In the final part of his Confessions of a Bookseller takeover, Shaun Bythell encounters and remembers some of his longtime local customers.
My friend Robin comes in to work in the shop on Saturdays, if he’s free. He arrived at 11 a.m., armed with a fortifying espresso from Reading Lasses, a bookshop across the road which has a cafe.
Shortly after Robin arrived, legendary local bore Howard came to the counter with three railway books. He put them down and - with his customary air of entirely unjustified authority - said that they were "important books" because they are "responsible for the way things are now". I have suffered sufficiently long and painfully at Howard’s hands over the years to fall for this obvious attempt to invite the listener to politely inquire as to how they are "responsible for the way things are now" and thereby giving him carte blanche to pontificate on whatever particular prejudice or conspiracy theory is foremost in his mind that day, so I refused to take the bait and just smiled at him. He asked if he could leave the books on the counter while he went to get some cash and the moment he was out of earshot I warned Robin not to ask the question which he had so obviously expected one of us to ask for fear of being on the receiving end of one of his interminable lectures on subjects on which he thinks he is an expert. Which is everything. "Don’t give him anything that could be construed as an interest in what he has to say" were my parting words before going upstairs.
Twenty minutes later, I was in the kitchen when a battle-weary Robin appeared. He explained that Howard had returned shortly after I’d gone, but had been unable to get cash, so Robin had suggested he pay with his contactless card. "That set him off. For the next 15 minutes I had to listen to a monologue about cyber security. I honestly thought it would never end."
Drove to Sainsburys to pick up a parcel from Booksource that the courier claims they were unable to deliver to the shop, which seems unlikely since we’re open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On the way, at the Whithorn junction, I spotted Wigtown resident Mary and her friend hitching for a lift, so stopped and picked them up. Galloway is good for hitching, particularly if you’re a known face. I’ve given Mary several lifts in the past. Her partner, Ian, was one of my best customers, but had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I haven’t seen him for a while, and was nervous to ask her how he was, but couldn’t really avoid the subject. She told me that he had died on the 2nd May, aged 52. The cremation was on the 28th. I will miss him greatly. He had his problems, as we all do, but he was a kind and intelligent man, and a voracious reader. We never had a dull conversation when he came to the counter and although we probably weren’t close enough to be considered friends, we certainly had a friendly acquaintance.
Telephone call from a woman wanting to sell books - "I've got lots of old lady... [long pause]... bird books". I’m still not sure if she meant children's books, or ornithology for octogenarian ladies.
Shaun Bythell is the owner of The Bookshop in Wigtown, and also one of the organisers of the Wigtown Festival. His first book, The Diary of a Bookseller, has been translated into twenty languages, including Russian, Korean and French. His second book, Confessions of a Bookseller, was published by Profile Books on 29th August 2019.
This diary extract is published as part of Shaun Bythell's FutureBook takeover. Read the rest of his Confessions of a Bookseller entries here.