Actually, the week before the week before Christmas:

MONDAY 12/12/22:

It’s very cold and all the dogs round us are in dog jackets or jumpers and my, they do not look happy about it. The only one who can treat the whole thing with disdain is a greyhound who has a very stylish grey jacket and still manages to look beautiful. A pot of thyme seems to have had a near death experience while spending the night inside the kitchen so my partner revives it with sips of water and placing it under a bright light. Our conversations are all about the weather. Shall we put the heating on? When shall we turn it off? I get a complicated mathematical thing off the internet to work out how much a unit on our gas meter is actually costing us especially when we see the increase in the direct debits.

TUESDAY 13/12/22:

We try and buy a tree only to be told they are sold out. Sold out! It’s a fortnight before Christmas! How can they be sold out? I troll off to another place where I think they are being sold and am greeted with, ‘Alright, mate?’ I put it down to the hat pulled down to the level of my eyebrows. ‘How much are they?’ ‘I’ll get Tom.’ Tom emerges from a hut and doesn’t look too happy about it. ‘Can I have a look at some of them?’ I say. They tear the netting off one which I don’t like. ‘It’s all spindly and bald at the top,’ I say. ‘Oh, we’ve got bushy,’ Tom growls and rips the netting of another which I do prefer. Before I can prevent them they’ve whacked the trunk into a big wooden block. Cash changes hands. ‘Now I have to see if I can carry it,’ I say. ‘Oh, you’ll be alright,’ one of them says and lifts it into my arms. I stagger to the corner and get out of sight before dropping it. I was hoping to drag it but can’t because of the wooden block. Takes me a while to get home, forearms burning.

tabby cat on green christmas tree

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WEDNESDAY 14/12/22:

To the theater for the first time since Covid to see A Christmas Carol at the Bridge theater with Simon Russell Beale as Scrooge. It was first put together for Christmas 2020 and we all know what happened then. It’s lovely to be back in a theater and because it’s a relatively new one the place does not overheat or run out of oxygen. Very few coughs I notice. Pre-Covid it wasn’t unusual to have whole theaters hacking away. I suppose if you have a cough now you stay away from crowded spaces. I would hope so anyway.

THURSDAY 15/12/22:

A miracle occurs we have Christmas cards, we have stamps, we write out cards. I look at the list of names I sent cards to last year. A few have a series of little question marks next to them like this ????? Did I or didn’t I? Do I now? A feeling of falling into a bottomless pit overwhelms me. Time for a cup of tea.

We watch Lucy Worsley’s take on Agatha Christie. The media has this obsession with the ‘new’. Everything has to be new. Has Lucy made new discoveries about Agatha’s disappearance? Well, no she certainly hasn’t, the whole fugue state theory round Christie’s disappearance has been around forever, but it doesn’t stop the BBC doing a three hour series with Lucy as the presenter. It’s perfectly watchable but her theorizing lacks rigour. I also feel irritated by her comment on Agatha’s first husband being incredibly hot. Mean little eyes and the slab like face of a bully. And he behaved incredibly badly. Why doesn’t she comment on Agatha’s rather beautiful face. The programme is about Christie after all. Or is it really all about Lucy.

FRIDAY 16/12/22:

We watch Vienna Blood. I love the setting, the clothes, the interiors. In fact everything but the script which is appalling, incredibly wooden and clunky. Couldn’t they have spent a bit more on the script for heaven’s sake? The same could apply to Strike. I like Tom Burke and Holly Grainger but that is all. Again the script is awful and some horrible attempt at comedy using a caricature of an elderly woman with IBS is unbelievably vile. Fart jokes? Really? OK, Strike is supposed to be the strong silent type but Burke can act. Give him more and better lines. Don’t just have him stand around looking like a lugubrious Labrador in a big coat.

SATURDAY 17/12/22:

All this week we have been obsessed with condensation. As a consequence we now have the cleanest kitchen windows ever. EVER. I go to Paperchase and all their cards and a lot of their goods are 30% off and there’s a week to go before Christmas. I’ve never seen that before. We crack and get Apple TV to watch Slow Horses. This series is so very good – smart, funny and pacy. It reminds you it can be done. I’d rather watch Gary Oldman (as Jackson Lamb) eat Chinese noodles (1st episode, second series) for an hour than waste any more time on Vienna Blood or Strike.

SUNDAY 18/12/22:

I watch the world cup final. As the match progresses I realise I am very heavily invested in Messi lifting the World Cup so when everything appears to be going pear shaped with France’s two goals in 90 seconds, I decide I can’t watch the rest. I just keep an eye on my phone. Then when they win I regret not watching. I don’t know how proper football fans can stand it. I fall asleep wondering about those little??? against certain names. Did I or didn’t I? Should I or shouldn’t I?

How are your Christmas preparations going?



christmas xmas christmas tree decoration

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Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas. Thank you so much to all those who follow, comment on and read the blog. I love you all! Hope you have a wonderful day and see you on the other side.


Christmas is coming. Have you noticed? So, in the shop along with the books we have Christmas cards and gifts etc.. etc.. We have people come in who want to buy secret Santa presents and want to do that in our shop which is nice. We have a Christmas tree and decorations. We have customers who come in bearing gifts of chocolates. Yum. It takes me back to the old shop when the previous manager tried to get my shift to do the decorations and we point-blank refused. The trouble with volunteers is that they can’t be ordered to do something. I wonder if we were the most stroppy or amenable shift she had. I do remember the forceful ‘No,’ that came out of our joint mouths at the suggestion.

abstract art background blur

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So with Christmas comes a Christmas party. An amusing moment when I first arrived and was hanging my coat in the staff room. One of the young volunteers came in from the front where everyone was sitting and said to the young woman I had come in with ‘Thank God, you’ve arrived.’ The nature of volunteering is that it tends to be done by the retired, so she had been next door with a group who were probably all at least 40 years older than her and was feeling the strain. I burst out laughing.

We are a strange group gathered together. I wonder if someone was presented with a photo of us and told to guess what linked us what they would come up with.  The nature of our work patterns is also that we know the people who are in our shift and maybe the people who take over from us but don’t know any of the others. So we are aware of and accepting our own idiosyncracies  but other people’s can startle us. However, sitting there looking round the room I felt really happy to be there.

There’s also good news. We thought we’d have to be out of our current premises by the end of January but that has been postponed to June. When the last shop shut down and was out of action for a year I felt like an orphan.

Out of the books this week an apologetic note from an editor tucked into a book about the film, Napoleon. The book was written by a Kevin Brownlow:

Keith – hope you like it. Sorry about misspelling Carl David on back flap.

In fact it’s not Carl David it should be Carl Davis and it was spelled Davies (on the back flap). He was the composer of the film’s score. The author of the book was actually Kevin so it seems to me this man had got himself in a right old pickle. If he was sending the book to the author then it could be said that he was heaping insult upon injury. Although I do sympathize because I have a tendency to confuse Keith with Kevin.

It reminds me of the time my first book was published in America. It was a crime novel titled Bloodless Shadow and had a very kind quote from the crime writer Stephen Booth on the front. Berkley Press sent me the jacket to approve which was exactly the same as the English one, other than the fact that they had added to Stephen’s name Stephen Booth, author of China Inc. Now my Stephen Booth (so to speak) was definitely not the author of China Inc, he was the author of a large number of excellent crime novels, any of which they could have chosen. I sent an e-mail pointing this out and there was a resounding silence and so I moved steadily up the food chain of the publisher, my e-mails becoming crosser and crosser until I hit someone who sent me a terse e-mail back saying that yes, they would remove China Inc and replace it with Black Dog. There was never any hint they might have made a mistake. I mean how had that happened? Did they think that an author who was an expert in the rise of China as an economic power had given me a quote? I mean China Inc! FFS what was going on in their brains?

My favourite thing to fall out of a book this week. A bookmark from Rotary International which says:

The Four Way Test of the things we think, say or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned

I think all British M.P. should be locked into the House of Commons and forced to repeat this as a mantra for about 24 hours non-stop. On the other hand make that 48 hours.

My favourite shelving mistake this week  – a book titled Invitation to the Dance by Hilary Spurling. It’s a handbook to Anthony Powell’s 12 volume novel A Dance to the Music of Time and I discovered it in … Sport!

Hope your Christmas preparations are going better than mine!


I was away staying here …Image result for the shingle house

It was in Dungeness where Derek Jarman lived. Here is his house …

derek jarmans house

While I was there I went for a walk and picked up these…


And I was reminded of this poem by e.e.cummings…

maggie and milly and molly and may

went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang

so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star

whose rays five languid fingers were;

and maggie was chased by a horrible thing

which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone

as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)

it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.

And then I came home and passing Fortnum’s I remembered it was Christmas …

elephant fortnums

So Happy Christmas, darlings, and many thanks to everyone who has read the blog, commented on the blog and supported my book Titian’s Boatman/The Return of the Courtesan this year.  And my tip for surviving Christmas? If things get too bad take yourself off and watch The Feud on the BBC iPlayer about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and the filming of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962). It’s wonderful and very, very funny and will make your own family seem well-balanced and rational. This is going to be my holiday reading. Happy Christmas! And here’s hoping no one serves you rat!

bette joan