Let's hear it for bookshops

To some Foyles' new flagship store 'is our La Scala, our Versailles … our stately pleasure-dome'

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When Foyles' flagship bookshop on Charing Cross Road, London, reopened after its last major refit a decade ago, someone had the bright idea of sawing the old bookshelves into little pieces, wrapping each one in a Foyles-red ribbon and giving them away as souvenirs. Employees arrived at work to find 2,000 of them piled up around the tills. But when they sold out within two days, staff were left scrabbling in skips for old shop fittings to give away.

There's a special place in shoppers' hearts for a proper bookshop – even Foyles, or perhaps especially Foyles, which retained an archaic triple queuing system and books arranged by publisher until the end of the 20th century. So, the shop had a lot to live up to when it reopened in its new premises yesterday. The "palace of books" that is the new Foyles seems to be living up to expectations, combining the old – plenty of reading nooks and lecterns cut into the fancy staircase – with the new – log on to the store's Wi-Fi to check the availability of any of the 200,000 titles in stock. As one happy bookseller put it: 107 Charing Cross Road "is our La Scala, our Versailles … our stately pleasure-dome".

If Foyles is Versailles, the Kew Bookshop in west London is a one-storey wooden cabin with a personal touch, and it would very much like to stay that way. Last week, Richmond council rejected an application by the shop's landlord to replace its wooden frontage with brick and double the height of the building – which the occupier says would have raised the rent and put her out of business. The council made its decision after 2,000 people signed four petitions, one of them got up by local schoolchildren.

Fans of good old-fashioned local bookshops can now download stickers for their books announcing "I didn't buy it on Amazon" from the website of the US comedian Stephen Colbert. His book is one of many caught up in an ugly dispute between Amazon and the publisher, Hachette. Bookshops can print posters from the Booksellers Association website, proudly telling customers, "We pay our taxes!" The role of the customer in all of this is simple: ignore the global retail giant that doesn't pay its way, and support your local bookshop. Otherwise, the next time you walk past it on the way to pick up an Amazon parcel, you may find the fixtures and fittings chopped up and in a skip.

The tooth fairy and God

There was a pink fit in liberal England last week when its hero, Richard Dawkins, seemed to say that children should not read fairy tales. What he had actually wondered aloud was, "Is it a good thing to go along with the fantasies of childhood, magical as they are? Or should we be fostering a spirit of scepticism?" Come back, Tinkerbell, you're safe!

When I was at Sunday school, the teachers despised childhood fantasies such as the tooth fairy, Father Christmas and folk tales, because (spoiler alert!) when children inevitably stop believing in them, there's a chance they'll extrapolate that God is a fairy tale, too. If Dawkins were really the anti-theist bogeyman some people believe him to be, then far from banning the Brothers Grimm, he'd make them essential reading.

Oh, the sauce of it

I bow to no one in my admiration for my brilliant colleague Jane Merrick, but I was shocked by what she wrote in The Independent last Thursday. Jane was commenting on Roy Hodgson's decision to lift the ban on sauces for the England World Cup squad, but she suggested that if the team does well, then tomato ketchup will have been the clincher. And she calls herself a northerner! Next she'll be telling us that she eats her dinner at teatime. As Jane surely knows, brown sauce is the condiment that puts hairs on the chest, and that's what the England team should be squeezing on their sausages. Let's hope that Stevie Gerrard and Wayne Rooney get up first and make the butties before all the southerners in the team can smear them in ketchup.

The well-being trap

Last week, there was fury among women after a celebrity better known for expensive property and fancy frocks interfered in all our business and told us to get around to having babies. Pope Francis (for it was he) criticised "this culture of wellbeing [which convinces] us it's better not to have children", because there's nothing like well-being to lull you into thinking that you don't need to make yourself poor, knackered and covered in puke in order to count your life a success.

Meanwhile, a survey revealed that two in three women have a "life plan" (get engaged by 26, reach the top of the career ladder by 34 …), and three in four of those are upset that they keep missing their arbitrary deadlines. Well, duh! I once sat next to an ambitious 24-year-old at a work Christmas lunch whose first question to me was: "What's your five-year plan?" Life's too short. Just doing the best you can in the circumstances is really OK.

An idea for Nigel to try

Meanwhile, the Labour MP Stella Creasy says that women will have to breed for Britain to fill jobs if we stop immigration. And yet, overheard on the Tube the other day was a man saying, "There are too many people in this country. They should just ban sex completely." Now there's a thought for Nigel Farage.

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