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The International Writers Magazine
: Can I help anyone?

Bookshop Blues
James Ryder

The grey t-shirt lays tossed on the floor, screwed up. I’m sure I hung that up last night. The grey t-shirt, my uniform, a symbol of my captivity in the bookshop.
All summer, 9 till 5 stuck in my little world of literature. Books coming in and books going out. Box after box but no place to put them. Another exciting instalment of hide the book. The little victories rewarded with tea. Both the British empire and high-street bookshops build on the cup of tea.

The days starts with the long walk from the house. Dodging rain clouds and school children. I join the trudging train of zombie-like figures on autopilot between home and work.
In the front door, ahhhh human interaction. Engage mouth to brain. I mutter a generic greeting scamper up stairs to where caffeine awaits. The first cup of tea of the day brings everything into focus. I’m now ready to enter into another day of work.

The shop opens. The lights go on. The tills are turned on the doors unlocked. I stand behind the counter wearing a false smile waiting for them to come. And the customers do come. Sometimes they tease and you see no one for the first half an hour. But I have learnt this is merely to lull you into a false sense of security as a couch party of book lovers are just regrouping outside the back door, ready to attack.

Every different shop has its own type of regular customer and a local independent book shop has a higher calibre than most. Most of our clientele is made of well-spoken, well read people with too much money and far too much time. The male specimen can be easy identified by the strict clothing regime of brown leather shoes, corduroy trousers, an informal shirt and tie combo and finally topped off with a fine green tweed jacket. These are the people who only seem to buy clothes at outdoor fairs. Maybe Saffron Walden is where old rich farmers come to die. Like some kind of elephant graveyard full of old peoples homes, doctors clinics and bowls greens.

A customer such as this requires very special treatment as they have high expectations of the retail world. They look back nostalgically to the days of local village stores. An ‘open all hours’ existence where nothing is too much trouble and there shopping is done for them. Many find it shocking that this is no longer the case and trudge off to look for their own books muttering to themselves.

And so more tea is consumed and more customers pass through our doors. Some buying books from the shelf, some ordering obscure books and others who seem to be there just to cause us hassle. Like I said too much time on there hands.

By the time everyones lunch is over there is little of the day left and so we just cruise along until 5:30 where we are released back into the real world. Safe in the knowledge we’ll be back tomorrow.
© James Ryder November 2004
James is not the retail seller of the year but is now a Creative Arts student at Portsmouth University

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