Saturday III


Fed and watered (well, pinot-ed and Broadsided), the Lady in Malcolm’s Life upped and offed in search of whatever Ladies do when “shopping”. The arrangement was to meet up in Islington for more scoffing.

In due course, Malcolm headed the same way. The bus stop at Islington Green is close by an Oxfam book shop.

Oxfam’s conspiracy against the book trade

The individual Oxfam book shops are not, strictly, a big deal in the second-hand book market. Collectively, though, they are number three in the UK book market, and the second biggest seller of used books across all Europe. The specialists moan the operation is hoovering up the stock, and is somehow unethical:

Oxfam’s success in the books market has caused complaints from high-street retailers. Tim Godfray, chief executive of the Booksellers Association, which represents the likes of Waterstone’s and Blackwells, is concerned by the new, slick image of Oxfam bookshops.

“Oxfam are really professional, and therein lies the rub, says Godfray. “In the old days, charity shops projected an image of, dare I say it, amateurism – books stacked on trestle tables run by well-meaning volunteers. But now the retailing arms of many charities are run by hard-nosed professional retailers. Oxfam has more outlets selling books than Waterstone’s.

“In general, registered charities pay no more than 20 per cent of normal business rates on the buildings they use. Because of this, they are able to offer lower prices than commercial booksellers. Charity bookshops like the ones Oxfam run are now competing against our own members and, as they obtain these preferential fiscal benefits, we believe the competition is unfair.”


Any individual Oxfam bookshop will have a very limited range on offer. You missed out on the oeuvre of Dan Brown, and need to catch up on The Da Vinci Code? Oxfam books will happily have a whole stack. Beyond that, too much depends on what got chucked in their direction in the last few days.

On the other hand, that is the attraction of the operation. You have an unrequited love for all things Sumerian. Professor Glompotz, the world-renowned expert on Sumeria, recently popped his clogs. His long-suffering daughter dumped a couple of shelf-loads on the local Oxfam shop. Bingo!

Thus, in Islington Malcolm hit on a collection of small curiosities, obviously the bequest of some like-minded loopy lefty.

Fifty years on

One thin Fabian pamphlet that kept him going to the early hours was Austin Mitchell’s Election ’45.

It consists of little more than a menagerie of contemporaries reminiscing about how they were selected, how they fared, how they felt, about the great Labour landslide. Alongside the later greats (Lieutenant Callaghan, Major Healey, Flying Officer Lever) we hear individual voices of the grassroots.

Writing his preface for 1995 Mitchell reports:

Of sixteen hundred and eighty-three candidates, a hundred and ten are still alive half a century later. Of six hundred and forty MPs, forty-three are still alive. I was privileged to interview thirty-three, the most enjoyable piece of research I have ever done …

Enjoyable to research, delightful to read. If nothing else, it reminds how successful the 1945 generation were, and how mediocre were the achievements of the next Labour landslide of 1997. When comes such another?

Besides which …

From as far back as 1989, Adrian Mole’s creator, Sue Townsend explains Mr Bevan’s Dream: why Britain needs its Welfare State. Very personal, very angry, and, at times, very funny. Savage indignation about Thatcherite savagery and denial of dignity.

A couple of other items, including the star of the show: Fame is the Spur, Howard Spring’s great, great novel of the rise of the Labour movement — and intimations of its inner corruption.

This will be the third, or possibly fourth, copy that has come Malcolm’s way. The first (a Fontana paperback) fell apart with  re-readings and being passed around TCD student circles in the early ’60s. The second, a hardback from the ’50s, was rescued from being given the heave-ho by a school librarian who thought it too “heavy”: that’s still on the attic shelves.. And now this, so the Pert Young Piece may have her own copy, be enlightened, be warmed, and be warned.

All, some five items, for some thirteen quid or so.

Whoever you are, your generous donation to Oxfam does not go unappreciated, and unloved. When Malcolm’s clogs, too, need popping, it is to be hoped some successor finds a small trove in a later Oxfam.


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Filed under fiction, History, leftist politics., leisure travel, Literature, London, socialism.

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