In a bind over the rising standards on book stalls
Just when you think all's well in the eastern Cotswolds a leaflet pops through your letter box suggesting how you can be doing things that little bit better.
This month our local Anglican priest suggested in the church newsletter that children want things more than they used to. She was shocked to see family members playing board games that are based on acquiring the most money. So out went our Monopoly – stamped on, obviously, rather than giving it to charity so that the minds of others wouldn't become warped.
I have curbed my own wanting of things, the last one I coveted being a musty book of Tony Hancock scripts in a Chipping Norton charity shop where I made the mistake of asking, "Isn't £7 a bit high for this?" Asking for the 'best price' in a real second-hand shop owned by an actual shopkeeper who needs the money and knows where the wisdom lies in the slogan 'The customer is always right' is music to his ears because he senses he's about to make a sale. Discounts are invariably agreed, however miniscule; customers are thrilled they've knocked 50p off and everyone's happy.
Try this same conversation in a shop with no profit motive and you risk summoning the hounds of hell to your door. While most volunteers are helpful this one replied with the air of someone who'd long since paid off her house and didn't care how many deals she didn't close. She also chose to reply in a louder voice than mine to explain that their charitable aim was raising as much money as possible, and glanced around the room to attract allies – one customer duly shuffling closer to groan down the upstart – thus cleverly transforming my private question into a public debate.
How could I doubt their prices since their charity was a hospice which I later read was one the Government had decided not to use public money to fund any more? When I said it wasn't there cause I was querying but the other part of their job which was to make prices reasonable for customers, her reaction was as if I'd asked if I could leave two delinquent children with her for a week while I holidayed in Blackpool.
Tony Hancock wouldn't have been much help either. He'd buy a junk shop just to prove to Sidney James how easy it is to make a fortune, and say to customers: "A discount? Have you gone raving mad?"
The vicar will be proud I no longer want things. I put up with the seven scruffy Penguins I bought at the Charlbury Street Fair two years ago before new "book acceptability guidelines" recently arrived in the form of a leaflet someone paid to have specially printed to advertise the fair to people who are going to it already.
Even that Magnificent Seven had been a struggle with yet another middle-aged stall-holder eyeing me as I picked up paperbacks one after the other as I moved along her stall with a view to paying for them altogether. I noticed her staring at me and sensed that for some reason she was pretending I might steal them rather than knowing I was just a customer. Again, it was trade she didn't need as long as she could play shops for a bit of excitement.
The way she got it that day was by watching me while whispering to her husband (presumably telling him to watch the chap who's as scruffy as the books he's picking up in case he leaves without paying). I even felt obliged to reassure her that I wasn't stealing, but I think she knew that. I went the following year and found nothing. The old stuff had been replaced by modern less interesting books with smarter covers that no one's read.
"We are particularly looking for books which are clean and smart (no dog ears or coffee rings)," announces the leaflet. "Books which sell particularly well are up to date novels [none of that Graham Greene rubbish], travel documentaries, children's books, and reference books which, in the main, need to be very up to date". They made it clear they were certainly not taking any old book you could spare. Bang goes Mark 12: 41-43 (the Bible also way off making their shortlist), where the "poor woman threw in two mites, which make a farthing … she hath cast more in than all they which have cast into the treasury."
A farthing may have impressed Jesus, but it wouldn't cut it in Charlbury.