Monday, 27 September 2010

The Bookshop Launch

It's time to launch my bookshop and I feel nervous. I had lots of good comments from my 'Alpha trialists' and burned up a lot of time incorporating the changes then wresting with some of the problems that occurred (I think the WebPlus helpdesk people are trying to avoid me). Thanks particularly to Bjorn, Pete and Fergus for detailed comments.

Why am I nervous? Well, for one, you never finish these things - there are always a few loose ends and the loose ends often unravel the whole thing so that a little tinkering turns into a major slab of work. For another there's a nasty thing called compatibility. There are lots of internet browsers around and lots of versions of them and I can't be sure that the site will be OK with all of them. It's like a teenagers trying to speak to a bunch of old farts - they all speak English but there can be - well - compatibility problems.

Meanwhile I'm still guiding - yesterday I handed out the first cards to a couple of tour groups. The cards point people towards this website so marketing has begun. They seemed very pleased to receive them.

My second tour yesterday was for a choir from South Africa. I was expecting lots of black faces but this choir of teenagers were almost entirely white. I met them at Rhodes House in Oxford and they were still eating brunch. I had to hang aroundwhile they finished and then had the pleasure of hearing them sing - marvellous, they were really very good. During the tour they were well behaved, bright and polite: the product of a school with religious affiliations. Hello to Hayden the rugby player who seemed to take a shine to me.

Westminster Abbey

For years I have promised myself a trip to Westminster Abbey but somehow it didn’t happen. It’s like one of those things that you are always going to do soon, but soon never comes. Then I did it, beating the Pope by just one day.

I was shocked at having to pay – visiting churches is usually free both here and abroad. I was also shocked at having to pay so much. The price included an audio tour – whether you wanted it or not. I did not; preferring the experience of the abbey to detailed information. But you cannot avoid the audio tour. Tourists stand around like zombies listening to messages from strange mobile-like phones and always blocking my way. And the things that they hold leak squeaky undecipherable sounds.

To say that Westminster Abbey is impressive is an understatement: it is overwhelming. For some reason I delighted in the chapel in which Mary and Elizabeth reside. Two sisters, each the first Queen of England by name; one remembered as a small child-like figure, the younger as a reclining white marble statue with a hooked nose pointing to the heavens. Was Elizabeth a man? I examined the statue for clues but found none.

Naturally I was drawn to Poet’s Corner. It seems that Chaucer set the whole thing off, inadvertently. He was later joined by Spenser and thenceforth the southern transept became the receptacle for Poet’s remains. I searched for the memorial to William Davenant (he’s one of my Oxford Rogues), but couldn’t find it.

My favourite space was the Chapter House: so light, so tall, so fan vaulted. Its walls still have the original, detailed painted figures from 1400. And the passageway leading to it has the oldest door in Britain. I also enjoyed the open spaces: the two cloisters and the college gardens with glimpses of the parliamentary buildings.

Oddly, perhaps, I was most moved by the grave of the unknown warrior. Not by the grave itself, but by the concept.

Hello, welcome, let's get started

After years as a blog avoider it's come to this, I'm doing it. 'Course, whether I continue with it will depend on whether anyone reads the thing or comments on it.

The theme will be writing, of course, at least to begin with. The odd thing is though, I haven't been doing any! Most of my time, writing time that is, has been taken up with developing the alpha of this book shop over the last month or so. Before that I was in Spain for six weeks where the writing consisted of notes mostly about building a stone wall. These notes may sometime become a book of some sort called something like "The Stone Wall". I know, I know, you can't wait!

I've enjoyed creating the site, though it's been blinking frustrating at times. I used a package called WebPlus which promised much, but was a little disappointing - still what can you expect for £60? At one stage it crashed horrendously: to the extent that I couldn't get at my development files at all - all of my work seem to be lost. After many emails the helpdesk chappee managed to restart Webplus and I was on the road again. I think that I'm doing things that are not usual. At one time the thing produced 300 extra pages of rubbish that I had to delete one by one. It took at least an hour and left me with sore fingers and a sore brain. Repetitive deletion injury.

Now, at last, Rob's Book Shop is ready for trials. I am sending it to a few relatives and friends in the hope that they will give it a whacking and spot the obvious flaws. Then it's all speed ahead with marketing and then... Well hopefully I have found an outlet which frees me from the grips of publishers, at least some publishers (not all publishers are on my black list). More on this and the whole business of writing and getting readers in future blogs.