Wednesday 18 December 2013

Solving a gift-buying dilemma

An invitation to a festive tea party put me into a bit of a quandry earlier this month. I knew my host would be providing a selection of homemade baked goods and that - while it wasn't essential - many guests would be bringing their own creations to share.

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?

Relief washed over me and I was once again able to appreciate my surroundings - including the largest travel section I've seen in an independent (or possibly any?) bookshop, and I was particularly appreciative of the effort to encourage teen readers by giving them a young adult section all to themselves away from the kids. Now I just had to find a book for myself.

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.

Village Books
1d Calton Avenue, Dulwich, London, SE21 7DE
Tel: 020 8693 2808


  1. Ahh, have just remembered to read this post! Thank you very much for the lovely book: that was most kind. I shall have to have a go at some of the recipes in there soon! Incidentally, presents and/or baked goods are not by any means compulsory, although yours was certainly appreciated. Happy new year, and see you at the next tea party, hopefully (and don't worry about bringing anything unless you really want to do so).

    Incidentally, I visited this bookshop last year, and it is indeed a rather charming place with much to recommend it.


    1. Hi James, I'm glad you liked the book. I know gifts aren't compulsory but manners are and I'd have been mortified to arrive without at least some small token. Maybe I'll try some simple baking for the next tea party because as difficult as I find choosing gifts I really do love to give them.

      I'm also glad to hear you already know the bookshop. It was lovely to explore.


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