Now I'm perfectly happy to take a hospitality gift when invited to a special occasion, what I'm not prepared to do is take along something that looks like it's been baked by a four-year-old. In fact, my creation would've been worse than that because at least a child is supervised by someone who knows their way around the kitchen. And so I got into a bit of a panic. I spent the train journey to Dulwich half hoping for a delay to give me time to think (remarkably Southeastern were punctual).
Which is the state of mind I was in when I entered Village Books. As is only natural, the simple act of entering a bookshop did help to calm me somewhat, but in the back of my mind I couldn't help but feel I shouldn't be enjoying myself until I'd chosen a gift to buy my friend. Fortunately, the bookshop had the answer.
Even while looking at the array of baking books I'd not fully appreciated what was in front of me until I saw Great British Bakes by Mary-Anne Boermans and the lightbulb in my brain flashed on. What better hospitality gift could there be for a book lover to give to someone with a passion for baking?
While browsing the fiction it was hard not to notice the buzz in the shop, with a regular flow of customers and friendly booksellers happy to help - one of whom I soon cornered to ask for advice. Wanting to be sure I'd chosen a good gift, and one that wouldn't already be on my friend's shelf, I needed reassurance about my choice and, naturally, we soon got talking about books for me to read too. Within minutes a small pile of recommendations was collected in front of me and I felt truly spoiled.
One of the things I love about meeting a new bookshop is that as well as being introduced to new books (many of which have now been added to my must-read list), old - or at least slightly less recent - reads can often be shown to me in a new light too. And so it was the bookseller's enthusiasm for Kate Atkinson's Case Histories that won the day - a book I've always meant to read, this seemed like the perfect time to finally take a copy home.
Books selected, it was time to pay. As I was buying a gift, I'd also picked up some tissue paper wrapping, but as I was paying the bookseller told me about their free gift wrapping service and - as you can see - did a much better job than I'd ever manage.
Having entered the bookshop a nervous mess, I left with a book for me, a gift for my friend and a smile on my face: I was ready for an afternoon of civilised socialising and more festive tea and cakes than I ever thought possible.
1d Calton Avenue, Dulwich, London, SE21 7DE
Tel: 020 8693 2808