A Day In The Life…March 2010

23 02 2010

I’m in a panic. You probably are too, if you’re a bloke. We’ve just got over the stress of Valentine’s Day, and now Mother’s Day looms on the horizon. I think the greetings card industry is run by sadistic women who get their kicks watching men squirm as they try to interpret the impossibly cryptic signals their partners/mothers send out in the run up to these events.

Well, I have decided, the only thing to do is to go nuclear. Buy a gift, certainly, (it would be suicide not to), but let’s break a few rules shall we? I’m getting my mother a power drill this year.

She is 78, and quite infirm, and frankly doesn’t do much now, bless her, apart from watch the shopping channel and make lists of tasks to put unnecessary strain on my father’s dodgy knees. However, if he does keel over, I think a Black & Decker will be very handy if she needs to open her bottles of pills herself, and she can stir her cocoa with it before bed. A Cath Kidston floral pinny, which many of you will be considering for your loved one, although more conventional, will be of no use at all. She no longer cooks, (my mother, not Cath Kidston) and anyway, she hasn’t, to my knowledge, worn any of the 24 aprons purchased by me over the last 25 years. (I forgot in 1990, boy was that a mistake).

Where was I? Yes, power tools. Don’t follow my lead, whatever you do. I shall plough a lonely furrow for you, as the lead member of the awkward squad advance party. You can adopt a watered down approach, but still buy your Mother something vaguely masculine this year. It will show her you’re not set in your ways, and are still capable of original thinking, which will impress her. How about this, a very fine limited edition print by Ed Lee, of this Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, lovingly recreated locally in Desmond Smail’s workshop. The car is sold, but it will live on in an exhibition of Ed’s photographs, at ICETWICE, over the next month or so. Your mother may love it, and even if she doesn’t, she can earmark it for you in her will, so it’s very nearly a win-win situation.

Now I don’t know your mother well, but there is always the chance that she has never been one for internal combustion engines. These women do exist, I am told. In that doomsday scenario, a book on fishing will be just the thing. This one is excellent.

May I go off-piste at this point? I realise we weren’t talking about skiing, but I just like using the term off-piste. I may? Thank you.

Inspired by this, ‘The British Seaside Holiday’, I have made representations to the council. No, that’s wrong. I’m ABOUT to do so. What we need in Olney, is a beach. For the summer, I mean, not now. Like the Paris Plage, but a bit smaller, obviously. I’m thinking the Market Place, or possibly about half the High Street north of there. We could have whelk stalls, and deckchair attendants, and a Punch & Judy man, and pedaloes on the river, and all manner of seaside paraphernalia. It would attract tourists. Wilson’s could do a roaring trade in buckets and spades and fishing nets on bamboo poles, and Much Ado could sell organic candy floss, and toffee apples, if there are no European directives outlawing toffee apples on Health & Safety grounds. My mother could come and stay, and supervise operations from her wheelchair, which has been specially adapted for sand (she lives by the seaside), and I think she’d let the workmen borrow her power drill to put the finishing touches to the beach huts. Am I getting carried away now? Surely not. I think Olney-sur-Mer has a ring to it.

A Day in The Life…February 2010

27 01 2010

Here’s a first, an apology. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted our failure to turn out for last month’s issue. For this we apologise, but there is a simple reason, one that does not involve the wrong sort of snow, or the dog eating the laptop. No, I had a premonition, a portentous one, in which I foresaw the January cold snap. Consequently, I abandoned the shop and spent the first 3 weeks of 2010 barricaded inside the airing cupboard, wrapped in two electric blankets, hugging several hot-water bottles. I whiled away the time finalising my eight ‘tracks’, for the time, quite soon I hear, when Kirsty hauls me aboard the BBC Radio 4 flagship and allows me to unleash my Desert Island Discs upon the world. I anticipate record listening figures for these little beauties:

Best Dressed Chicken In Town…Dr Alimantado
Marquee Moon…Television
Someone Great…LCD Soundsystem
A Horse With No Name…America
No Fun…The Sex Pistols
Kashmir…Led Zeppelin
EuroTrash Girl…Chicks On Speed
Down By The Water…PJ Harvey

Book….Three Men In A Boat…Jerome K Jerome
Luxury…A 7′ x 5′ Mirror

As it turned out, I did the right thing. Apparently, the only person who visited Olney during the first half of the month was Milton Keynes Council’s intrepid Planning Enforcement Officer, who, it is reported, was out and about, monitoring the icy pavements for ‘A’ boards that might trip up speed-skaters. I didn’t see him myself, but I have spies everywhere, and although they’d been on the barley wine at The Swan to keep warm, I believe them.

Anyway, enough of that, important matters now. I have an announcement. A Gerald Sparrow sign will have been attached to our building by the time you read this, and you will probably see it and ask yourself the question, what’s going on there then? I shall tell you. Gerald is a commercial property agent, a nice chap actually, who, like all commercial property agents, runs his business very successfully by mobile phone from a golf course. I’m kidding Gerald. Anyway, the object of this exercise is relocation, within Olney. We’re not closing. Stop cheering at the back. We’re RELOCATING, all of the bookstore, and the jewellery, and some of the gallery. I’ve had an offer to move the rest of the gallery to London, which makes sense, mainly because it’s outside the remit of the MKC Planning Enforcement Officer, but also I’m told there are hordes of bankers, flush with wheelbarrows of cash, roaming the pavements in the hope they will find piles of contemporary art to purchase for their fourth home in Zurich.

Why am I confiding in you? Well, generally speaking, two plus two erroneously makes five in small places like Olney, so, you now have it from the horse’s mouth’s official spokesperson, me, first, and it’s still four. This means that we shall still be shovelling good stuff under your noses, in the time-honoured ICETWICE way, until Tony Blair holds his hands up and admits the Iraq war was a rotten scheme, which will coincide with hell freezing over.

Now, pay attention, because this is the sales pitch bit, which you knew all along was what I was really leading up to. We’re having a major clear out in February. Regular visitors to ICETWICE will know that there’s an awful lot of original art upstairs, and frankly, because I haven’t made time over the past four years to keep tabs on it all, it would be sheer folly to attempt to pack it and return it to all the individual artists, even if I knew who they were or could track them down. I’m not good at keeping their phone numbers to hand, and they’ve gone awol anyway, presumably because they’re in a love nest with their life models.

The gist of what I’m saying is this, February is THE PERFECT MONTH for you lot to pop in and grab a SERIOUS art bargain. It’s also, fortuitously, a very good time of year for you to do your spring-cleaning, to make room for your purchase. That’s a domino effect isn’t it? We have a clear out, so you have one too, to make room for the stuff you buy from us. Simple really. I like life when it all works out for everyone.

A Day In The Life…December 09

20 11 2009

Christmas Day simply wouldn’t be Christmas Day without a good family row, would it? I hate to be a harbinger of doom (actually that’s not true, it’s my hobby), but I must advise you that if you are intending to purchase just one FATBOY Beanbag for your family this Christmas, the mother of all bust-ups is almost inevitable. If you give the FATBOY to the children, granny will throw a complete wobbly, and you know what she’s like after a couple of sherries. If, instead, you label it “To Granny, Love Santa”, then the children will steal it and slope off to their rooms and nuclear war will ensue.

Take our sage advice, pop in and buy every family member one each. (We’ll do you a good deal for more than one, and we always beat the best internet price anyway). You won’t regret it. Everyone can have a different colour, so there’s no possibility of confusion. Then, when you’re all stuffed with mince pies and stilton, you can have a snoring competition in front of the electric yule log. That’s much more fun than the traditional games of rude Pictionary or dirty Scrabble. The winner is the person whose snores first register 8.2 on the Richter scale. It’s usually me in my house.

If you have a voyeuristic streak, consider one of our giant 7’ x 5’ mirrors for the living room. (Order before December 15th please.) You can all watch each other snore, it beats the Queen’s speech hands down.

Anyway, when you come to, after a couple of hours, don’t get up too quickly, or the residual Bailey’s Irish Cream will drain from your brain. Put a book by your side before you sit down, carefully open one eye when you wake up, and squint at the pages for 20 minutes before you head to the cocktail cabinet for a stiffener.

We recommend this book, Curry, A Global History, as the perfect way to re-enter the land of the living. It will also cause extreme salivation, removing the coating of cranberry sauce from your tongue. By all means give it to the man of the house as a pressie first, but make sure you steal it back before you collapse onto your FATBOY.

When you and your loved ones are compos mentis again, you’ll probably all want something to do together before settling down for the traditional two hours bonding in front of Von Ryan’s Express.

This quiz book will do the trick. Granted, there will be quizzes in the fourteen newspapers you purchase on Christmas Eve, but not as obscurely fiendish as this one. Give it to Grandpa, he likes to be in charge, and the feeling of power may even stop him losing his temper with the teenage members of the household, although admittedly that is a long shot.

Now, you need to know when to come and grab all of the above, don’t you? We’re open every day in December, and there are Late Night Shopping events in Olney on 2nd, 11th and 18th December. We shall be standing to attention by the till, shoulders back, chest out, credit card machine unholstered and environmentally unfriendly bags poised to pollute. Or just come in during normal opening hours to receive a cheery scowl and our time honoured seasonal greeting “What the ruddy hell do you want, can’t you see we’re busy?” That last bit is a joke, we’re actually quite friendly really, and, you can park at back of t’gallery for nowt. You don’t get personalised red carpet treatment like that in Milton Keynes, do you? I’ve even considered offering valet parking but I’d be tempted to go joyriding if you’ve got a flash motor. Wheeee.

A Day In The Life….November 09

24 10 2009

Well, the response to last month’s announcement that we will be closing during November & December, in protest at the transformation of Christmas into a mere consumerist ritual, has been nothing short of revelatory.

A sweet little old lady hailing from Newton Blossomville wrote to me pleading for clemency. I am much moved by her plight. She fears she will be unable to buy the vicar his traditional present, (a book of erotic photography), if I am shut for two months.

Taking this tear-jerking tale into account, the upshot is that all plans to leave you poor folk without a destination for Christmas presents, have been, in a word, abandoned. We shall be OPEN for business, and what is more, I am considering heartfelt pleas from sobbing shift-workers for us to stay open 24 hours a day so they don’t miss out on the opportunity to peruse our cornucopia of delights. Hang on, that makes it sound like we retail confectionery, which is one of the few things we don’t offer.

volant-200What we do now sell, to be specific, is things like this. Baby pink Moleskines. Actually, we sell all types of Moleskines in all sorts of colours but I’m focussing on the pink ones because they are so jolly photogenic, as you can see.

What else? Well, since you ask (don’t deny it, I’m not fooled), we have fabulous new photography from the very talented and utterly local Ed Lee. Here’s one, of Whitby North Pier. I understand that Whitby is not local, before you write in. Ed’s into lighthouses at the moment, which is good, because lighthouses are, I am told, quite zeitgeisty. Beacons of hope, and so on and so forth. Whitby North Pier light

I must tell you at this point that I get regular enquiries from concerned parents, as to what they should buy male teenagers for Christmas. (Females are easy, see pink Moleskines above). “Something inspiring please,” they say, “but not a computer game, and not rude, and not socks.” This limits the available choices, but, I have the answer. They’re all obsessed by Banksy, yet they already own the entire Banksy oeuvre, however they do not have THIS, coz it’s new. london street artThe London Street Art Anthology. There we are, problem solved. Relax, and call me to reserve 7 or 8 copies forthwith.

Teenagers dealt with then. Splendid. Who else? Impossibly grumpy old gits. We all have at least one in our immediate family. (I am the one in mine). Get them this. 1001 ridiculous‘1001 Ridiculous Ways To Die’. The largest collection of hilarious true stories chronicling the most ridiculous, bizarre and astonishingly stupid deaths. They’ll expire laughing, shortly after lunch on Christmas Day with any luck, then you can enjoy The Queen in the diary room on Festive Big Brother without fear of interruption. Sorted. Tada!

A Day In The Life…October 2009

30 09 2009

Right. I’ve had enough. I’m not cooperating with all this Christmas nonsense any more. Stand by for an announcement that may very well cause you to quake in your Uggs or Hunter wellies or whatever other frippery you park on the business end of your lower limbs.

We hereby require ALL Christmas shopping at ICETWICE to be completed by October 31st.

All the ballyhoo and blather associated with this ridiculously outmoded quasi-religious neo-pagan consumerist ritual, has got to stop and stop now. It’s got out of hand. Therefore, as a principled protest against it all, we shall be SHUTTING for November and December, so if you haven’t taken full advantage of the vast array of irresistible goods on offer in our magnificently appointed emporium by 5pm on the aforementioned date you will have jolly well missed the boat, AND the last bus home, AND very possibly blotted your copybook to boot, into the bargain and up to the hilt. Obviously this means I have to shovel enough money into my till during the next four weeks to tide me through the last two months of the year, so you’ll have to step up and stump up, and we don’t want any whinging thank you very much. Omelette, eggs, breaking, etc.

I fully expect this decree to have a positive effect on the entire nation’s collective psyche, and I shall be quite cross if the rest of Britain’s shopkeepers don’t follow suit. I’ve left voicemails for Sirs Stuart Rose and Phillip Green demanding that they fall in line pretty pronto and present a united front, and, if they refuse, I shall be, well, miffed is not too strong a word.

To encourage you in this proud endeavour, I am prepared to stay open a bit later than 5.00pm if there are queues of you still at the till when it’s time to shut, but I must ask you to please be organised and have your cash handy and neatly folded, ready for pressing punctually into my hand. Try not to chatter too much to the other customers because they must concentrate all their efforts on not dropping their gargantuan pile of shopping. If you need trolleys, I know they have loads of them at the Co-op and Tesco and I doubt they’ll mind too much if you borrow one for a bit. If they have a problem with that, take my advice, send a stiff letter to their MD, with a copy to Mark Lancaster MP.

penis pokey

If you’re uncertain what to buy, because you’re used to leaving it all until December 24th, hoping inspiration will kick in, give me a bell or email me, and I’ll suggest some things. I don’t want you complaining at my choices though. You can’t very well cry for help and then object when I tell you that what Granny would really like is a Penis Pokey book (a mere £7.99), and that Uncle Gerald is extremely keen on R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country (underpriced at £9.99, with free CD). r crumb

Now, one more thing. If you MUST insist on having a Christmas tree, ditch the old-fashioned three dimensional version, and get one of these, from us of course. A 6 foot tall two dimensional cardboard cut-out tree. Very cost and space effective, complete with baubles and a decent selection of pressies to make it look as though you have loads of friends and are very popular. A snip at £30. Place orders now please because otherwise they won’t be here by end of October, and then your lovely serene family day on December 25th will be absolutely ruined and it will be, frankly, all, your, fault.
Picture 118
Happy Quasi-Religious Neo-Pagan Consumerist Ritual.

This article was first published in The Times Ecumenical Supplement on April 1st 2009

A Day In The Life September 2009….

26 08 2009

The sale finishes 31st August! Then, back to normal, whatever normal is in this place.

Actually, bugger normality, let’s be bold. I learnt a very valuable lesson during this sale. You lot absolutely LOVED our Buy 1 Get 1 Half Price offer on books. Now, usually, I am very slow to react to what people want. I tend to focus on the trees, and pay scant attention to the wood. But, not this time, dear me no, I’ve listened, thought about the big picture, and, here’s the surprising bit, taken ditherless action!

Starting today, we invite you to join our brand new book club. It’s not called the ICETWICE Book Club, that would be too mundane and predictable. No, you may become an official ICETWICE BOOKJUNKIE. There may be badges, caps, t-shirts and bumper stickers for your Porsche Cayenne eventually, but I’m still working on that bit. Anyway, the upshot is that you can Buy 1 Get 1 Half Price FOREVER! Hah! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, outdoors of course.

OK, you at the back with your hand up? What? The Catch?

There IS no catch my little poppet. It’s simple, call, email or pop in, become a JUNKIE, and off you go with your cheap books.

Oh if only mortgage providers could make their incentive schemes this simple.

Now what will be the first book you want to buy? I suspect this one. shopping while drunk‘Shopping While Drunk’, the definitive collection of things from modern life we secretly love but never own up to loving, such as eating ice-cream in bed.

You could have that one half price if you buy another book, so let me recommend this one, as an investment purchase.
Grayson Perry copy

It’s not out yet, and you’ll have to form an orderly queue for this signed limited edition of the new Grayson Perry book from Thames & Hudson. I’ve managed to get hold of 10 copies. I’m laying down 5 for myself as an alternative pension fund. The other 5 are up for grabs. Oooh, hang on the phone’s ringing already. That’s one gone, 4 left, hurry!

I hate to be a killjoy, but summer is nearly over. If you need to be reminded what lovely sunshine feels like, pop in and see this, by friend and artist Michael Pollard SBA, It’s a beautiful original, crayon and watercolour on paper.

max in gardenIt features 9 year old Max, pottering about by William Cowper’s Summer House, which he called his ‘verse manufactory’, as he wrote much of his poetry and prose in the peace and seclusion of this garden, a hidden gem behind The Cowper & Newton Museum in Olney. We have more originals and framed prints of this and other local scenes by Michael. Sadly, I am unable to report that his lifestyle is as interesting as Grayson Perry’s. He doesn’t, at least to my knowledge, wear Liberty print frocks, which is probably why Grayson is famous and appears in the tabloids, and Michael, highly talented though he is, could only be described as rather well known in his field. His work is utterly charming, and highly recommended.

Speaking of Liberty print frocks, frankly, we don’t sell them. But, we do sell a lot of very colourful pashminas, which I suppose a nimble seamstress could convert into an emergency frock. Anyway, a lot of the autumn ones have arrived now, just in time for the nights drawing in. None of them remotely resemble Liberty prints, which means I’ll struggle to get Grayson up here for a shopping spree. It does mean though, that he won’t be elbowing you out of the way and grabbing all the best ones, so feel free to come and jostle your way through the throng to the back of the store where I’ve hidden all the nicest ones on the top shelf. Wheeeee.

A Day In The Life…August 2009

28 07 2009

sale bannerThe observant amongst you will have noticed that the ICETWICE Summer Sale started a couple of weeks ago. I normally try to keep these things quiet, because it’s such a nuisance moving all those people in sleeping bags from the doorstep as I’m trying to open up in the morning. With hindsight, attaching a bright red 10’ by 7’ banner to the front of the store was perhaps not the best way to maintain a low profile, although it has alerted local business owners to the fact that ICETWICE design and supply very reasonably priced vinyl banners. (Did you all get that?) However, I’ve learnt my lesson. Next time, it’s an A4 scrap of paper taped to the inside of the window, and have done with it.

Most of the proper bargains went in the first hour of course, as is the way with sales. However, I very cunningly left a load of stuff in the stockroom just in case that happened, and I’ve just wheeled it out so that any Johnny Come Latelies amongst you don’t feel entirely left out. Actually that’s a fib. It wasn’t low cunning, just ineptitude. You see, there are things lurking in my stockroom which I only become aware of when customers make me search for bubble wrap or books on Frank Lloyd Wright. (Both filed under WR you see, right at the back, behind the stuffed giraffe, filed under ST).

The point I’m trying to make is this. If you haven’t been in, you’d better come and have a look. Furthermore, if you’ve been in already, you’d better come and have another look. Especially if you like jewellery. There has been a subtle shift in jewellery pricing. Let me explain. When the sale first started, coloured jewellery was Buy 1 Get 1 Free, in the traditional BOGOF manner. Now however, a lot of it is half price. I realise that may not seem a big deal, but mark my words it most certainly is. Secondly, black, silver and gold jewellery were not in the sale at all, but now, selected items ARE. What do I mean by selected items? I mean the ones you may not immediately want. Have you noticed that? It doesn’t matter which shop you’re in; it could be TopShop; it might be Hermes, but the things that are really, really desirable are NEVER EVER reduced. It’s the same at ICETWICE. You have to pay full price for the best stuff. I’m not saying this to wind you up. Oh alright then, I AM saying this to wind you up. Still, come and have a shufti, you’re bound to like something, that’s my point.

Enough about the sale. Let’s talk about something NEW!

keels simple diaryThis. Keeping a diary. You know you want to, but there’s always something better to do, isn’t there? Aha. Try one of these Keel’s Simple Diaries. They do most of the donkey work for you. Each page is undated, and the whole diary doesn’t correspond to a conventional calendar period, so you can make it up as you go along, and miss out days or months completely and then carry on as if nothing has happened. This is what successful diarists tend to do. Take the Alan Clark Diaries for example. Huge chunks of his life missing completely, but plenty about the racier bits. The Keel’s diary also prompts you. It’s the difference between taking a multiple choice exam, which is a doddle, and being faced with a difficult question and a blank sheet of paper. Trust me, it works. Oooh, and there are 6 colours to choose from, so you can mix them around or keep them all one colour, according to your own preference for being systematic or utterly random. Neat huh? Wait, there’s more! All books are still Buy 1 Get 1 Half Price, so you can squirrel 5 years supply of diaries away for an insignificant sum if you’re quick off the mark.

By the way, I need to point out that the stuffed giraffe in the stockroom is NOT in the sale. In fact, I have no clue how it got there. If it’s yours, please collect. Grazie mille.

A Day In The Life July 2009….

4 07 2009

13 busI’m confused, almost permanently, by nearly everything I read or listen to. Radio 4 and some newspapers tell me that the sweet peas of economic salvation are hurtling skyward up their trellis. Then, Radio 4 and other newspapers drone on about double dip W shaped recessions and debt mountains. Finally, Vince Cable, bless his cotton/lycra mix socks, neatly demolishes both with a barrage of common sense.

They’re all wrong. You heard it here first. Let me summarise the actual situation thus. It’s better, but not good yet. The Number 13 Bus To Prosperity Circus will be along, but someone’s mislaid the timetable so we’re not quite sure when. If you’re waiting at the bus stop, have sun block AND an umbrella handy, just in case. In the meantime, keep shopping, but only buy stuff you really really need, or really really want.

Candidly, you can probably forget ICETWICE for the former, although you might NEED good quality framing done at reasonable prices, or a huge mirror. Things you want though, different matter. Our cup of stock of such stuff runneth over the front step of the store, out on to the pavement and some way down the street. Let me explain.twisted 4

Girls. You WILL want one of these. A clever lady called Emma came to see me recently. She makes these ‘to die for’ rings out of antique silver hallmarked teaspoons. She flattens them and rolls them up, and they become things of beauty once again. She calls her range ‘Twisted Silver’. We are known for liking anything twisted here at ICETWICE. They are selling like ripe cherries.

I usually complete that simile with the phrase “Am I right Norma?”, in a Lancashire accent. I can’t help myself. The habit stems from a previous career, decades ago, in the shoe business. A very kindly, and highly successful man, named Alec Holt (known to all as Mr Olt) marketed a brand of shoes for women called Renata.. Now, call me unkind, but I have to tell you that the target customer, at the time, not now I’m sure, was a certain type of lady with a surfeit of ready cash, and, shall we say, slightly more imagination than taste. Anyway, Mr Alec, as his staff might refer to him, used to wax lyrical about these shoes on his stand at The Blackpool Slipper Fair, in his powerful but dulcet Nelson accent (that’s a town in Lancashire, I don’t mean he sounded like the Admiral).

Crowds would gather to hear his oratory, including impressionable young shoe salesmen from down south, like me. Nobody would venture too close by the way, because Mr Alec had the worst halitosis in the north of England, due to his morbid fear of the dentist and a consequent build up of tartar which would have required a small thermonuclear device to remove. When Alec reached a particularly signifcant point in his presentation, describing the speed at which retailers would sell these shoes, he would turn to Norma, his ‘lovely’ assistant, and utter the immortal phrase “like plucking ripe cherries, am I right Norma?”, and there would be a round of applause and nodding of heads and general beaming from ear to ear. Mr Olt had other claims to fame. He had been one of the survivors of the construction of the Burma Railway in 1942-43, and according to shoe trade legend, booked the Beatles for a club somewhere in or near Nelson (the details escape me) prior to their subsequent fame. Enough reminiscing.

manga x stitchSOMEONE will also want this book, the trouble is, more confusion, I don’t know who. It’s The Manga Book of Cross-Stitch, with free CD. Whoever sold the idea to a publisher deserves several medals. Will it be bought by rabid traditional cross-stitchers seeking new material? Or by teenage Emos looking for a hobby to while away the time in the bus shelter? I have no idea. But I know it’s a very original idea and very original products have a habit of confounding marketeers’ predictions of failure by locating and pleasing their own target markets. Sometimes not though, remember the Sinclair C5? Anyway, it’s fun, and I’ve bought some copies, so come see.

War GamesGetting back to economics, one way of measuring the health of the economy is the buoyancy of the art market. I know this is unexpected, but to be honest, and we should know, we’re an art gallery aren’t we, it’s been holed below the waterline for some time now, BUT, in the last 3 months, there is renewed interest. All that dosh not being laid out on mortgage payments and new cars has to go somewhere, and some of it is going on art. Which means that you should venture out and view the new work by James Tebbutt. It’s going to rise in value at some stage. Neither I, nor Vince Cable can tell you when PRECISELY, but I have this feeling about it and you believe everything else Vince tells you, according to the polls, so if he DOES agree, now is the time to pile in with your loot. You can reach him on 02088920215. Have a natter. Get his view, and then call me to place a deposit. See, investing in art is a doddle.vince cable

A Day In The Life June 2009…

26 05 2009

George's wife v2Forgive me. I start with sad news. My friend Jen Solt died last month, aged 87. This is her, mountaineering aged 80! She will be remembered for her hospitality while she and her husband George lived in Hollington Wood, aka the Bluebell Wood, Emberton. Over 4 decades there were regular Mediaeval camps, archery drives, school visits, shooting parties, fireworks nights, bluebell days, and student dinners.

Jen was a ski racer (one of her ten bone-breaking accidents kept her out of the 1947/8 Olympic games), a mountaineer who climbed 4000m peaks until she was 70, and a pilot. Her home-brewed beer was much admired, and her knowledge of opera was encyclopaedic. In her middle years she started a career at Christies, the art auctioneers, which lasted well beyond retirement age. In the course of hugely varied adventure and travel, she had visited every continent in the world, including Antarctica.

When her great garden became too much, the couple moved into Olney for their last few years, where eventually Westlands in the Market Place ensured that she had a peaceful and painless end. We shall miss you Jen.

subway artOne thing I’m sure Jen would have known absolutely nothing about is graffiti. Blimey, what a tenuous link, sorry. This month we are featuring a 25th Anniversary edition of the classic of the genre, Subway Art. We have over 30 other graffiti titles. Buy 1 of those get Subway Art half price! That’s an offer to spray about the place. Actually, please don’t, the Council will blame me.

yellow bracelet

All our summer jewellery is in now. It’s a bit bright. Suggest you wear shades when you’re passing our window. Not at night obviously, you’ll look silly. The yellow stuff is already a hit. It’s halfway between buttercup and citrus yellow. Buttertrus? I don’t think that will catch on as a name somehow. Anyway, you can see from the picture, it’s v colourful.

council truckGoing back to the Council, because I know you love them, I had a bit of a go recently at one of their lorries, for belching sustained smoke, and in doing so, being unkind to the air at the southern end of the High Street, which as we all know, pongs a bit already. The MK Citizen picked up the story and a Council spokesman responded with some feeble excuses. I urge you all to read about it here. His phone number and email address are shown. If you agree with me, have a go too. Let’s strike a blow for local power. I’m not suggesting you man the barricades, or throw petrol bombs, because that would be jolly naughty, and I’d get arrested for treason and/or incitement to riot, but a stiff word into his voicemail wouldn’t go amiss. If you agree with him though, and want to rant into my answering machine, please speak up because I’m a bit mutton jeff. I think it was Jen’s homebrew wot done it, or her Wagner at 300 decibels. I should have worn earplugs round their house. Buttertrus ones, of course.

Further Reading. This obituary of Jen was written by her husband George and son Philip for The Alpine Club, the world’s first mountaineering club.

Jen Solt (nee Howard) born 11/8/1921, died on 16/5/09

Jen’s love of mountain sports was inherited from her grandfather Joseph Fox and her great-uncle F F Tuckett, pioneer alpinists in the Alps in the 1850ies. (By coincidence the Swiss celebrated the 150th anniversary of F F Tuckett’s first ascent of the Aletschhorn this July). Since that time, her family has had uninterrupted membership in the Alpine Club.

No surprise, then, that Jen started skiing and mountaineering in about 1934. She then climbing in the summer and skiing in the winter every year until the war and in the years following it. Mostly from her family’s chalet in Grindelwald she climbed many of the Bernese Oberland peaks – the list includes the Wetterhorn, Schreckhorn, Moench, Jungfrau, Finsteraarhorn, Gross and Klein Fiescherhoerner, Eiger (Mittelegi Ridge), and Tschingelhorn. Probably her finest climbs were made in the Pennine Alps in 1938, which included the Zinalrothorn and the traverse of the Dom and Taeschhorn. (At that time she was a semi-professional photographer and has left a particularly fine picture of the Zinalrothorn.) Unfortunately she suffered from altitude sickness even at these relatively low levels, so there was no prospect of her trying anything like the Himalayas. At this time she was a member of the LAC.

In between visits to the Alps she climbed regularly in North Wales, and when the war restricted travel, she also turned to climbing in Skye.

Marriage in 1953 and then rearing a family caused a second interruption, but she returned to the high Alps in 1974 (with her husband and her brother-in-law Ashley Greenwood AC) to climb M Blanc. She then climbed one 4000m peak in the Alps every summer , as well as many lesser mountains. The list of these 4000m mountains includes the Dom de Neige des Ecrins, the Gran Paradiso, the Matterhorn, the Alphubel (by the Rotgrat), Piz Bernina, the Finsteraarhorn (again) and finally another return visit in 1991, to the Moench to celebrate her 70th birthday. With the exception of the Finsteraarhorn, these were all unguided. She ended her mountaineering career on the Via Ferrata of the Brenta Dolomites in 2001 when she spent her 80th birthday in the Rifugio Tuckett.

She was also a passionate skier, and had been selected for the British Olympic Team for the 1947/48 games, but an accident (concussion and broken nose) kept her out of the games. That was one of ten bone-breaking accidents, all suffered in climbing and winter sports. Ski tours included ascent of the Gross Venediger, Grosse Geiger, Ost Simonyspitz and Moenchjoch. She continued to ski regularly until the age of 84, often ski touring with the Eagles Ski club.

Lesser mountaineering and skiing events included the hills of Norway, the Caucasus (Georgia), Mt Etna, the Rockies (both in Canada and the USA), the Southern Alps, Mount Olympus, the mountains of the Sinai Desert, and Finnish Lapland.

Jen passed on the love of mountains to her three children, one of whom is an AC. She had an ambition that her family should achieve 200 years’ uninterrupted membership of the club, which at present looks entirely possible.

A Day In The Life May 2009…

24 04 2009

lt-littletree2-movieI allowed myself a day out last Monday. Normally, my nose is applied firmly to the grindstone from dawn to dusk 7 days a week in order to trouser your cash, but I ventured forth on public transport, braving the vagaries of Network Rail’s most recent engineering works, and arrived triumphantly at the London Book Fair. This fair, you understand, is not just for books about London. No, it’s held in London, and all manner of publishers display all manner of books.

I admit that my main aim was to find more lovely childrens’ books. I don’t wish you to think that I am not happy with the ones we have already. Far from it. I like them a lot. The trouble is, you lot seem to like them too, and, having been snapped up by eager consumers, they keep disappearing out the door. This feeds my addiction. It makes me want more of the darned things.

So, I relaxed to the inevitable, and descended on aisles A to E, Level 1, Earl’s Court, like a one man swarm of junior literary locusts. Would that I had room enough on this humble page to give you details of ALL the nuggets of gold that I found. I don’t. You’ll have to keep coming in over the next few months as the fruits of my labours arrive. BUT, I will share just one with you. The Lonely Tree. I don’t often resort to celebrity endorsement but get this from the ubiquitous Stephen Fry. “Utterly, completely and splendidly charming. Originally illustrated and delightfully told.” There. That means he likes it.

The best bit is that Nicholas Halliday, the author and illustrator, lives in Aylesbury, which according to my Google Map thingy, is a mere 29.5 miles from Olney. So, Nick and I had a bit of a chinwag, and agreed he would pop over here to sign a few copies for customers, and chat about selling some of his fine illustrations in our upstairs galleries. All in all, it was a very productive morning’s work, even ignoring all the other goodies I came across and ordered for your subsequent delectation.

Now, what else? Oh yes, on the way back to Euston, I had a bit of time to kill, so I stopped off at my pashmina supplier, a very nice man named Vic. That was fatal, because he always has enticing new designs, and I got carried away because I’d seen the weather forecast.coral-jewellery1turquoise-jewellery Sun. Sun means summer dresses, and summer dresses at this time of year do not combine well with early evening chill breezes. Goose pimples are the result, and goose pimples despise pashminas because they kill them, just as paper kills rock in the child’s game. Cunningly I purchased loads of them, to take advantage of insatiable demand. Even more cunningly I chose colours that combine perfectly with the jewellery we have coming in this month, such as lilacs and greens and turquoise and coral. Crafty eh?

My work done for the day, I eventually arrived back at the shop to drop off my bits and pieces, and what did I find? Yes, my brand new red Outdoor FATBOY beanbag has been delivered. It’s for the pavement outside the store, so that I can lounge around, comfortably monitoring the air quality, whilst advertising the fact that we have a new FATBOY showroom upstairs. Did you catch that? I said NEW FATBOY SHOWROOM UPSTAIRS! Do try and keep up. Honestly.