Beginning at the Ending

I have just closed my bookselling business. It limped along like a consumptive war veteran for five inglorious years before I decided to call it a day. My remaining stock now lies in a cowshed being slowly consumed by cobwebs and mould.

The business wasn’t a complete failure. I managed to sell over 12,000 books and in the early days, worked in an idyllic rural setting with a group of people that included one of the cast of ‘The Archers’. Sadly, I then made the mistake of moving to a remote, malodorous farmyard, where the pleasant bleating of sheep was replaced by the agonised cries of frustrated bulls sodomising each other.

I shared my new unit with four Polish alcoholics, all of whom liked to get drunk within the first hour and race around in a fork lift truck, seeing how close they could get to my shed without crashing into it. It wasn’t quite the antiquarian bookselling idyll that I’d envisaged.

In the end, it wasn’t the bulls or the Poles that finished me off, or even the menagerie of rats, robins, minks, newts, spiders and toads that shared my premises. It was the simple problem of obtaining stock from a recycling industry that found it more cost-effective to bin their old books and sell them to waste paper merchants.

I can’t say that I’m particularly sorry that it’s over. When, during one wet, wintry morning last year, I was almost crushed to death by a one tonne delivery of books, I couldn’t help thinking that there must be easier ways to earn a living.

The next few months will be spent disposing of my stock and fixtures and if I come across any interesting books or abandoned photographs, I will share them here.

I’ll begin with some lost photos, all of which have come from different sources. Most of them have no dates or places, which is both tantalising and frustrating.

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A timeless scene like this is hard to date, but at a guess I’d say it was taken between the late 40s and early 50s. The rather bland building must have been fairly new then.

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The two people who interest me are the waiter and the airman, both of whom are outsiders in this setting. The airman appears to regard the scene with an attitude that could range from simple indifference to outright contempt. (I’m assuming that he’s an airman. For all all know, he could be from the Dutch navy)

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These women are celebrating qualifying as the runners-up in a ‘Ladies Darts League’, somewhere in the Birmingham area during, I would guess, the late 1950s. I’m particularly drawn to the older woman, who almost appears to be snarling at the camera. Perhaps she had her heart set on the First Prize.

I’ve also noticed that the woman in the back row – second from the left – bears more than a passing resemblance to Cherie Blair.

The next photo appeared perfectly innocuous, then I read the writing on the back:

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I can’t begin to imagine the story that lies behind these chilling words.

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I like this photo because it is nothing more than a snapshot, but fills me with a longing to be a passenger on that ship, sipping cocktails as the sun sets on the British Empire. In reality, a cruise ship would be my idea of hell.

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This setting, in Knott End, Lancashire, offers slightly less glamour than the 1930s cruise liner. Indeed, I think that the woman might be sitting on part of a disgarded sewerage outflow pipe.

And that ends this rather inauspicious beginning to my new blog. I had planned something quite different, involving my mother and her friends talking about their memories of World War Two. The aim was for something a little more ‘multimedia’, with podcasts and links to Instagram and Twitter.

My mother had got as far as gaining her friends’ agreement to take part, but then she ruined everything by dying. Now I’m quite rudderless.

However, after waiting in vain for the right moment to begin a new blog, I have decided to just get on with it.

69 comments

  1. Judith

    Pleased to read your blog again. About the first 2 pictures, I wonder if it is a Hunt Meet on an RAF base? It looks like RAF uniform as worn by my father in the 1940’s which I think lasted well into the 1950’s and the servant would easily have then been found in the Officer’s Mess. The building does look like Government issue as well.

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  2. backinblue

    Horray! So glad to see you up and running! My e-mail backlog is still super long, but I managed to clear back to September. I think. -Bonnie from NC

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  3. travellinpenguin

    So glad you are back! Perhaps the young girl in the photo was transported to Australia with so many other children back then for breaking a vase in her parlour or something. I look forward to more photos, stories, books, etc. Maybe you could work some of your mother’s stories in short pieces here as they come to mind. I think it would be wonderful to hear them.

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    • Steerforth

      That’s a good idea. Spookily, I recorded her talking about her childhood the day before her heart attack. There was nothing to suggest that her days were numbered, but perhaps I had some intimation of mortality.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Tororo

    Happy beginning, dear Steerforth!
    Why couldn’t today be the right moment to begin a new blog?

    “One cannot take the beginning out of the air
    saying ‘It is the time: the hour is here’.
    The process is continuous as wind,
    the bird observed, not rising, but in flight,
    unrealised, in motion of the mind…”
    (wrote once Alastair Reid).

    Be assured this day is a happy day for all your readers
    (says one happy reader).

    Like

  5. Zoe

    So glad to read this & laughed out loud a great deal (but only in the bits you intended, I think) (plus v sorry your working life has been grim for a while & tried my best not to laugh at image of maniac alcoholic fork lift drivers [but failed {only laughed in a sympathetic manner then though}]))

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    • Steerforth

      Zoe – I can laugh now and at least I have some mildly amusing anecdotes, although when I tell people that I saw a mink walk past my desk with a rat in its mouth, I think they assume I’m making it up.

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    • Steerforth

      Yes Angela, it’s good to have a change. I also hope to move house next year, to somewhere that is slightly larger than a broom cupboard, so that’s something to look forward to.

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    • Steerforth

      Well, now that I don’t have the book business to worry about, I thought I’d step things up a bit. With nearly seven posts a day, you can look forward to a steady stream photos of cups of coffee, cats and my latest unappetising meal. I probably won’t have time to read or go out.

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  6. George

    The Ridgid Tool Company of northern Ohio used to produce calendars with pin-up photos. I believe, but haven’t the time to confirm, that the lightly clothed model might be shown in a construction setting, or holding (for example) a pipe wrench. Perhaps there was an English manufacturer of concrete products that had the same notion.

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    • Steerforth

      George – I expect so. As a student, I did a market research survey for Diesel Driver Magazine and learned that the most popular feature was Miss Diesel Driver, which featured a model in an industrial setting.

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    • Steerforth

      Yes, even the most lighthearted photos have a bittersweet quality – a moment lost, a time that can never be revisited. Looking at them I feel almost indecent sometimes, like a voyeur. Would I want some 22nd blogger sharing my family photos and making cheap jokes? (Actually, yes, I probably would – anything’s better than obliovion).

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  7. Frances

    dear Steerforth – a treat indeed to see you back. I love the darts ladies – wonder if they perhaps played the defining rounds in those frocks?

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    • Steerforth

      Thanks Kristin. I’ve been following your posts on Instagram and Not Intent and vicariously enjoy your travels – they take me back the The Time Before Children – a place I rather liked.

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  8. Georgie Wickham

    Good to see you back – although I worry (en principe) about all the mouldering books. I once went round a recycling company’s yard; they led me into a warehouse (a large warehouse) filled with old books. In great heaps, Beano albums, Walter Scott Reader’s Digest books, True Abuse stories, everything. In heaps. The saddest thing I have ever seen.

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    • Steerforth

      Georgie – it is heartbreaking. I worked in a place where every day, whole skiploads of books were taken away to be pulped. But as the books were already charity shop rejects, they were the last port of call. My stock has been on sale globally for five years and what’s left is the dregs, but it really goes against the grain to throw any book away or mistreat it.

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  9. Dale Williams

    Pleased I decided to check up on your blog today, and here you are. So many new beginnings in store for you – how refreshing!

    I look at those bitter words behind the little girl’s photo and see that one parent has ran off with someone else – I kept switching sides between whether the mother or the father wrote this, but eventually came down on the side of the mother being the author. Certainly someone who feels betrayed, abandoned and helpless. (But who knew where the other parent was, evidently.)

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    • Steerforth

      Thank you Dale. I assumed that the author was the mother, as she referred to “my first one”, but yes, it could have been the father. Either way, it sounds as if there’s a very sad story behind the picture – my imagination has been working overtime on a number of melodramatic scenarios.

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  10. Mahlerman

    Sodomy and Cherie Blair in one post – what a start to the day! It matters not where you locate yourself, just as long as you are there, somewhere, to get the blood moving around.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steerforth

      That’s what I’ve been wondering – I’m haunted by the thought of it. Many thanks for the fascinating link to the site about the Jerome studios; some wonderful photos and a really interesting social history.

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  11. Kathy Lennox Shuman

    I am so very glad to see you’re back. Thought I’d be able to say all kinds of profound and encouraging words for you – the thoughts are felt for you but I lack your talents and can’t summon those words. I admire your courage and tenacity. I have no doubt of the success of your latest venture and look forward to your posts. The photo of the little girl and caption on the back, a million story ideas out of that one alone…

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    • Steerforth

      Thanks Annabel, but in truth, I’m very relieved that my business has reached the end of the road. It was back-breaking work – almost literally at times – but because the business model worked (as long as I had a supplier or two), I felt obliged to keep going. I feel as if I’ve been released from an awful burden.

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  12. Kid

    I couldn’t decipher some of the words on the back of that photo, but I got the general impression that it could be by one parent castigating the other (separated or divorced) for moving away and making access to the child difficult or impossible. Regarding your book selling – some marriages don’t even last five years, so viewed from that perspective, your business could be considered a modest success.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steerforth

      Thanks Kid. I must admit, on a day like this, when it’s pouring with rain, I’m very grateful that I’m not standing around in a muddy farmyard, waiting for a tonne of books turn up in a lorry.

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  13. Allen

    Given the date on the back – 17 JUN 1941 – I wonder if the little girl was a victim of the war, either directly or indirectly: bombing, accident, illness…

    Like

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