Wednesday, 23 May 2018

All Good Things ... A Final Swansong

As mentioned in my previous blogpost, the amazing Cottage Bookshop in Penn, Buckinghamshire - my local bookshop for over a decade - is closing its doors on June 9th. It's been there, owned by the same family, since 1951 and it's a tragedy that it has to go. I will certainly miss the ladies who run it - Liz, Paula, Sue and the two Barbaras - as they always seemed to be able to find the secondhand books I needed. Or, as they put it, that needed me.

Therefore, it was lovely to see the bookshop make a final appearance this week on an episode of Midsomer Murders. Series 19 ended on a musical note with Barnaby investigating the murders of two orchestra members. And much of the episode was filmed in Penn. You can clearly identify the Red Lion pub, renamed as the Thassingham Arms (all non-screengrab photos by me).

And here's Simon Callow outside the pub with a view of the green and (just out of sight) the duckpond.

And here's a view up through Elm Road where you can see Strings Music Shop, with its distinctive porch and the bookshop beyond.

Strings used to be the village shop at one time. It's nice that the porch has survived (photo courtesy of SWOP).

And then, finally we come to the Cottage Bookshop which got a passing appearance when Barnaby did some window shopping before discussing the case with Winter.

It's now been in three episodes of Midsomer Murders in total - it featured much more prominently in the episode 'A Rare Bird' in which it was Michael Hipsman's shop in Lower Walden, and in a series 6 episode called  'A Tale of Two Hamlets'.

Sadly, it will appear no more but, as brief as it was, it was nice to see it on screen for one last time.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

All good things ...

Five minutes drive from where I live there's a pretty little village called Penn. It's famous for several things (1) Ruth Ellis's murder victim, David Blakely, is buried in Penn Churchyard (Ruth herself - the last woman to be hanged in the UK - is buried just a few miles up the road in Amersham) as is Alison Uttley who wrote The Little Grey Rabbit books; (2) It's home to a number of popular celebs including Mary Berry, Pauline Quirke and Gabby Logan; and (3) the Cottage Bookshop.You might have seen the bookshop on your TV if, like me, you're a Midsomer Murders fan. The show is filmed all around my part of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and the shop has featured in a couple of episodes. It also featured in an episode of Chucklevision but we'll move on, shall we?


Terry Pratchett came from this neck of the woods and based the library in his Discworld novels on the shop. It's inspired a great many people to write and to read and it's been doing that for 60 years.

I popped in this morning as I do once a week to pick up some bargains. All the books are secondhand, they're all reasonably priced and THERE ARE SO MANY - around 60,000 at any one time.

So, what's the place like? Let me set the scene: Imagine a three bedroom 18th century cottage with an extension on the back. Now imagine ripping out all the fixtures and fittings in every room. Then fill every available inch of space - on two floors - with floor to ceiling bookshelves and, when they don't all fit on the shelves, stack hundreds of books on the floor and window sills. That's the Cottage Bookshop.

I've always said that I am so very lucky to have this on my doorstep. Book shops are closing down all over the country and browsing is one of life's simple pleasures. It's also how people discover new authors. Once we had proper record shops on every High Street and I discovered many new bands that I still love to this day thanks to browsing. And bookshops performed the same function; an eye-catching cover would often lead me to pick up a book I might not have heard of. Sadly, sites like Amazon are killing the bookshops because the books are cheaper and they're delivered to your door. But equally damaging is the fact that people visit webshops when they already know what they're going to buy; there's no 'wandering around the store looking at covers' to be had on-line and browsing is slowly disappearing. And that's a tragedy.

But the even bigger tragedy is that the Cottage Bookshop is now closing. After six decades of providing secondhand books to generations of local people (and visitors - people come from hundreds of miles away to visit), the owner wants to retire and realise his assets. The business has never made much of a profit and the building itself needs a lot of work. Sadly, there's no saving it.

It's heartbreaking. But I'll be paying the place several more visits before it finally shuts its doors. And I'm going to dedicate my next novel to it, and to the ladies who work there who, unfailingly, have always seemed to be able to find the books I needed when I needed them.

End of an era.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

The Fifth Housemate

Did you love The Young Ones, that brilliant, anarchic 1980s sitcom that helped to launch the careers of Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Nigel Planer, Chris Ryan, Alexei Sayle, Ben Elton and many more?

Can you remember the names of the five housemates?

Yes, five.

Rick, Vyvyan, Mike, Neil and ... the hairy guy.

Wait ... you don't remember the hairy guy?

That's him/her there at the front of that publicity shot. And he/she was in every single episode of the first series. Did you spot them? I sure as hell didn't. But there they are! How the hell did we miss it?

Intrigued by the discovery of a fifth flatmate, a The Young Ones fan called Peter Farquhar got in touch with Ben Elton and director Geoff Posner. Elton told him bluntly: 'I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about, I'm afraid. There were four housemates plus the landlord'. However a couple of days after that denial, Posner confirmed Farquhar's suspicions saying that he and producer Paul Jackson simply 'thought it would be fine to have some ghostly figure in the background of some scenes that was never explained or talked about. Hair all over the face so you shouldn't be able to decipher gender either. 'The fact that we forgot to do it consistently through the series shows what a bunch of amateurs we were in them days.'

Writing in Business Insider Australia, Farquhar concludes: 'As a replicant which appeared in slightly different situations in at least five episodes in the first series, it could arguably be described as one of the first popular culture memes.'

Creepy eh? Definitely has a touch of The Ring about it. I still can't believe I missed it. I assume it's because there was so much else going on during each episode. It's like the Monkey Business Illusion experiment where people fail to see a guy in an ape suit as they're too busy watching people pass a ball. If you don't know what I mean, check out this video.

Footnote: There's also a secret fart. Posner also told Farquhar this story: 'Do you notice the tiny fart in Boring at 18:15? Mike delivered this comic gem in rehearsals in the studio, and cracked everybody up so much that they couldn’t face recording the scenes, putting us further behind schedule than we always were (because of the over-ambition of the scenes. But then I say again, we were young then…'