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Success of a gift shop that is on the way out

THERE are many ways to spend a good day out.

An art gallery, botanic garden, or perchance an afternoon at the zoo.

I cannot think of a link between the zoo and the Scottish Parliament, except that both are pretty popular with visitors. Also, you're not allowed to feed the inmates in either institution.

Often, Holyrood teems with tourists, both domestic and foreign. Its public galleries are far busier than those at Westminster, perhaps reflecting a greater openness or the prospect of more hilarious entertainment.

I've often advised people that, if stuck for something to do on a rainy day, don't go to the pictures, go to the Parlie. It's free and you can see grown men and burdz in suits and frocks lobbing insults at each other and banging their desks like chimps. Marvellous.

When you go somewhere for a day out, you'll often want a wee memento of the occasion. An arty postcard perhaps, or a car sticker saying "I've seen the prices at the zoo".

Or how about a baseball cap with the Scottish Parliament logo on it? Or a tartan bauble, glitter globe or pewter quaich similarly embossed? Perhaps your tastes run more to jigsaws, folding alarm clocks or tartan cufflinks? And maybe for afters some hand-made fudge or chocolate neopolitans?

All are available at the Scottish Parlie's gift shop, which has reported record sales after being moved closer to the exit. Previously, as I recall, it was hidden away in a little nook under the stairs.

I fancy tourists preferred not wandering too far thither, away from the main concourse. For, beyond it, corridors wind and become entangled like spaghetti. Once, I met a minotaur asking for directions.

So, after 10 years, someone had a brainwave and the store was placed nearer the exits, catching those hardy few among the sightseers who don't flee the place screaming (no one warned them about Willie Rennie's zombie grin).

Holyrood chief executive Paul Grice has revealed the shop had a 13% increase in sales after the move, with takings over Christmas passing £50,000.

Hands up, everyone who got a Holyrood baseball cap for Crimbo. It's hard to imagine anyone purchasing such millinery for their own use. Indeed, it reminds me of comedian Mark Steel's line about the unlikelihood of ever seeing the late Queen Mother wearing a thick woolly hat with the words "Derby County" written on the front.

Still, the increased takings at Poundlessland make for encouraging news, particularly in a country now famed for its miserable negativity. I'm not saying that Bruce and Wallace fought for the right to have our own chocolate neopolitans. But it's fine to be able to slurp Irn Bru from your ain wee pewter quaich, while fiddling with your glittering globes or fondling your tartan baubles.

Not that I've ever bought such items. I have, if memory serves, purchased a guide book, video cassette and bookmark. I'd also be tempted to buy the A5 postcard featuring Edwin Morgan's fine poem and the inspiring words that never fail to conjure up images of Johann Lamont's cheery face: "Light of the day, shine in; light of the mind, shine out!"

I was never a fan of the Parliament's architecture, at least externally and, come to think of it, internally. The bare, cold, concrete, car park-style internal walls couldn't be more dreich. But I appreciate the late Edwin's invocation of the building's "curves and caverns, nooks and niches, huddles and heavens, syncopations and surprises".

In a way, I preferred the gift shop's former location far from the madding crowd. But being far from the madding crowd is rarely a recipe for commercial success.

I'm your man for nooks, d'you see? I even found a place where you could watch debates on the telly, sitting with normal people rather than journalists. Mind you, the Hoose o'Commons is good for nooks too. Once, in the lee of Large Ben, I composed a piece or article in a little book-lined room called the Commonwealth Library, which I had all to myself.

I suppose the Commons must have a gift-shop too. But I bet their baubles and globes aren't a patch on ours.

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