Monday, March 29, 2004

OK, stuff.

I've added the comments just in case anyone gets inspired to write me anything. If they get spammed, they'll just as suddenly disappear again...

I have some comment or other about accents, having been in Aberdeen recently, but I can't seem to make it coherent right now, so I'm going to bang on about second-hand bookshops again.

One of my favourite places on this here interweb is Making Light; I ought to confess that the odd link has come from there over the years (over the years! Listen to me!). Recently I have been following this discussion with interest, for the future of independent and second-hand bookshops is dear to my heart. It surprises me not a bit that the small bookshop in Boston or Chicago is suffering the same privations as the small bookshop in this country, and I am equally at a loss to suggest what might be done about it, but that's not going to stop me trying.
Once upon a time, there was a thing called the Net Book Agreement. It was by no means the universal panacea, but it served to protect the smaller bookshop by preventing price-cutting on books. Everything had to be sold at the price printed on the cover, and although large retailers might make more margin, no-one was swayed by the price of a new book into buying it with the groceries when their friendly local bookshop offered the same item at the same price. Bookshops offered variety, supermarkets offered volume. If you wanted the new Jeffrey Archer or Catherine Cookson, there were hundreds of copies at your local Woolworth, but if you wanted to explore a bit further, there was a little shop just down the road which carried the complete works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Milan Kundera.
At some point between 1994 and 1996, the NBA simply crumbled away. No-one abolished it - the Publisher's RRP is still printed on every book - it just stopped working. And, as appears to be natural, once you allow discounting, prices go up. Prices went up to make the discounts look more appealing, and prices went up because they could. The big retailers had more clout, they sucked people in with their coffee shops and their brightly coloured stationery, and they turned book-buying into a lifestyle experience. None of which is, in itself, a bad thing There really is more choice out there, and the quality of production (if not always the quality of prose) has gone up noticeably in recent years.
But the independent is struggling, unable to meet the big boys' prices, and unable now even to compete on variety. And something strange has happened to the secondhand trade. It used to be the case that old books - battered but loved - were a positive, a sign of something good about a house, but it seems to me that people would rather have shiny new things these days, and the second hand trade (outside of mad places like Hay) is slowly fading away. I don't remember the last time I saw a new secondhand shop open, but I can take you to the sites of at least a dozen which are no longer there. I can't imagine how any of them make money, save the expensive ones (which are, in any case, 'Antiquarian Bookshops') and the ones tied to online selling, of which there are several. But online browsing is no substitute for spending half a day crawling around the creaky floor of a shop which time forgot and eventually turning up that missing Milligan, or finding a pristine copy of Perdido Street Station for a pound.

I really ought to start on that online directory, oughtn't I? When am I going to find time for that?

Friday, March 26, 2004

Meanwhile, in Ancient Sumeria...

Yeah, I know, there's lots of stuff I havent blogged yet.

But this is just the best thing I've heard all day. Properly cheered me up, that has.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Watty's been up a footbridge.

Yes, you read that right. Up. A curious thing. I've been to an exhibition and seminar at ExCeL (sic). As exhibition centres go, this is a pretty good one, well thought out and easy to use, and it's right in the heart of Docklands, which means that there are low flying aircraft going here, and there are wacky footbridges.

Well, one wacky footbridge:

click to see it a bit bigger

You stroll along, and inside that grey tower at the end there are a pair of lifts. I don't think I've ever had to go up in a lift to cross a footbridge before now, but I did today. 'Twas cold up there, but the view was worth it, and as a flight from Antwerp went over, I felt I could have reached up and touched it.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Some kind of significance.

OK, pay attention at the back. That there 2 years is not really significant (especially since there has been a Leap Day in between), but this one is:

On Sunday the 10th of March 2002, I decided to try a little experiment. I gave up caffeine for a week, to see how it would go. Perhaps I should have a celebratory espresso tomorrow, to mark the longest week in history. Two whole years and counting - no coffee, no tea (not that I drank tea anyway), no Coke or its derivatives, no chocolate, no flu remedies. By and large, it has worked.

If you've been here all this time, you'll remember that I started by offering a Depression Index (my caps), tracking how I felt about things, and possibly giving myself a record of what caused my various depressions. Like so many other things in here, it gradually faded away, thanks not so much to my general indifference, but to the fact that the 'no caffeine' thing actually seemed to work. I take no antidepressants; I watch and modify my behaviour, to be sure, but I no longer suffer from the long, black days and nights.

Which is not to say I'm cured. I'm slowly coming round to the idea that I'm not going to be cured of this thing; I'm just going to learn to live with it, and make it live with me. In the last week or so, I have noticed a certain tendency toward 'black behaviour'; I know why, and I deal with it. On Saturday, I had as bad a start to a day as I've had in possibly these past two years, but it passed - I'm more tired than usual at present, and that is at once a symptom and a cause - and I knew that what I needed was time to wake up. Once that had been acheived, by lunchtime I was back in business.

Do I miss my caffeine? Of course I do. The pang I get from smelling coffee brewing has not diminished over the two years, but the way I feel, and feel about myself, is more than worth the cost. I think about my depression every day, but I'm no longer mentally checking myself out every morning to see what kind of a day I'm going to have to suffer; I assume everything is manageable unless I hear otherwise. I come across other people's descriptions of how they feel, and I think "That's how I used to be", not "that's how I am." Of course, now it's like some kind of ritual magic spell; if I accidntally ingest some caffeine, then I fear that everything will collapse about my ears. One day soon, I'm going to eat a piece of chocolate, just to prove that I can do it, and perhaps I'm nearly ready to try decaf again. Maybe I'll learn to like the taste, and maybe it won't make me want to have some full-strength coffee. Maybe not just yet, though. I'm not better, but I'm better, if you know what I mean.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Two years?

Seems so. That means there is another, more significant anniversary in a couple of days. More then.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Weblog, it's a weblog. Post some links:

Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, in which a Proper Author takes time out to spread a little light on the whole scary business. Not that I agree with everything he says, but it's pretty good stuff. Better still, Uncle Jim does a little real-time editing. You want to understand the difference between a writer and a Writer? It's right here. I love the first paragraph, post edit.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004


Oh, fresh new look? Yeah, I got tired of serif...

Sorted out the lists on the left, too. Who says I never do anything around here?