Is there anyone who has not seen a copy of ‘The Private Lives of Pippa Lee’ in a North London charity shop?

February 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

When I first made the rounds of charity shops in North London, I used to be very disappointed in the books on offer. In the mid-nineties The Millstone by Margaret Drabble was a regular sighting. (Now you are more likely to see Notes from an Exhibition. ) I supposed these charity shops would be filled with the interesting libraries of the recently deceased. And I supposed wrongly. They were filled largely with the recently published cast-offs of the living and thriving: just as many are today.

A small revolution occurred when Oxfam opened its dedicated bookshops. The books are laid out in a defined order under titles such as history, biography etc. The fiction section might be divided in two (modern fiction and classics) or three (and crime) or four (and science fiction). I frequent the Oxfam shops in Crouch End and Muswell Hill.

Sometimes I take the W5 and spin up to the Highgate Oxfam. The books are more expensive there than in Crouch End or Muswell Hill, but Highgate’s literature section is good. On a recent visit to Highgate I was tempted by a number of books which included a hardback complete collection of Katherine Mansfield’s short stories. But as a soft back collection, not quite, adorns the bookshelves in the sitting room, I had to let it go. No doubt I shall regret that hardback collection.

The art of economy is one which sadly eludes me. Will the Katherine Mansfield collection haunt me as the tan leather satchel in the window of the other Highgate Oxfam does? I passed up on the satchel at the end of August: I look in vain now for something as good.

I remember hearing a man talk about a particular set of china his mother had seen but not bought (because she didn’t feel she could afford it), and forever afterwards regretted it. His attitude was: you always have money for the things you really really want. And this is true, in a way, because there are very few things that you really really want.

I shall have to console myself by reading Great Stories of all Nations (George G Harrap & Co, 1927) and On the Art of Writing* by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (Cambridge University Press, 1923), both bought, last year, from Oxfam, Muswell Hill.

* Based on a series of lectures (first published in book form in 1916).


the Big Give

December 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

A worthy cause to support this Christmas

“The Big Give is a unique opportunity. You can help us access life-saving funds for Burmese children in desperate need of medical treatment. If we can raise £50,000, 22 more children can have their lives transformed or be saved from an early death. . . for three days from 10 am on 6th, 7th and 8th December, the Big Give website will open. Every donation made on the website on those days will be matched up to a maximum of £25,000.”

From a Thai Children’s Trust publication

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh: Charity Christmas Cards

November 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Many supermarkets now produce some kind of charity card. It is important to read the small print on the back of the card. You may discover that only 8% of profits are donated to charity. How, in any case, is profit defined?

Where were the cards printed? In China? Under what conditions were they produced? How much were the workers paid? Has anyone involved in the manufacture of these cards been exploited? If so, in what sense are the cards ‘charity cards’?

Perhaps there has been no exploitation. But when people send me such cards, often cheap-looking, I do wonder how they came into being. Why buy such cards when there are small charities that sell genuine charity cards? No doubt their cards are more expensive. But small charities cannot subsidize the costs. Shouldn’t the price of goods reflect the cost of manufacture? To offset the higher prices, you can buy fewer cards.

See the cards sold by the Thai Children’s Trust ( This charity has an office in London. Buying their cards might not make good sense, if you live overseas. However, you could sponsor a child in the orphanage.

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