I'm now convinced that something has changed. Somebody has deliberately destroyed The Works.
I'm talking about the chain of bookshops that sell remaindered or discounted books and I know 'destroyed' sounds provocative but I'm basing it on the evidence of my visiting three different stores in the past month and noticing exactly the same thing.
Before I say what's changed, I think I should be open and admit that I rarely find my good reasons to go shopping. I'm into neither clothes nor mobile phones so 95% of the shops on the average high street hold no interest. I love bookshops and although Manchester's Waterstones on Deansgate is pretty much my favourite place outside of the almost mythical (to me) bookshops of London, the only other shops I would regularly visit are the various outlets of The Works found in Liverpool, Manchester, Wigan, St Helens, Chester, Warrington... In fact, they're in every reasonably sized town. There I always knew I could find something unique. No two shops were ever the same and you could always pick up something you simply couldn't find anywhere else.
It was the left-of-centre inventory that meant that I've always been a regular customer and why quite a few people I know were also regulars. For example, the last time I visited the Chester Works, I found a copy of Ronald Searle's last book. The time before that, I came back with a nice mint condition collection of Gerald Scarfe's cartoons. Not that my purchases were limited to books of cartoons, though The Works had a good track record when it comes to selling the works of cartoonists. I'd never seen Tony Husband's books until I bought two from the Works.
However, all that has now come to an end. I don't think I'll bother walking across another town or city to mooch around The Works. In the past couple of months, The Works has changed. In all three stores I visited, they'd had a change in design (gone the perfectly acceptable blue signage, in comes a horrible yellow colour scheme and nasty rustic wood interior) and they rearranged their shelves. Suddenly, where they previously had large sections devoted to history, geography, the media, and often had interesting collections of biographies (plenty of decent political biographies between the usual Cillas and Brucies), suddenly those sections have disappeared. Now the entire non-fiction section is one small shelf tucked to the side of the shop and limited to books about supercars. Otherwise, The Works has become overwhelmed by products that I can only reduce to the word 'tat'. I'm not interested in cake decoration, books of tattoo designs, One Direction calendars, or notebooks with the words 'What Ever' written across the front. I don't want embroidery kits, plastic lunch boxes, plastic posters of pop stars. I don't want masks or cheap art materials for people who like to 'dabble'. I buy my art material at Fred Aldous', where their ink doesn't turn a funny colour and the paper doesn't turn into a soggy mess. Nor do I want any of the thousands of kits for people who think they want to start making organic origami paint-it-by-numbers crystal earrings with the lump of some starter schist or whatever the hell it is they pack in those things. In fact, I don't want anything that the The Works is now selling. It's become a horrible parody of what it once was.
So, goodbye The Works. You were a truly great shop, so unique on the High Street and now so easily forgettable. And whatever dim-witted uber-professional marketing whiz decided to change things, I hope you're really proud of what you've done. It's getting to the point that except for Evan's Cycles and Waterstones, I find very little reason to step out the front door.