Wednesday 26 August 2015

The perfect (book)end to my day

As random coincidences go, the final destination of my IBW2015 bookshop crawl is one of the more unexpected ones I've experienced, and I didn't even know about it until the following day, when I phoned my Dad to tell him about my travels.

He politely listened, saying 'yes' and making agreeable noises as I talked him through the trip, telling him how much I'd enjoyed discovering the beauty of Essex and how friendly everyone had been. Then I mentioned Frinton-on-Sea and all of a sudden my Dad actually began to listen. But only for a moment, before he began talking non-stop about his mum.

Ordinarily I'd be offended by the blatant lack of interest, followed by hijacking of the conversation for a person's own tale, but this time I was hooked. The story may have only been brief, but it was an extra element of family history I'd not heard before, about how in the 1920s my Nana and great aunt had left their north Wales home to go into service. The details are sketchy, from the decade I know they were teenagers, but I've no idea how much English the two girls understood as they began their journey across the country or even how long they stayed in Essex for. The only 'fact' is that they ended up working at Frinton-on-Sea, for a man who 'built radios'. Oh, and they enjoyed the experience.

As their first experience away from home I can only imagine what an adventure it must've been, but what I do know is that they chose a beautiful place to end up.

I may not have known about the family connection at the time of my visit, and I'm sure the town has changed a lot in the almost 100 years that have passed since my Nana was there, but I fell in love the moment I pulled up on the busy high street. The love only grew as I explored the town, met a very friendly bookshop and ended up on the beach, but I'm getting ahead of myself. First, the bookshop.

Caxton Books & Gallery is found on what felt like the high street of Frinton-on-Sea. Lined with shops, the road was just the right level of busy for 4pm on a sunny Saturday afternoon, meaning I found a parking space immediately and sauntered along to a beautiful bookshop front. Half art gallery, half bookshop, the window emphasises this perfectly, with a selection of paintings and books inviting you in. The split is then easy to appreciate, with books filling the front of the shop, leading to the open space of the gallery at the rear, although some art weaves its way between the books (which I'd argue are art in themselves).

As I write, I'm struggling to choose one word to describe the bookshop. My first thought was light, because even where the shelves are close at the front it still felt bright and open. But then I remember my experience and think perhaps friendly is a more appropriate choice.

Browsing the shelves, which include the delightful genre of 'cosy crime', it took me mere moments to choose my book when I stumbled across The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson. Recommended to me by a northern bookshop, I'd long regretted not buying it and wasn't about to let the book slip through my fingers again. Of course, because I chose my book so quickly it meant I was swiftly distracted by the rest of my surroundings, in particular some cute mouse bookends adorning the children's department.

Chatting to the bookseller as I struggled with that age-old problem of 'to buy or not to buy', I soon had the whole bookshop engaged in conversation as other browsers helped with my decision. It's no secret bookshops are one of the few remaining places where it's acceptable to engage strangers in conversation, but I've not experienced anything so all encompassing before. All I can say is that Caxton Books & Gallery's customers are ace. Oh, and obviously I bought the bookends.

A painted pebble may also have made its way among my purchases – I needed something to remind me of the gallery side of the bookshop too. That it also shows blue skies and so reminds me of the rest of my day was simply an added bonus.

Overloaded with purchases (technically I didn't break my one book per shop rule), I continued along the road to the seafront. Via an ice cream stall.

A grassy bank along the Esplanade was the perfect place to relax as I thought back over my day of exploration and admired the view before making my way down to the beach, where the cool water, golden sand and the gentle sound of children's laughter ensured I fell even more deeply in love with Frinton-on-Sea.

I didn't know about the tenuous family connection while I was paddling in the sea, but thinking back to that beautiful afternoon I like to imagine, once upon a time, two sisters might also have enjoyed such a visit to the beach on their day off. Splashing in the water and generally enjoying the adventure of life.

Caxton Books & Gallery
37 Connaught Avenue,
CO13 9PN
Tel: 01255 851505


  1. Isn't it wonderful how books open up unexpected stories? You'd never have got that family anecdote by reading on a Kindle!

    I'd be interested to know how you get on with the book - I devoured James Robertson's And the Land Lay Still a few years ago, but have never been sure enough to try the one you bought.

    1. I totally agree! I hope e-reader people know what they're missing. I'll let you know about the book - my TBR pile's a bit overwhelming at the moment but it'll be near the top soon...


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