Sitting by the fireside a friend persuaded me to reminisce about my years in the book trade: I started at the beginning when I first came into contact with the bookshops in the Charing Cross Road, in the early nineteen seventies. Here’s a couple of these old acquaintances;-
A certain degree of discretion is probably called for in narrating what I am about to tell you. This normally comes fairly easily to me, up to the point when I suddenly blurt out whatever I am supposed to be concealing. However a bookseller gets a good deal of practice over the years; whether it’s dealing with a clergy man with a taste for erotica or a wealthy collector who needs to dispose of some books quickly and discretely, for cash.
The purpose of this blog is to boast of my youthfulness, fitness and continuing openness of mind, by which you will easily be able to guess that I am getting old, a bit stiff and as set in my ways as a London bus.
I am speaking to you from the humidity controlled, fireproof safe at the British Library. As you have been dead for over a century, while I am only a little stiffer in the hinges and a little more browned on the title page, I suppose that the way you abused me must be forgiven.
Somewhere in the western world is the dream bookshop; the shelves are full of beautiful, clean antique books that have not been attacked by worms, sunlight, librarians or housewives, there are no dog-eared paperbacks, and, although there are books we have longed to find at prices we can afford, there are also books; old, but new to us, that we did not know existed.
Have you ever tried one of those self-improvement recordings that are supposed to connect with the unconscious mind? The kind where a north American orders you to relax and then tells you to focus, visualise your goals and so on, whilst drawing your attention to everything in your life that sends your blood pressure soaring, leaves you a shaking unfocused wreck and wondering if life is worth living.
Have you ever tried to explain the finer points of book collecting to the uninitiated? Last night I had a new neighbour round for a drink: roaring log fire, bottle of light red wine and two glasses waiting on the table, best shirt on, quick tidying away of miscellaneous junk, put the Cliff Richard CDs at the bottom of the pile (they’re not mine, honestly, but it’s a long story).
I hope no trick cyclists or shrinks are reading, because I’ve a feeling I might be about to give away more about myself than I intend. You see not only do books fill a considerable portion of my waking life but, even when I am asleep, they haunt me, pleasantly in the main, like the familiar old ghosts in the family mansion, but they haunt me.
I hope you like the new brighter and faster version of my online bookshop. Over the last few weeks you might have notice quite a few additions to the site, including the eBay feed and some interesting links in the book photosphere: - and there are more to come.
There’s a very good reason I am blogging this morning and, in agreement with the doctrine of Historical Inevitability, the immediate cause lies in the dim mists of the past, of yesterday evening in fact, and a few glasses of wine too many. Putting aside the pomposity of a slight hangover, I met a couple of old acquaintances from the book trade, stepped into a bar for a ‘quick one’ in memory of old friends; one anecdote lead to another and one glass to another and, the upshot is, I am completely unfit for cataloguing this morning.
One of the skills I am most proud of, in addition to cooking a great beef casserole and being able to walk round the room with no less than three vols. of the Encyclopaedia Britannica balanced on my head, is that of wrapping a really safe parcel. When I pack books they arrive at their new home in the same condition as they left me.
I am sitting in the dining-room, watching a blackbird climb over the rockery in the sunshine, prodding at a plant with his yellow beak in a sort of timid-aggressive fashion. The rain stopped half an hour ago, and everything else glistens peacefully in the sunlight. He has started his day’s work, and, I suppose, I must start mine.
I didn’t tell anyone that I was giving up my shop until almost the last moment, or at least until it became obvious. When I started packing books in boxes and a van came to take the first load to my new premises, then it was obvious to all, because I was someone forever acquiring books, never getting rid of them. If they were leaving my shop by the van full, that could only mean one thing. Somehow I wanted everything to go on as before and I told no one I was leaving, opened the shop every morning at the usual time and even put new stock on the shelves. (It’s true!
So, after twenty years at my bookshop in Cecil Court, I have finally taken the plunge, turned the key in the door for the last time and become a book dealer rather than a shop keeper. I am glad so many old customers came into the shop during my last few weeks there, to say goodbye and to leave their contact details, and most of them asked how I felt. Did I feel sad after so long? Was it a wrench to leave?