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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Help the Aged (or one of those)

Because maybe it wasn’t Help the Aged. Could have been one of those other shops, British Heart Foundation, Multiple Sclerosis Society, any of those. I know it wasn’t Oxfam because their shop only has overpriced second-hand books in it.

Anyway, I’ll come back to that in a moment.
I’d been in The Greenhouse for breakfast, a place I usually avoid because I was once served an inferior and overpriced coffee there about six or seven years ago. I do harbour grudges . . . but not for ever.

This time the coffee was fine, no problem at all, but they were stingy with the bacon so I won’t be going back there for a while.

Next to the pharmacy to collect a prescription, but they were busy and told me to come back in fifteen minutes. If it hadn’t been for that I wouldn’t have started browsing the thrift shops.

I like second-hand books. I’ve listened to all the horror stories about them, but I still get a kick out of handling them, feeling and wondering (not too graphically) where they have been.

And I usually find something I’ve been meaning to read but which has successfully avoided me for the last several years.

But this morning there was nothing interesting among the books; more copies of McEwan’s Atonement or that Bridget Jones woman I do not need.

So I drifted along to the bricabrac section and poked about among the trinkets, knickknacks, baubles, gewgaws, thingamabobs and whatchamacallits.

The shop had metal shelves and up on the top was what looked like a porcelain butter-dish, blue, almost ultramarine, perhaps from one of the caves of the Pharoes (if they used butter?). I reached for it and as I brought it off the shelf the lid separated itself from the base and both parts leapt from my hand. I caught the base and clung onto it but the lid bounced back onto the shelf and dislodged a clunky wooden biscuit barrel, which fell to the second shelf down.

Two women, one on either side of me jumped with fright at the noise and walked down into the belly of the shop to dissociate themselves from me.

The wooden biscuit-barrel in its turn crashed into an oval meat plate which had been standing betwixt shelf and wall and this slid over the lip of the shelf and scrambled a pair of hand-carved stags with antlers.

By this time, though I was fully employed trying to quiet the carnage, I was aware that everyone in the place was wondering what would fall next.

The domino effect continued with the stags careering into an ancient and badly damaged squeeze-box, which leapt from its place, bounced off my knee and landed, playing some kind of cacophonous tune, dangerously close to a small pomeranian pup on the end of a tartan leash and attached to a large lady swathed from head to toe in electrified synthetics.

I believe the pomeranian pup was actually already close to insanity before the squeeze-box pushed it over the edge. It’s the way they breed them.

It quickly savaged the instrument and wound itself up in its owners legs. This had the effect of sending the large lady into a spin. While she span the dog found its voice and yapped away at full volume while trying to extricate itself from the tartan strapping and sending me threatening glances, from time to time making a run in my direction, only to be stopped abruptly by the limit of the leash or the spinning of its owner.

Throughout this whole scene the lank-haired volunteer who was obviously in charge of the shop did not so much as look up from her newspaper.

I thought of many things I could do to ease the situation. Primarily I would have liked to rearrange the items I’d caused to leave the shelves, secondly I thought of helping lady with dog, and somewhere down the list there remained a moment when I would apologise to volunteer for disrupting her shop and to the remaining customers for ruining their day.

But I just left.

3 Responses to “Help the Aged (or one of those)”

  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    There is actually a nice – and large – Oxfam bookshop in the west end of Glasgow that I do frequent when in the area. You’re right, it is a bit on the dear side but the selection is actually excellent and I rarely come out without something. But all of the charity shops in my area are claustrophobic affairs. I went into a couple the last time I was down the town and I can’t have stayed more than 3 minutes in each one. I find the area makes all the difference to the quality of the books. Suffice to say you don’t see much Camus or Sartre in my neck of the woods.

    jb says: Hi Jim. You don’t see much Camus or Sartre in Paris these days.

  2. Thomas says:

    Enjoyable. Thanks John.

  3. Mark says:

    Friend of mine was in an Oxfam bookstore the other week. He wondered aloud to the gent beside him why there weren’t any browning pulp paperbacks with questionable covers and short WHSmith shelf lives about. Said gent allowed that he knew the answer, and told my friend that such books were either dumped in the bin if they were beyond a certain age or, in some shops, sent for pulping. I was saddened to hear this and it’s made me think twice about donating such paperbacks now, I must admit.