Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Big evil corporate bookstores: bring it on

We're getting a Borders. At least, that's what I heard on the radio yesterday as I making my way somewhat blearily home from one of the best parties of the year, here (complete with Wickerman-style burning effigies, riotous dancing and the now-ubiquitous graffiti art.) But a quick check on the web reveals that, yes, Manchester and even Preston are about to welcome an outpost of the whacking great American bookstore.

I'd like to pretend that I'm disgusted, and urge people to boycott the evil chain that's taking over the world in support of our struggling local independent bookstores. And I would, if there were any independent bookstores in town. Damn, this has to be the worst place for bookstores in the world, new or used. But since we have no choice but to shop at a chain bookstore, I'm glad we're finally getting a decent chain in Manchester - one that sells the New York Times (about friggin' time) and has an in-store cafe with passable coffee where you can take a stack of obscure magazines you don't plan on buying and read happily away for hours. Just try not to spill any coffee on them.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Girlfight at Piccadilly Pound World

I can understand why other people might find them seedy, depressing or even downright scary. They're filled with tatty junk you don't really need. And they're shady. But dammit, I love pound stores.

I can't walk by one without wanting to go in. I rarely buy anything, but I've spent far too much time meandering along the aisles lined with new-but-already-forlorn plastic toys and overstock toothbrush holders in a blissful stupor. I don't buy the Kylie stationery set (proudly labelled "unofficial"), two-for-a-pound tissue boxes or novelty knickers bearing the mysterious legend Sundays are Dull. But I like to know that I can.

And shopping in Pound World can be exciting, and it's not just the thrill of finding passably decent batik cushion covers I'm talking about. Today I was taking a quick, illicit lunchtime run through PW. I was in the second aisle fingering a gift pack of three mini bottles of metallic nail varnish. The aisles are narrow at Piccadilly Pound World, and the shop was crowded. I brushed lightly against a woman in the cosmetics section as I passed her, murmuring an apology. I looked up from the nail varnish to find everyone in the aisle staring at me. The woman had whipped around and was loudly berating me. I put the varnish down, somewhat embarassed.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I did apologise, but you mustn't have heard me. "

"Well maybe next time you speak up so people can hear" she shouted. "Hmmmh. I don't think you even apologized at all. "She fixed me with a beady look that told me that not only was this woman not taking any shit, but she actually wanted to fight with me and I'd better fuck off. But I didn't. I stepped toward her.

"Okay. I'M SORRY" I bellowed at her. "Did you hear that?"

She shot an incredulous look at her friend, a slightly shorter and squatter version of herself. And then her chin retreated six inches backwards and her eyebrows shot to the ceiling. Her words emerged in a low hiss of malice: Don't you start with me or you might get messed UP today.

"Oh great. That's all I need," I said, turning on my heel and exiting the pound store, seemingly propelled by the force of my own sarcasm.

But my heart was pounding all the way to Oxford Street. I didn't want to get messed UP today.

In honor of my angry friend, I've decided to share my three favourite pound stores in the Manchester city centre:

  • Naturally, Piccadilly Pound World is my favourite. I like to live dangerously.

  • Second place goes to the Pound £mpire on the corner of Piccadilly and Lever Street. It's got narrow aisles and is always unbelievably crowded, but with good reason - there are some decent pickings here, including the sort of could-be-expensive candles which make great housewarming/babyshower gifts for people you don't like very much.

  • And the third is not really a pound store, but it might as well be: Primark. Right now they've got those excellent vests for £2 that you will insist on buying in eight shades, and by next summer all of them will have either shrunk, stretched in anatomically odd places, or acquired a colourful network of stains across le balcon. But who cares? They're practically disposable. Don't forget about upstairs, where there are perfectly good knickers and jimjams for less than a kebab.