BEAR ALLEY BOOKS

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Friday, September 01, 2017

Comic Cuts - 1 September 2017

I spent the morning of Bank Holiday Monday sweltering in 27° heat at a Boot Fair. My sister, who had some doggy and craft-related bits 'n' bobs that she wanted to sell, agreed to drive us out to Ardleigh, which is reputedly the biggest fair in the area. The logistics of the Holland family doing anything is all tied up around my sister's dogs, so my poor mum volunteered to be dog-sitter-in-chief. This meant she had to travel up to my sister's on Sunday evening and stay overnight.

Fortunately, I live roughly half-way along the route between mum and sister, so it was convenient for them to drop in on Sunday evening so we could load the car up with boxes of books and DVDs that I wanted to sell off. Mostly duplicates, but I'm thinning out the ranks of some authors whose books I know I will never get around to reading again.

The last time I did one of these, we had a tables to set out our wares, but not this time, so I bought a nice 6-foot long folding table for the event at a cost of £38. I made £100 or so at the last fair so my target was £50, which would cover the cost of the table and the pitch (£12, split between two).

We were pretty well organized. On Saturday the queue at the bank was a mile long, so I took money out of the cash machine and ran around all the charity shops trying to buy books and get change from £20 notes. I asked first if they had enough to break a twenty—I'm not that mean—and in one instance, when the lady said she had no change at all, I nipped into another shop, bought a book and used the change from that to go back and buy a book in the first shop (it was one I'd been looking out for, so I didn't mind... I just didn't want to spend the change I'd accumulated).

I bought packets of crisps and made sandwiches to take with me; bought paper, pens, tape, loads of carrier bags... everything you could think of. We were ready to sell.

We arrived at the field around 7:30 and people were already wandering around as we were setting up. The table worked like a dream; the grass was wet, but we had rolls of bubble wrap that could sit under the trays of books that were spread around. A few other cars pulled up after us to fill the row; opposite, a huge bouncy castle was being inflated. It didn't take long to figure out that we were right out on the far edge of the rows of dealers and they weren't expecting too many more people. Speaking to the lady at the pitch next door we discovered that her previous experience of the fair was that it was usually bigger, filling the field we were in and extending into the field next door.

Still, it seemed busy and by around 8:30 I'd made a couple of sales which buoyed my enthusiasm. But it was slow and, after not too long, the heat was relentless. We were facing into the sun with no cover and the only positive is that it was a dry heat, so we weren't ringing with sweat. Small pockets of people wandered through, some ignoring the table, some stopping to look, occasionally pulling out a book to leaf through. Some people were chatty, some people were after specific authors (Lee Child, Andy McNab, one or two I'd never heard of) and some had even more specific wants: one guy was after film tie-ins; another wanted a specific range of Ian Fleming Bond novels with girls on guns. I said my set was from an earlier era like the classic Thunderball bullet holes cover. He looked at me like I was mental and scuttled off. Tie-in guy, on the other hand, was very friendly. He was, in fact, picking up titles for a friend, who was at another boot fair. Thanks to the miracle of mobile phone technology, he ran out of credit after about a minute and, when he came back ten minutes later, was reading out titles at a mad pace because he was running out of charge. I can't complain because I got £8 out of him.

But sales were few and far between. Cars driving to the car park along the track that ran alongside the field kicked up clouds of dust. The sun was right in our eyes and when there were no customers, time seemed to stand still. At 9:30 it felt like we'd been there four or five hours, but it was only two. There was a flurry around 10:30 but then it died out again. By 11:30 we could see people packing up and there were huge gaps in the customer car park that weren't being filled by new customers arriving. I took a brief stroll around and most of the professional-looking outfits were either already packed or starting to pack. We started packing around 12:15 and pulled out around 12:30.

After five hours of selling I'd earned £26.50... less the £6 pitch fee. So about twenty quid total, or four pounds an hour, which is way below minimum wage, let along a living wage. More frustrating than that is the fact that I had to lug 95% of what we'd taken back home and I'd cleared the equivalent of about four feet of shelf space.

The weirdest customer had to be an old guy and his wife who were looking at some old Ed McBain's. "He's only after 87th Precinct," said the wife. I said "I think there must be ten or fifteen in that box." "That's too many for me," said the old guy, who stood up and walked away as I called after him, "You don't have to buy them all!"

I've had a solid week of work in front of the computer. If I'm honest, I've probably been more active on this project than I was on the Valiant index, probably because it's broken down into 50 mini-projects which can, for the most part, be researched and written in two days. Only one has turned into a 12,000-word epic, but the others have been a more sedate 2,500 words (on average) apiece.

For comparison, the original pieces ran to 13,795 words and averaged around 1,500 words. I've now completed ten essays, one of them completely new, and I'm very pleased with the additional information I've managed to gather. I've managed to locate birth dates where they were missing for three of the nine when they were previously published. In one instance I've identified the birth name of an author, which was unknown when I last looked into her work in 2009.

Random scans. I arrived back home on Monday afternoon and it was only when I looked in the mirror that I realised how much I'd caught the sun. When I took my watch off and was able to compare the white under the strap to my red wrists it was really obvious. So here are some sun-related covers. I've tried to not go for obvious choices and, if you think about it, Search for the Sun implies that the sun definitely isn't there. Just to mess with your mind a little more, the sun doesn't appear on any of the covers... but Search for the Sun comes closest as it's the only cover that actually has what look like a couple of stars on it.


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