Steve Bloom: the Basil Fawlty of booksellers

If the local parish council in Hawes, Yorkshire, has any sense, says Judith O’Reilly in The Sunday Times, it will erect a sign in the town directing people to Steve Bloom’s bookshop with the words: “Britain’s Rudest Bookseller. Buy a book – we dare you.” Because as we now know, Bloom isn’t one for letting “time-wasters, lollygaggers or caravanners” use his shop to seek refuge from the Yorkshire rain. He makes them pay 50p to browse (redeemable upon purchase), or throws them out.

Instead, far from celebrating Bloom, the local council is embarrassed by him, and has put up a sign saying he is “a discredit to the otherwise excellent reputation of the town”.
How short-sighted. The councillors would be better off following O’Reilly’s advice. In The Daily Telegraph, Lucy Mangan calls Bloom an “early contender for Man of the Year” and remarks on the shop’s “excellent” name, Bloomindales, playing both on his name and location (in the Dales).

He can undoubtedly be rude. One customer was so incensed he poured Bloom’s dinner over him, another said the bookseller had called him a “pain in the arse”. In the past four years, he has been the subject of 20 complaints, mostly from people who don’t like the way he charges 50p for the privilege of looking around. But then: why shouldn’t he charge?

I love little country bookshops and often wonder how they survive – sensible Mr Bloom has found a way of monetising book-browsing. Maybe others should follow his example. In the Daily Mail, Dominic Lawson even suggests the NHS could learn from him, and start charging the rich when they visit their doctors.

The local worthies in Hawes are currently debating what to do about their grumpy bookseller, since the council owns the market hall which houses Bloomindales. John Blackie, the council chairman, calls him “dreadfully rude and offensive” and wants him out unless he changes his ways. Lucy Mangan, on the other hand, thinks he should be given heritage status and encouraged to raise the entry fee to his shop to £5. It’s a thought. I suspect many of us, if we ran bookshops, would be even ruder to those annoying folk who hang around never buying anything, just as most of us would feel more sympathy for Basil Fawlty if we ran hotels.

The Mail on Sunday’s Liz Jones found him less objectionable than the local greengrocer, especially as he didn’t object to her dog, while The Sunday Times’s Judith O’Reilly found him charming, if “a little sad. He admits he can be grumpy and that he can be aggressive.” He blurts out words and then wonders why he said them. “I don’t go looking for arguments and trouble, but I often think: I should have handled that better,” he says.

One supporter in the town says he looks for postcards of dogs for an old lady who collects them. Another business owner says: “There has to be room for grumpy men like Steve or where do we draw the line?” There clearly is room for them, or Bloomindales would have gone bust. Which it hasn’t. Let’s hope this little burst of publicity helps it thrive. I, for one, will be happy to cough up 50p to look round if I’m ever in the neighbourhood.

Tabloid money… £40,000 is a price worth paying for office camaraderie

• “Are you reeling from the revelation that simply working in an office costs us £40,000 over the course of our working lives?” asks Vanessa Feltz in the Daily Express. “How can a career’s worth of birthday whip-rounds, secret Santas, new baby gifts and celebratory cakes and cookies for Super Sugar Fridays possibly add up to the deposit on a sea-front flat in Magaluf?…Sometimes it feels as if there’s a daily office attendance tax, payable on entry.” Yet “the outlay is a bargain, phenomenal value for money”, says Feltz. “The constant ferreting around in our wallets is a small price to pay for the camaraderie, the gossip and, dare I say it, the genuine and life-lasting friendship we gain as part of a working crew.”

• Never mind the fact that parents are up in arms over a council’s decision to issue fines of up to £120 if their children are late to a primary school in Essex, says Alison Phillips in the Daily Mirror. A strong work ethic is the most important thing we can give our children. “When our kids are fighting against the Chinese and Indian and Polish kids for their slice of the global economy, a part time degree in travel and tourism from the University of Walton-on-the-Naze isn’t going to take them anywhere… We need workers who understand discipline and commitment.” And if that means teachers have to drill that into them, then so be it.

• A Mars Bar once weighed two ounces (or 58 grams). sIn 2014, that went down to 51 grams, notes Peter Hitchens in The Mail on Sunday. “Only the keen-eyed would have noticed this was even a change” in this country since we tend to have an instinctive feel for an ounce is but have no idea what a gram is. That “fine body” the British Weights and Measures Association “wrote to Mars asking why they couldn’t put the weight of their bars in ounces as well as grams on the wrappers”. Mars replied that the figure in grams was more accurate. “Now it turns out that Mars Bars made in metric Holland do give the weight in ounces and grams, clearly showing that the weight has been reduced to 1.8 oz.” I wonder why they didn’t do that in Britain?

Merryn

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