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The Dyson Solstice and the Secret Powers of Doughnuts and Squishies

array of books on bookstall

A post about the fun to be had running bookstalls at Dyson’s staff fairs – with AA Abbott and Ana Salote

What a difference six months makes! At the end of last year fellow authors AA Abbott (aka my chum Helen Blenkinsop), Ana Salote and I were freezing beneath multiple layers of clothing running a book stall at Dyson’s Christmas Fair…

photo of two authors on an outdoor bookstall

Ana and Helen smile into the chilly winter sun at the Dyson Christmas Fair…even after dark:

photo of Debbie on stall in darkness beneath fairy lights
We kept going till the end of the working day, fortified by Dyson’s staff Christmas lunch

By contrast, last weekend found us sweltering in as few clothes as we could get away with at their Summer Fair.

Debbie behind bookstall in khaki hat and vest
You could be forgiven for thinking I’m on safari here – it certainly felt hot enough
Helen behind the bookstall
Helen’s always a brilliant saleswoman, wherever she sells her books

These were both staff-only events, held at their premises close to where I live, and where Helen has in the past worked, hence the invitation to Helen and her friends to run a bookstall there.

Both events were run with an impressive efficiency that befits a world-class engineering company, also with much kindness and consideration for everyone involved.

Both times we came away convinced that Dyson is a wonderful employer, as well as a brilliant innovator, manufacturer and marketer of ground-breaking products.

And both times we also enjoyed meeting fascinating fellow-stallholders. As novelists, we couldn’t help but make mental note of some great story lines suggested by their anecdotes, and also by their products.

At the Christmas Fair, we watched in fascination the never-ending queue at the fancy doughnut stall, which sold out well before the Fair was over, eclipsing the steady traffic to the rest of our stands.

Are doughnuts the secret ingredient of Dyson’s corporate brilliance? Although Homer Simpson, that other great consumer of doughnuts, also works in engineering, perhaps all that Duff beer he drinks is an antidote to doughnut-fuelled brainpower.

At the Summer Fair, even the doughnut stall was outranked by a one selling something we’d never even heard of: squishies.

At this point, those of you with young children may well emit a heavy sigh. The rest of you might be thinking: whatties? No, I hadn’t heard of squishies either, till last weekend. So let me enlighten you.

All About Squishies

Squishies are small pieces of memory foam, the same material that revolutionised mattresses a few years ago, cut into cute shapes with child appeal and painted in bright colours. Some are animals or superheroes, others are in the shape of items of food – cakes, stacks or pancakes or fruits. They are similar to executive stress balls, but in much jazzier colours and cuter designs.

The nature of the material makes them neither hot not cold, and very soft to touch, and it was easy to see how they could be both comforting and calming.

Photo of squishes
Helen couldn’t resist taking a picture of them to show her family later.

The only way to play with them is to squish them – compress them down – and then watch them expand to their previous shape. Apparently, the better the quality, the longer they take to reform. To add interest, some are scented. And that’s it.

As we were setting up before the Fair opened, I mistook them for dog toys. It immediately became clear that they were in fact child-magnets.

“Oooh, look! Squishies!” shrieked one small child after another as they dashed past us to the stall.

The good-natured chap selling them took it all in his stride. He’d seen it all before, running a business that anticipates and caters for the next new trend in childhood crazes:

  • Fidget spinners? He was straight on to them.
  • Loom bands? He blamed a scare-mongering report in The Sun newspaper for nipping that trend in the bud before he’d profited from his investment.

“So what’s next?” I asked him, hoping for inside information, even though my daughter’s now too old to be interested in such things. (It’s amazing how often I still find loom bands in odd corners, though.) He declined to speculate.

But next time I see an outlandish new toy being touted on every street corner, I’ll be hoping that, like Dyson with the bagless vacuum cleaner, he got in first and cleaned up.


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

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