How to Decorate with Books.

I did something a little silly the other day. I bought some books. Fifty of them.

It was never my intention to buy fifty books. I just wanted to get the kids out of the house so that my wife could finish a project she was working on. Exclusive Books was having a pop-up warehouse sale. R10 a book. In other words, Exclusive Books was giving away books. So I gave the kids R50 each and hauled them off to Kramerville.

Then things became a bit of a blur. There were too many people there. And too many books. The sale rapidly degenerated into a feeding frenzy, and a red mist descended over my eyes. I am not admitting to anything, but there is a good chance I might have pulled out a significant proportion of a hipster’s beard in order to win an engaging little hardback about pirate economics, and if the police ask any questions about a little old lady getting punched in the kidneys, I know nothing. I wasn’t anywhere near her at the time. And I spotted that book about Proust’s overcoat first. Just saying.

It was a little busy. This was just the queue for the bathroom...

It was a little busy. This was just the queue for the bathroom…

The kids, being fast learners with a very poor grasp of basic arithmetic, fell prey to red mists of their own, and proceeded to make a mockery of their R50 limit. An hour later, we stepped out into the bright light of Heritage Day with three boxes of books and a vague feeling of shame.

Three boxes of books is a problem.


A few weeks ago, I became aware of something horrible. Just look at this!

This is not a bookshelf, it is an affront!

This is not a bookshelf, it is an affront!

Awful, isn’t it? There is simply no accounting for taste, is there?

No-one has ever accused me of being an aesthete. I dress mostly to avoid getting arrested for indecent exposure, and brush my hair because if I don’t, the various women in my life say unkind things to me. It goes without saying that I don’t keep up to date with the latest interior decorating trends. I’m still not entirely sure what colour mauve is, and I only found out what a sconce was when I knocked one off the wall and onto my wife’s head. I learnt some new Anglo-Saxon words at the same time. Being married to someone smarter than you is very educational.

But I digress. The point of all this is that I discovered a horrible interior decorating trend the other day. And it’s obviously been around for a while, because it seems to be everywhere:

I'm sorry you have to see this.

I’m sorry you have to see this.

It’s all a bit sad, really. These people are decorating their homes with books. And they are getting it very, very wrong.

Look at those pictures again. Now imagine the conversation that must have cropped up somewhere along the line:

Person 1:         “Darling, I’ve been thinking.”

Person 2:         “Oh, God. I’m so sorry. Can I get you an aspirin?”

Person 1:         “I’ll be fine. I’ve been thinking that we need to get some books.”

Person 2:         “Books?”

Person 1:         “Books.”

Person 2:         “I’ll get that aspirin…”

Person 1:         “I’m fine.”

Person 2:         “So what sort of books are you thinking we should get? Fiction? Popular science? A biography or two?”

Person 1:         “Yellow ones. I want about thirteen yellow books. And about eight red ones. Of various sizes. Pink ones, too. Do they make books in aquamarine?”

Person 2:         “I’m sure they do. What do these books need to be about?”

Person 1:         “Doesn’t matter. They are not for reading. They are like those umbrellas in the antique bucket next to the front door. If you or the children ever touch them, you will be punished.”

This is even worse.


Interior decorator:       “Right. Time to move on to the lounge. I was thinking of putting a “reading nook” into that open space next to the window.”

Person 2:                     “Why did you do that with your fingers?”

Interior decorator:       “Do what?”

Person 2:                     “That thing where you made little quotation marks in the air when you said “reading nook”.”

Interior decorator:       “I did nothing of the sort. Now, I was thinking of a plain white, ceiling length bookshelf, with a selection of books and perhaps an objet or t…”

Person 2:                     “Object?”

Interior decorator:       “Objet, darling, objet. An objet d’art. An objet or two and some…”

Person 2:                     “This is awesome! I love books! I’ve been collecting since I was a teenager. I’ve got all of my favourite novels, and we have picked up some nice coffee-table books on our travels. I’ve even got….”

Interior decorator:       “Wonderful, darling. You can pack them all into a cardboard box and store them out in the garage. You can look at them when you go out to visit the children. I’ll be getting you some nice off-white antique German tax-law books for the “reading nook”. They will….”

Person 2:                     “I’m sorry, what was that about the children?”

Interior decorator:      “Oh. I’ve been meaning to tell you. The children will be living in the garage from now on. Children are dirty and your whole house is going to be white. To match your antique German tax-law books. Don’t worry. We’ve installed a feeding hatch in the kitchen door, and are building them an outside toilet disguised as a Georgian gazebo. If they get too dirty you can hose them down in the driveway. Keep them away from the pool, though. The paving is all white…”

"They can come in on special occasions, like Christmas, but only if you wrap them in cling-wrap and make them breathe through a straw..."

“They can come in on special occasions, like Christmas, but only if you wrap them in cling-wrap and make them breathe through a straw…”

Yup. Those people have gone and bought themselves a bunch of books based on how well their spines match with the curtains. This may seem like a good idea at first. Books have an aura. Filling your house up with books tells people that you are smart. Sophisticated. Interesting.

It is not a good idea. The people we tend to want to impress with how smart, sophisticated and interesting we are tend to be smart, sophisticated and interesting people.

Which is where this interior decorating trend comes unstuck. Put a smart, sophisticated and interesting person in a room full of books, and sooner or later he or she is going to go over and pick one up to page through. This is a certainty, like the sun rising or your partner finding your secret stash of Romany creams.

This is when your guest is going to notice that you have spent several thousand rand stocking up a ceiling-length bookshelf with hundred-year-old tax-law journals. In German. So that people will think that you are smart, sophisticated and interesting.

Your smart, sophisticated and interesting guest is not going to think you are smart, sophisticated and interesting. In fact, as they return themselves bemusedly to their seats, your smart, sophisticated and interesting guest is probably going to be thinking to themselves that your eyes are a little closer together than they had originally thought, and that it might be prudent to start offering you assistance when you perform complicated tasks like pouring tea or inhaling.

The beauty of books lies inside them. A beautiful bookshelf is one where a child can lose themselves for hours in dusty old world record books and Christmas-gift Giles cartoon collections from before they were born, and tattered old Beano’s and yellowing Tintins. A beautiful bookshelf should have coffee table books about wonderful gardens in it. And bird books. And biographies of forgotten singers. And novels by obscure authors who have been dead for decades. And slightly off-colour joke books. And travel guides to countries that don’t exist anymore. And recipe books and sports books and books about hobbies that no-one has taken part in for thirty years. Macramé. Beautiful bookshelves should have books about macramé in them. And stamp collecting. A beautiful bookshelf should be a living history; an interactive exhibit dedicated to the enduring passions and passing interests of your family over a lifetime.

Beautiful bookshelves should not, under any circumstances, have books in them whose defining feature is that they are yellow. That’s just sad. Hollow. Empty. A shelf full of antique German tax-law journals is the literary equivalent of a garden that has been concreted over and covered with astroturf and plastic flowers. And those cellphone towers dressed up to look like palm trees.

Wow! Your garden looks just like Mauritius.

Wow! Your garden looks just like Mauritius.

And if you think I am being a tad dramatic with the “hollow” and “empty” talk, I’m not. I am being perfectly literal. Look;


Yup. That’s a thing. There are people out there who make a living tearing the spines off old books and sticking them to bits of wood so that other people can pretend to have books in their houses without having to do anything icky like have books in their houses. My blood runs cold when I think about what these people are doing for pets.

"I'll be back soon, honey. I'm just taking the dog out for a walk."

“I’ll be back soon, honey. I’m just taking the dog out for a walk.”

So how should you decorate with books? Easy. Just listen to me. Am I an interior decorator? I am not. But I did once read an interior decorating book I found below a mauve sconce, so I’m pretty much the same thing. And I have been a bookseller for a while. So I have a few books. Here’s how it’s done.

Step 1.             Buy yourself some bookshelves that are too small. I am not suggesting that you buy bookshelves that are too small to hold the books that you currently own. I am just informing you at the outset that if you are doing this properly, they will, at some point, be too small.

Step 2.             Sort your books into categories; fiction together, nature books together, children’s books together, and so on. You can even alphabetise them if you want to. This will ultimately prove to be a complete waste of time, but will, in the short term, give you a profound sense of achievement. Do not, however, sort them by colour, or we can’t be friends.

Step 3.             Pack them neatly onto your new shelves. Try, while keeping them in their categories, to pack the biggest, heaviest books on the lower shelves. This will anchor the bookshelf visually, drawing the eye upwards and making the room feel bigger.


No. No it will not. It will, however, anchor the bookshelf literally, making it less likely to topple over when your partner climbs up the front of it like a ladder to get at your secret stash of Romany creams.

Step 4.             Accumulate more books. You can get them at Exclusive Books. In Clearwater. Lull yourself into a false sense of security by keeping them in a large pile on your bedside table.

Step 5.             Now for the tricky part. Once the pile on your bedside table gets tall enough to maim a child if it topples over, it’s time to go and pack them onto your bookshelves. A sledgehammer and a can of WD40 will come in handy at this point. And it might be worth placing a small crowbar next to the shelf so that you can get your books out again.

Step 6.             Repeat step 4. To delay the inevitable, you can also build a small pile in the bathroom, which will come in handy since that is where most reading gets done these days anyway. Once the bathroom pile starts to totter like a late-stage Jenga game, you can start pushing books under your bed once you’re done with them. When they start popping out the other side it’s time to go back to your shelf.

Step 7.             Time to haul out the hammer and the WD40 again. Your shelves are not full. There is lots of wasted space above each orderly row of books. Fill it. You will also, if you bought the right sort of bookshelf, find little strips of unused space at the front of each shelf. Use this by balancing your thinnest books on it with the cover facing outward. Remember also that the amount of stuff you can balance on top of your bookshelf is limited only by the height of the ceiling. And gravity.


Step 8.             Repeat step 6. You can also save valuable space by leaving piles of books in your car and taking them inside as you need them.

Step 9.             The shelf might be full, but it still serves as a focal point for your books. Now is the time to start making neat piles on the floor in front of the bookshelf.

library 2

Step 10.           Repeat step 8. Remember that, while it is usually the done thing to keep your book collection neat and tidy, an exception is made for the book you are reading currently. You can leave that lying around anywhere. Use this to your advantage by reading up to thirty seven books at once.

Step 11.           Time to abandon your bookshelf. You can now start stacking your books along the bases of your walls. If anyone asks, tell them it’s a novelty skirting board. Remember to leave gaps so that you can get through doors and reach electricity points.


Step 12.           Repeat step 10. Carry a stack of books with you at all times when you are at home. If you never put them down, no-one can call them clutter. This might make sleeping a little awkward at first, and you’ll have to make some sort of arrangement with plastic bags at bath-time, but you will soon get used to it. And just think of the money you will be saving on gym membership fees. You’ll have biceps like a longshoreman…

Step 13.           I think things might be getting a little out of hand. Your only hope now is to start using your books to make furniture, or mazes for the children. Good luck.


I'm not making this up. these are both actual things.

I’m not making this up. these are both actual things.


Step 14.           Take your kids out for a fun little outing and come back with three boxes of books and an outstanding arrest warrant.

Step 15.           I got nothing. Help!


Why you should come in and read our newspapers.

I am older than I once was, but every now and then something happens that reminds me that I’m still a bit of a bad-boy. A wild one. I walk my own path and make my own rules. The fear of authority is a fear for lesser men. Not me. “The Man” can’t hold me down. I’m a rebel. A rebel with a rapidly growing bald spot, but a rebel none the less.

Like this, but with bad knees, and some awkward decisions to make about whether the belt goes over or below the belly.

Like this, but with bad knees, and some awkward decisions to make about whether the belt goes over or below the belly.

It happened again the other day. I had a run in with the authorities. I was hassled by “The Man”. My crime? I was reading the newspaper. In a supermarket. To tell the truth, I wasn’t really reading it so much as glancing at the headlines, but I broke the cardinal rule. I turned over to the second page. Like a striking cobra, a nearby security guard ambled across and told me I wasn’t really allowed to do that.

Rules. Apparently you can look at the headlines and even read the articles on the front page, but the moment you turn over to page 2, you become an outlaw. A rulebreaker. An unpaid article-stealer.

This was all explained to me rather politely, but I wasn’t fooled. There was an undeniable edge to the guard’s voice, as if at any moment he might whip out his little walkie-talkie and call for backup. Years of living outside the bounds of the law have left me with a fine-tuned instinct for when the game is up. But I refuse to be intimidated. I glanced down, quickly taking in two more free headlines (Hah! Take that, Johnny Law!) before looking the guard straight in the eye and slowly closing the paper without breaking eye-contact.

I popped a toothpick into the corner of my mouth, narrowed my eyes, hooked my thumbs into my belt and moseyed on out of the shop like John Wayne with a tiny pebble in his boot (It’s my “gangsta rapper” walk. I copied it from a Texan line-dancer with a torn groin muscle). “Maine Lobsterman Catches Rare Blue Lobster”, I muttered under my breath, rolling the stolen headline off my tongue like a lump of chewing tobacco as a small boy clung nervously to his father’s leg and an attractive young woman behind me gasped and swooned. It is a hard, lonely path I walk, but I know no other way.

I'm street like that.

I’m street like that.

Newspapers are tricky. There is a rule of retail so basic that no-one bothers to write it down; don’t let your customers consume your products for free right in front of you. But remember how I feel about rules (It will help if you whistle the tune from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly while reading this). We sell papers here at Exclusive Books in Clearwater, but we do so more as a service than anything else. We make enough profit from selling newspapers every month to send a small family out to a modest restaurant. If there’s a special on. And they’re not very hungry. So if you steal a glance at the headlines on page 2, you’re not exactly speeding us down the path to financial ruin.

We don’t mind. Read our headlines. All of them. You can even come in, take a paper over to a chair, and read it, cover to cover. “The Man” isn’t going to leap out and wave a walkie-talkie at you.

So why do we let you make off with our page 2 headlines without so much as a by your leave? It’s because we are pure of heart and generous of spirit. It has nothing at all to do with our eternal hope that you will pop in to glance at the Mail & Guardian and somehow find yourself unable to walk out without a R2000 cookery book and the entire Mr. Men collection despite not knowing any children. I promise.

Our motives aren’t really at issue here, anyway. We like you. We miss you when you don’t come and see us. We want you to visit more often, and to be happy spending your time here. We want you to feel at home here. And if letting you sit back and glance through a newspaper is what it takes to make you feel at home, we’re all for it. Speaking of homes, here’s a little decorating tip. Did you know that if you buy the entire Mr. Men series and line them up in the correct order, the black ink marks on the white spines form a picture? It’s really quite striking, and would look fabulous on a prominent shelf next to a R2000 cookery book. Just saying.

It's a worm. Worms are good feng shui.

It’s a worm. Worms are good feng shui.

You can read our papers. But you might be wondering why, in this age of instant information, you should read the papers at all. There are other, easier ways of finding out what is happening in the world.

But here’s the thing; knowing that something happened does not make you well informed. When it rains, everyone gets wet, but not everyone understands the complex interplays of elements like humidity and topography and temperature and season that cause the rain to fall in that place on that day.

Listening to the news on the radio or watching it on TV is like knowing that it rained because you are feeling a little damper than before. There are time-slots to fill and advertisers to slot in. The news is blared out in bite-sized chunks and any analysis is both superficial and brief, unless it happens to be Very Big News Indeed, in which case it is over-analysed to the point of obfuscation. If you listen to the news, you are merely informed, not well informed.

Then there’s the internet.

You feel that reading the news on the internet is the same as reading a paper. It isn’t. A newspaper is a thing. You can hold it in your hand It has a finite number of words in it. Depending on the amount of time you have, you are going to read most, if not all of them. You will read articles about things that interest you. But you will also read articles about things that would not necessarily interest you. You will read opinion pieces by columnists who make you nod. And ones who set your teeth on edge and make you want to spit your coffee all over the cat. You glance over letters to the editor by breath-takingly uninformed and opinionated members of the public whom you will immediately hate. Newspapers have their biases and their slants, but despite that, by the time you are done reading one you will have been exposed to a variety of worldviews, not just reflections of your own.

I agree with you 100 per cent. You handsome devil, you....

I agree with you 100 per cent. You handsome devil, you….

The internet isn’t like that. It is not a thing. It is a portal; a gateway to all the words in the world. You will never read them all. That even applies to individual news sites. There’s too much stuff on them. There’s no way to read all of the articles, so you choose only the ones that grab your attention. The ones on subjects that interest you and the ones by columnists you like. You skip past all the other stuff, and your world gets a little bit smaller. And even if you don’t, content for the internet is governed by an iron law; TLDNR. If you’re not familiar with it, it stands for “Too Long, Did Not Read.” If it’s on the internet and there are too many words in it, no-one bothers to read it. There is no room for depth or insight in cyberspace.

Read the newspaper instead. People who read almost any newspapers are better informed than those who don’t. Almost. There are, as is the case with most things, exceptions, but when these exceptions boast such notable headlines as “TOKOLOSHE MAKES MY 4-5 ITCH!” they are not to be set aside lightly themselves.

And does being well informed matter? It most certainly does. I live at one end of Witkoppen road and work at the other. I drive it every day, twice a day. It’s a boring road. This one time there was a little frisson of excitement when I found that the robot on Paul Kruger was working, but it was broken again the next day and everything went back to normal.

This is not a problem for me. When it comes to driving, boring is what I strive for. But a few weeks ago, I had a trip to work that was not boring. I met someone new.

I was sitting quietly, minding my own business at a busy robot, when a rather volatile little chap introduced himself to me. I’m not a particularly sociable sort, but I have no objection to other people as long as they are not huggers or the sort who hold onto your hand for just that moment too long while being introduced. I would prefer, though, if they didn’t come into my life by driving their scooters into the back of my car.

It wasn’t that big a deal, though. I drive an old Land Rover, and it’s quite hard to tell whether any particular incident has resulted in any damage or not. Still, one must do the right thing, so I hopped out of my car to go and get to know my new acquaintance a little better.

YOU SCRATCHED MY CAR! Now I'm going to have to get a new paint job...

YOU SCRATCHED MY CAR! Now I’m going to have to get a new paint job…

This was a mistake. He was, you see, a little busy. He had hopped off his scooter, climbed into the passenger seat of a taxi, and was attempting to beat the driver into submission with his crash helmet. This sounds like a terribly violent sort of scene, but in truth in was more than a little comedic. Trying to beat someone into submission with a crash helmet in the front seat of a taxi is a little bit like trying to skip in a portaloo. There isn’t enough room to get any momentum going and odd bits of equipment keep getting in the way.

My new little friend gave up and decided there was more to be gained by leaping out of the taxi and screaming at me about how the ****ing ****er had cut him off and driven him into my car and how he was going to **** him with a ****. I smiled at him and asked him if he ever read the news. He stopped screaming at me and looked at me a little uncertainly.

“Haven’t you heard”, I asked, “about the Porsche guy?”

He had. Everybody has. A little of the colour drained from his cheeks. But here’s the thing. He hadn’t heard enough. He clearly hadn’t read the papers. He was not well informed.

Just in case you have been living off the grid out in the Kalahari somewhere, about a week before this happened to me, a pair of teenagers in their forties had woven their way through traffic along Witkoppen Road until someone in a golf had looked at them skeef, at which point the passenger had jumped out, kicked the golf’s door, broken the rear-view mirror, and punched the driver through the window as if he was auditioning for the role of the school bully in an 80’s coming-of-age movie.

Yup. The ghost of this guy is now haunting Witkoppen road.

Yup. The ghost of this guy is now haunting Witkoppen road.

Everyone with a TV or a radio heard about it. It was, for a little while, Very Big News Indeed. But if you picked it up on the radio or TV, you would have picked up the bare bones of the story. And you only heard about it because someone filmed the two wide streaks on their little rampage, and the story went viral. By the time my little friend decided to single-handedly take on the taxi industry, the name of the Porsche driver had been given out and he had been picked up by the police.

This information obviously wasn’t enough to discourage my little friend.

He might even have watched the video of the incident that popped up on various internet news sites. I would like to think that watching a pair of grown men embarrass themselves in front of an entire country by acting like a weak minded little school bullies would discourage me from getting involved in any similar sorts of shenanigans, but you never know.

What I read in the newspapers, however, would have stopped me cold. First of all, it wasn’t just the police who found the driver. I read about how his name, his number, and the details of his employers had been passed around on the internet, and how his boss was fielding calls from self-appointed vigilantes out to set the world to rights as well as the expected packs of journalists. The same thing happened to the passenger when his name came out.

If my little friend had been aware of these things, he might have stayed out of that taxi. Companies seem to find it a little easier to get rid of scooter drivers than Porsche drivers. But if he was a newspaper reader, he wouldn’t have needed to know about that incident at all. Because he would have a better idea of what happens to skinny little scooter drivers when they try to beat taxi drivers into submission with crash helmets. I tried to explain these things to him as he stood there on the side of the road, but I think he got a little distracted when the taxi driver jumped out of his taxi and started to advance on him.

He got a little more distracted when I pointed out the row of nine or ten taxis swooping toward us through the busy traffic with their hazard lights on. I don’t think he even heard me explain that whichever police arrived to break up what was starting to look like a rather severe beating would, at the very least, be on a first name basis with the taxi drivers, making him a “them” to the taxi driver-police “us”.

Don't panic. I'm sure if you deal with them one at a time you'll be fine.

Don’t panic. I’m sure if you deal with them one at a time you’ll be fine.

Oh, well. I stepped back and tried my best to look like an innocent bystander so that no-one would think my new friend and I were connected as he became a little better informed the hard way. And then the universe stepped in to preserve his state of blissful ignorance. The vehicle immediately behind us as this all unfolded happened to be an ambulance. They saw which way things were headed, and switched on their lights and their sirens. They kept them on for just a second, but it was enough to break the tension.

Men in uniforms who emerge from vehicles covered in flashing lights are clothed with a certain amount of authority. The taxi driver took his turn to start screaming at the ambulance guys that the ****ing ****er had hit him with a crash helmet, and that he was going to **** him with a ****, but the wind had been taken from his sails, and it seemed a mere formality. The crisis was past. I checked that no-one had sustained any damage, and then hopped back into my car and left.

I drove away thinking that, while it had all been a rather entertaining diversion, things could have gone very differently indeed. And all because a silly little man on a scooter had failed to understand the situation he was getting himself into.

We would hate for you to find yourself in a similar situation. And it’s so easy to avoid. Just come in to Exclusive Books in Clearwater and read a paper. They’re easy enough to find. They’re in a great big stand up at the front of the shop, right next to the Mr. Mens and the R2000 cookbooks…


Right. That’s that then. Be sure to visit our News page to see what’s happening in our store, and check out our new kids page.

Why you need to read “those” business books.


I went to an all boys primary school. Every morning before classes began, gangs of small boys in enormous shorts would mill around on the playground, catching up on what had happened since they had last seen each other. Most of the time, not much had happened. But once or twice a week, there was something different in the air. An undercurrent of excitement. The playground hummed like a busy newsroom as a big story breaks.

This..... is CNN

This….. is CNN


I would hunch my shoulders and prepare for an onslaught. I had not, you see, checked. And everyone else had. Continue reading

Why you should feel good about reading Romance novels

The thin, watery light of a Northern dawn trickles down the hillside, highlighting patches of mist and glinting off the dewdrops coating the heather. The raucous, guttural call of a grouse rings out from some hidden hollow. All else is silent. All else is still.

But wait! What’s this? Movement. A lone figure has appeared over the rise, striding purposefully down the hillside. Could it be…. is it… the Highlander?

It most certainly is. But his presence here answers nothing. It brings only questions. What has happened to his shirt, for a start? We’re pretty damn close to the Arctic circle up here. The silly bugger is going to catch his death of a cold.

Why is he covered in baby oil? And how does he manage to keep his hair in such fabulous condition? The only time I ever washed my hair in a loch and conditioned it with sheep-fat I was attacked by crows. And I won’t even begin to speculate on where he found a tanning bed and a steady supply of steroids in 15th century Scotland.

Wait! What is he up to now? Oh look; he’s whipped out his enormous claymore and is waving it around as if trying to awaken Sigmund Freud from the dead…

It is truly shameful how the media objectifies men...

It is truly shameful how the media objectifies men…

It’s time to tackle fiction. Or at least a small slice of fiction. Romances. Continue reading

Why you should read about World War One.

My own dear lass, I must go to bed now as I must store up what energy I can, as I shall probably need it these next few days as I’m likely to be pretty busy as far as I can see.

Give the dear little Chugs my love and a kiss from Dad and with all my love to you old dear, and your dear old face to love.

Ever your Robert.

Something awesome happened yesterday. I took the day off. Which was nice, but wasn’t the awesome part.

The awesome part was that I left a fairly ordinary looking shop on Monday afternoon, and came back to this this morning:

image_3 Continue reading

Why You Should Learn to Read Like a Buddhist Monk

I have three sisters. We actually all get (and got) along quite well. But as those of you with kids will know, the phrase “sibling rivalry” is one of the great understatements of our time. The correct phrase should be “sibling guerrilla warfare”. Siblings fight. They argue. They tease each other and provoke each other when they are bored, and undermine each other when they feeling grumpy. Not me and my middle sister, though. For about two years we got along like a house on fire.

Because she was up a tree.

My middle sister, circa 1984

My middle sister, circa 1984

Continue reading

Why You Should Start a Bookclub.

I come from a large, loud, boisterous gang of a family. There are six of us. We are close. Growing up, we moved as a pack; whatever we did, we did as a group. We socialised as a family. Any friends our parents had were family friends. We travelled as a family, stayed at home as a family, went out to dinner as a family. My mother was (and is) a homemaker, and spent most of her life running around behind four busy children. And then there were “the girls”. Continue reading


In the dining room of my childhood home there was a huge, glass-fronted, antique cupboard filled with precious things. Books. And not just any books. My father’s mother was a bibliophile. A collector. The cupboard was filled with leather and cloth-bound first editions, some of them signed and some of them containing folded-up letters from exotic people like T.E. Lawrence (yup, my granny seems to have been pen-pals with Lawrence of Arabia).

They used to send each other fashion tips...

They used to send each other fashion tips…

Continue reading