Midnight in Paris at the Shakespeare & Co Book Shop

For anyone who missed my insane excitement, I went to Paris with my friends at the beginning of the month and it was just the best thing ever! In my previous post ab0ut Paris, I mentioned a book shop that I loved so much it deserved a post all of its own. Well here is that post!

About a week or so before I went to Paris, I was at home watching the film Midnight in Paris for the first time, purely by coincidence and I noticed Owen Wilson’s character hanging around by a rather cool book shop. Thinking it was way off the beaten track and I’d never have time to go there, I put it to the back of my mind. However, when we were in Paris one of my friends spotted it and pointed it out as one of the must-see tourist stops. I got ridiculously excited about this so when Sunday afternoon came round and we only had time to do one more thing, we hopped along to Shakespeare and Company.

Shakespeare and Company Book Store

As you can see, from the outside this looks like the quaint, old English bookstore that you have to search high and low to find in the UK these days. Inside, photos are not allowed though if you Google it, you’ll find quite a few. However, if you peek through the window of my photo, you begin to get a flavour of how exquisitely perfect this shop is.

If like me you think the Kindle has been sent to Earth by Lucifer himself, you will love this shop. As soon as you step through the door the stale mustiness of old books hits you. You have to watch every step you take because there is no sense to the layout of the shop and there are hoards of people squeezed into the tiniest of spaces. Downstairs there is more uniformity to the books and the shelves because this is where the new books, ready for sale are waiting. Walk upstairs however and you will feel how I imagine Alice to feel when she ventures down that rabbit hole.

There are nooks and crannies everywhere, notes from admiring visitors planned to walls, an old typewriter tucked away and all sorts of different chairs dotted around. Why the chairs? You can’t buy the books upstairs, they are to be read and enjoyed in situ. and what a selection of books there is. Many of the books are extremely old and the way they line the uneven shelves produces and effect I could only dream of recreating when I eventually own a house big enough to house a library.

If you’ve already fallen in love with the place, read on and you’ll be booking the next Eurostar over there. Just as my friend and I were debating how long we should stay, a tray laden with mugs of all shapes and sizes (some minus their handles) was brought out from a back room. Then a kettle, tea bags, sugar and milk appeared. One inquisitive visitor asked whether the tea was for general consumption, only to be informed that he’d have to stay for the tea party if he wanted any. Tea party???

A few minutes later a bright, vivacious older lady burst into the room and started ordering us to take seats and passed us cushions which we were to scatter on the floor when the seats ran out. Pan Melis is her name and being an eccentric, old Welsh poet is her game! We were at a real life Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Every Sunday between 4 and 6pm, Pan entertains anyone brave enough to enter her lair. She will fill you in on the history of the shop, her crazy life, read some of her own poetry and bully you into reciting or reading yours…or singing…or sharing a memory. There’s no escaping Pan, she will drag you into her world no matter how much you resist and so she should too after she’s given up her tea, and in our case her M&S Christmas cake 🙂

I’ve never experienced anything like it and obviously the majority of the people who attend are there just for that one session and often by accident but some are regulars and their contributions are clearly very well valued by Pan. It fulfilled my romantic dream of Paris and I’d seriously consider moving to Paris just to be able to go there every Sunday. It really was a gem in the middle of the city; perhaps the French see it differently but I was astounded to find something and someone so quintessentially British in the heart of Paris. If you visit Paris, make time for this, I promise it will be worth it; at the very least it will be an experience you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else x

Related article: Shakespeare and Company – A Surreal Afternoon by the Seine

Trip Advisor: Shakespeare and Company

As the High Street Falls does the Independent Rise?

With today’s news that yet another high street store, (Peacocks) has gone into administration, it’s really got me wondering about the future of the British high street. I’m sure you’re all familiar with Mary Portas’ campaign to promote independent businesses but I think we have an opportunity now to really give this campaign a boost and transform our generic high streets into something fresh and exciting. Here are some of the stores that have gone into administration in the last couple of years:

  • La Senza
  • Woolworths
  • Peacocks
  • Past Times
  • Habitat
  • Blacks Leisure
  • Hawkins Bazaar
  • Barratts (shoes)
  • Comet
  • Faith (shoes)
  • Adams
  • Jane Norman
  • Focus DIY
  • Confetti
  • JJB Sports
  • Arrogant Cat
  • Alexon (Ann Harvey, Kaliko, etc)

As you can see, many of these are huge names, certainly names I remember growing up with. You’ll also notice that quite a few of these are still on our high streets today where either the process is slow or they have been bought. Why are they going into administration? Is it just a lack of consumer spending or is it that we as consumers are bored of shopping in the same places in every town for years on end and are slowly but surely campaigning for change?

With the demise of these generic shops comes an opportunity for the independent retailer to step up and prove that they really do have a place on our high streets. Independents with knowledgeable staff and great customer service stand only to gain in this market, coaxing those precious pennies from our pockets whilst their larger, stark neighbours expose their own weaknesses with even worse service and poorer quality stock as they fall. The risk however is that we will end up with a high street that is even more generic than ever as the failing stores are bought out by larger groups which already own huge chunks of our high street.

So here I am on my soap box, preaching what you’ve all heard a million times before but I really mean it…support your independents! We have a huge opportunity to transform our own shopping experiences  for the better and we need to seize it or it could be another 10 years of drudgery before we get the chance!

On that note, please do comment if you know of any independents that you want to give a shout out to! x