of which our house often resembles the local library. Book shelves overflow onto the floor, then rise in volcanic stacks, the summit growing ever higher.  Elsewhere, ruthlessly culled boxes, full to the brim, await transportation down to the local charity shops.  Not any more!  Having recently spoken to a number of disgruntled elderly friends and acquaintances, many subsisting on a state pension, I have discovered that they are being priced out of the charity shops. The £3.00 and £4.00 price tag for a second-hand book is, quite simply, beyond their meagre resources. And, whilst I accept that the charities’ aim is to raise money for their particular cause, I would also contend that by pitching their prices beyond the affordability of the majority of their customers, they are biting the hand that feeds them. Okay, so we all know there are also well-off canny people who trawl the charity shops for vintage or designer items they can sell on Ebay for a nice big  profit. Others, more worthy souls, flash their green credentials at the drop of a pre-loved hat in a bid to save the world’s resources by choosing to re-use what is already in existence.  But, the majority of charity shop users are elderly people on a pension and low-income families whose needs are basic and nothing whatsoever to do with profiteering, moralising or saving the world.

However, rather than just moralise, myself, for the past few months I have been on a scouting mission around the local charity shops of Thanet and Canterbury.  The results were mixed but, overall, the picture emerging tallies with the experiences of my elderly friends.  Books, in particular, have been hiked up to a ridiculous degree, the price structure seemingly plucked out of thin air. An anorexic book of no more than a couple of hundred pages is often priced the same as a massive tome, and a book by a well-known author regularly priced at two thirds (and more) of the original cost. Bearing in mind, (and as an author I know this all too well, to my own cost), that brand new books are often discounted to an enormous degree, pitching used books at the higher end of the scale begins to look less like shrewd business and a damn sight more like greed. Let me make it plain, I am talking about ordinary paperbacks and hardbacks and not rare, out of print, first edition, signed by some great, now-dead, literary giant.

Often, it is the big chain charities that are the more culpable in this regard. In Canterbury, one very well known outlet, had priced its books to such a degree that it was cheaper for the customers to visit the discount book store a few metres up the road and get three brand-new, current books, for less than the cost of two used ones (in various states of disintegration) at that store. That is not just bad business. It’s sheer stupidity.

As a donor, it’s important to me that the books that I paid good money for and which I am donating free gratis, be priced reasonably and placed within the grasp of those in most need. The same goes for clothing and bric-a-brac, both of which seem also to have suffered a seismic rise in pricing. For example, I saw items of used clothing priced HIGHER than their original selling price. What’s all that about!  With stores such as Primark, the supermarket clothing brands and street markets, it is becoming a toss-up as to which is cheaper to buy – used or new.  Given the choice, I think I know which the majority would plump for.

In Ramsgate, one charity shop has a number of pictures for sale. There is nothing special about them. They are pretty, but pretty ordinary. Prints. Not originals. Not limited edition. Not particularly desirable. Not new! All carry price tags in the upper twenties and more.  Six weeks on, not one has sold. I’m not a gambler,  but I would lay good money on it that six weeks further on, six months further on, they were still be there and the charity will have profited not one whit. Greed and stupidity again! Lower the prices, make the sale.  ‘Don’t ask the price, it’s a penny’, was the mantra used by Michael Marks when he opened his first bazaar in Leeds in 1884. He later teamed up with Tom Spencer and the rest, as they say, is history. The charity shops might do well to revisit that particular school of thought. Pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap. Obviously, I am not advocating that everything be reduced to a penny, but a judicious lowering of prices will bring in more punters and result in more sales. Better the heel off the loaf than no bread at all!

And, before someone comes back and hits me with the cost-of-administration card,  let us not forget that charity shops benefit from exemption from corporation tax on profits, a zero VAT rating on the sale of donated goods and 80% mandatory non-domestic rate relief. This 80% relief is funded by central Government.  A further 20% rate relief is available at the discretion of local authorities. They are also staffed, in the main, by a wonderful army of civic-minded, unpaid volunteers, so a little latitude price-wise would not go amiss. After all, we are in the grip of an economic recession.  There is a real danger that charity shops run the risk of donors finding alternative methods of disposing of their unwanted goods and disheartened buyers dwindling away.

I have also noticed an attempt by a number of outlets to make their store look more attractive, more boutique-like. Fine. Nice. We all like attractive surroundings. But a change of decor, an artistically arranged shelf, better quality air freshener, does not confer the right to charge boutique prices.  Second-hand is second-hand, dress it up how you may!

As I type, I can see two large boxes of books gazing forlornly at me from the floor of my living room. A further hunt will, I have no doubt, result in as many more, all on the lookout for an appreciative new home.  I will invite my friends to come plunder, and whatever is left I will distribute direct to hospitals and care homes, and to the few charity outlets I found where reality still holds sway.  Sometimes, the cost of charity is not to be borne.

 

ALL PAIN, NO GAIN. LET THE BUYER BE UNAWARE!

Today, the sun has climbed aboard his golden chariot, the sky is the celestial blue of a Renaissance painting, birds are flibberty-gibbeting in trees so lush they deserve a more original adjective. A day, one might think, to be happy and carefree, to dispense with the woes of whatever there is to be woeful about. A day to rejoice that one’s heart still beats, pulse still pulses and blood still Grand Prix’s it through ones veins. Unless you happen to be Son No. 2, whose face is currently so long, he bears more than a passing resemblance to Desert Orchid. Pour quois? Simples! He didn’t listen to his Mum, didn’t heed the warning that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In this case, we are referring to an X-Box bought on Amazon, an amazing ‘knock-down’ bargain. What the vendor failed to specify is that the knock-down referred not to the price, but to the recipient, when they found no leads, battery pack or any of the associated paraphernalia one might expect to make it work was actually included. A salutary lesson learned the hard way. But, Son No. 2 is not the only one to have woken up and smelled the con-artist. I’ve learned a lesson too and that is not to bother dispensing any more pearls of wisdom. The fact is the only voice most people listen to is the voice of bitter experience. Their own experience! As a parent, of course, I felt it my bounden duty to try and instil the wisdom of Caveat Emptor in the fruit of my womb, if only to spare him the disappointment of X-Boxes sans accoutrements. But like said X-Box, it didn’t work. However, he will not make that mistake again. But, looking at the balance sheet, I suppose he’s gained more than he’s lost; in the debit column, £70.00  and scales lost from his eyes and, in the credit column, invaluable experience.

Blue Per-Suede Shoes – Clothes Shaketh the Man

 

I have survived, but only just, the annual husband clothes-buying spree, having spent many months pointing out that his clothes (hollow laugh, here) are no longer fit for purpose.  Some of them are no longer at all, in fact, but several inches shorter than when first acquired. His trousers, alone, have the distinction of falling into two camps:

a) paint spattered Jackson Pollocks

b) Jolly Jack Tars, flapping six pallid-flesh exposing inches above his ankle.

I do not lie when I say that his wardrobe has begun began to resemble the Bermuda Triangle – things disappear in it, principally buttons, zips and belts, and once the cat, never to be seen again.

Underwear? Don’t go there – I won’t! Suffice to call it a holy show.

In any case the divorce letter finally got through to him and, today, me looking grim but purposeful, him just looking grim, we braved the shops and he actually went in. As with locust-like expertise I stripped the rails, throwing jackets and trousers at him, the look on his face turned from grim to downright mutinous.

‘Fine,’ he muttered, modelling a jacket that made him look like Lurch from the Adams Family, as half the shop sniggered behind their hand. The only excuse I can think of is that he was standing at least fifteen feet away from the mirror and needs new glasses as well as new clothes.  Not being Morticia, I was less than impressed and forced him to try on several more, till eventually we struck pay dirt with a tailored linen-mix in a classy shade of oatmeal. The same pantomime followed with a succession of trousers and jeans, him saying ‘fine’, me yelling ‘it’s not bloody fine – you look like Charlie Chaplin/Max Wall/Gordon Brown’ as other shoppers gave us a very wide berth and peered anxiously about for the exit points.

Eventually, though, we acquired enough booty to satisfy even me, plus I managed to persuade him of the youth-enhancing qualities of a tastefully patterned shirt – a first!  Pushing my luck, I picked up a pair of dark blue ,suede loafers on our way to the checkout.

‘Never in a million years!’ he roared, the veins in his neck bulging the same colour. Reader, we bought them.  Tonight, I will sleep soundly in the knowledge that peace has broken out for a further year, and that my husband will not be arrested either for vagrancy or indecent exposure.

Eats Leaves and Shoots Carnation Petals – the language of flowers!

 

A recent survey found that an impromptu gift of flowers from the man in your life could lead to accusations of cheating.  This, you understand, is not something of which I have personal experience as, in common with many other men, my husband doesn’t ‘do’ flowers. ‘Why,’ he exclaims, wearing the kind of persecuted face Ann Boleyn wore on her way to the block, ‘do you need flowers to know I love you? Besides, the last time I gave you flowers you mocked and scorned me. And five years on, you’re still nagging.’ Huh! I deny none of it. Let the crime fit the traducing, is what I say and pink, plastic and nasty ratchets up the punishment factor.  Even worse, if the pink, plastic and nasty offering comes in a nasty, brown plastic hanging-basket guaranteed to be still going strong when only cockroaches hold sway.  Listen up, men; this is for your own good. There is a strict hierarchy in the world of flower-giving, one you would do well to learn quickly if you are not to revert to walking on all fours.

Real  = good (kisses follow and happy-clappy sounds)

Fake  = skirting close to the wind. (danger of low flying kitchen knives, divorce, maybe violent death)

Red roses from Interflora  = (kisses and hugs, candlelight dinner, nudge nudge, wink, wink and uninterrupted viewing of Sports Channel.)

Bunch of diesel-smelling, dusty blooms from service station – Only ever to be attempted by those wearing full Kevlar body armour, or by Arnie Schwarzenegger’s body double. (Most common complication –  Eats leaves and shoots Carnation petals, thorns and stems from orifices not usually on public display.)

So there you have it, guys, the Dummy’s Guide to saying it with flowers. Just remember to choose your words (and flowers) with care.

Me? I’m just off to buy some shoes, a handbag, a new dress, perfume and, of course, some flowers – all on David’s credit card. Ah, well, he should have gone to Interflora.

The Grape Escape

You heard it here first, I am a problem drinker. The problem, though, is not the amount I drink, but what I drink. Wine! You see, I am beginning to suspect, much as I do with modern art and thong lingerie, that someone somewhere is having a laugh at my expense. Explain, if you can, why the Bacchanalian thirst-quencher of the Gods, for which I paid a hefty sum (anything above five quid, I consider hefty) is actually no more than a liquidised fruit salad – “tongue-tingling freshness, with a tantalising kick of vibrant lemon, lime and pink grapefruit”. To use the vernacular of the young – Duh? Like, where are the grapes, dude? I mean, whatever! A quick squint at the rest of my very modest wine collection confirms the emperor’s new clothes trick being perpetrated upon the unsuspecting or downright gullible. In other words, me! The bottle of Riesling earmarked for a nice fish dinner contains not grapes as one might expect, but “delicate floral aromas, combined with a steely character (ooh, missus!), concentrated citrus and peach notes”.  Ditto, my stalwart little Argentinian, who bravely rings the changes with “wild red fruits and ripe plums, a touch of spiciness and a velvety texture”.  Wot? Still no grapes?

As with most things in life, one has to draw the line somewhere. Essence of liquorice, lingering hint of tobacco, vanilla, chocolate and extract of angel’s tears, all encapsulated in a bottle masquerading as Chianti? Chuck me over a lager, dude. I’m done!

Like A Bird on a Pyre

Thanks to a miraculous event i.e. the appearance of the sun for more than five minutes, the silly season has come early this year. It’s time to dive for cover as the fowl (not a spelling mistake), carcinogenic smoke from the neighbour’s Barbie belches over the fence, followed by gales of drunken laughter and more belches – this time from the neighbour himself.  The smell of sizzling flesh is everywhere making one nostalgic for the funeral pyres of Old Calcutta even if, like me, one has never been to Old Calcutta. Elvis may have left the building, but he’s come to the Barbie in fine voice, glory glory alleluia – or could that be the neighbour again indulging in a spot of ye old off-key Karaoke? Yep! And now he’s moved on to Sting and is apparently watching me, or watching you. One thing he isn’t watching is the Barbie and a shout goes up as the fence catches fire. A moment later, I can see him through the ever increasing gap pouring XXXX on the flames in a futile attempt to douse them. The man is clearly the devil in disguise and I swear there is a lot of fence mending to be done before this wooden heart will will ever love him tender again – or even tolerate him.

A Packet of Roosters, Two Lamb Chops and a 1960s Stereogram, Please

Ramsgate is better known for its Royal Harbour and architectural heritage (Pugin woz ere), than as a shopping Mecca, especially now that many of the shops have relocated further afield to Westwood Cross . Therefore, one might think it safe to let an impulse shopper like me out without a carer.  One would be wrong, which is why I am now giving house room to a massive, great, partially working 1960s stereogram, which I somehow managed to convince myself was the missing key to eternal happiness.  I wouldn’t mind, but I only went out for a packet of spuds and a couple of lamb chops. My mistake was in taking the car, because then I had to park it, and if I had walked, then I wouldn’t have had to park it, and so I wouldn’t have come within an ass’s roar of the second-hand (make that fifty-hand) furniture store.  But lo it came to pass that I had to pass it and then after I had passed it, it occurred to me that we were in need of a wardrobe for the spare room. So I actually retraced my steps and ventured inside, even though the woodworms were all out openly sunning themselves and chewing the fat (or the wood) on the ancient furniture outside. I should explain that, at the moment, I am suffering from a Victorian period (which is a different kind of women’s problem, in that it involves lots of oak, aspidistras and stuffed birds in glass cases).  To wit, Ikea simply would not do.  I wanted wood, real wood from real trees. I wanted craftsmanship that had lasted for a hundred years, drawers that didn’t fall apart (don’t be smart!), carvings and cabriole legs (shut up!).  You get the picture? What I got was a 1960s stereogram with a turntable that turns, only not at the right speed (or could it be that James Blunt has developed a shocking speech impediment?), and an impressive looking radio that looks as though it might communicate with aliens. In fact the whole thing might even be an alien.

‘It  could have been worse,’ I told my long-suffering husband later, when he opened his mouth to lodge an objection.  ‘I was very tempted by the 20ft Indian Totem Pole.’ Besides, it was our third wedding anniversary and he hadn’t bought me a present. Ladies and Gentlemen, you heard it here first – there will not be a fourth.  On a happier note, though, the stereogram does have cabriole legs (and just a teeny weeny bit of wood worm)!