Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Erudite space

It must rank as my favourite shop in town. And they're looking for people to work in it! Payscales are purely Imaginary, but in this case that's not the point.

I picked up a form and took it home to fill in. It took me days to get round to it: after all, what possible skills could a lapsed astrophysicist with a sideline in environmental campaigning bring to bear for working in a bookshop? Two weeks later I returned the form, with something vaguely convincing filling in the blank space. Then nothing happened, and I forgot all about it.

Until about a month after that, when a voice with a gentle Edinburgh accent arrived on the answerphone asking if I was still interested. I returned the call and fixed up a visit.

The funny thing about shops is the contrast between what you see on the orderly, presentable floor-space, and what lurks beyond. It's not unlike Backstage at the theatre, and in this case there are two whole floors of it. A dumb-waiter links them with the shop area, landing discreetly behind a revolving display of witty postcards ("Why should I tidy my room when the world is such a mess?"). In an office piled high with brightly-coloured former displays, shelves of incongruous objects (flower-pots, weighing-scales, lampshades...) and stacks of recycling-type boxes lurching under their weight of donated books, we arranged my shifts. I was to come back the following Tuesday morning.

The most straightforward thing to do is stock the shelves. Starting with "Politics", "Philosophy", "Business and Economics", "Science", "Sociology"... the weird thing about this is how many of the books turned out to be familiar to me: I'd either read them, seen them cited in books I'd read, read something else by the same author, or heard of them as classics of their kind. Perhaps it was just beginners' luck. Then there are entire shelves on "How To..." just about everything from tracing your ancestors, through winning at Bridge, to origami, knitting and boatbuilding. I seem to be the most agile person who comes in on either Monday or Tuesday so a lot of the shelf-stocking falls to me.

The following week they let me loose on the till.

The best bit is, nobody ever has to come in and browse secondhand books: it's not like, for example, shopping for food or clothes, which can be a bit of a treadmill: eat, work, get latest fashion, repeat... Here, by contrast, is a shop full of people who have only come in because they are genuinely interested in what we have to offer. Which, you could say, is the chance of stepping off the ordinary path, even if just for a short while, and into the wide, Imaginary dimension beyond.

Monday, 2 May 2011

The wet stuff

You're a Brit (well, perhaps not, but if you were...). You take it for granted. It's a trade-off: your garden's always green, but sometimes you lose the entire Outdoors, and the planned activities therein, because water is coming out of the sky and making everything wet. You learn, by the age of about eleven, that if your clothes stay that way for any length of time life gets distinctly unpleasant, because you don't get the warm version here. You carry your own fallout shelter everywhere, just in case it turns up unexpectedly.

You curse it. You insure yourself against it (I'd love to see the Pluvius Policy quotes for Wills and Kate!). You use it as a metaphor for bad times, because it beat down and rotted your ancestors' food in the fields. Your children wish it would go away.

And then one day it does precisely that.

It hasn't rained here, at all, since the beginning of last month. "April Showers", that have been with us as long as the English language itself, have been cancelled.

I'd been wondering whether three barrels for collecting rain was a bit OTT for our small garden, but now I realise it is no such thing: they are rapidly emptying as we run around trying to keep everything alive. I'd put off planting seeds, waiting for wet ground to give them a good start: now they're in, but have to be watered nightly. A stiff East wind spends all day pulling what's left of the moisture out of the soil, and then, if I so much as touch it, pulling away the soil for good measure. Last month's RHS-donated trees at the Orchard and the Battlefield have had to be watered several times (in fact that was what some of us were doing during the Royal Wedding).

Manicured grass is going yellow. The NFU is advising farmers not to promise their buyers too much grain. Moors are quietly burning underground.

For once in my life, I really, really want it to rain. The irony is, I'm pretty sure that once it starts, it'll be with us all summer and I shall end up being sick of it.