It’s not all writing. We wouldn’t want it to be. Today we are visiting independent bookshops with a view to arranging signings. So on one of the hottest day of the year to date we head out to Wimborne and Gulliver’s Bookshop where a very pleasant young-lady-manager explains that they don’t do signings at Gullivers because, we are assured, people just peer in through the window but don’t actually make it in through the door when a signing is in progress. Clearly they are shy feral creatures, these Wimbonians, to be admired from a distance only, rarely to be encountered within the enclosed space of bookshops. However all is not lost. The manager’s father, the shop owner, runs the Wimborne Literary Festival. This is very promising indeed, we think. We leave a card. Then on the way back to the car we wish we had left a book. Whilst making water upon a convenient tree we consider retracing our steps, but want to get to the next venue before lunchtime so let it pass (pun intended).
We head off to Westbourne in the reassuring hands of the satnav in order to reci the Westbourne Bookshop. Westbournians are evidently not as shy a species as Wimbonians, it seems, for the streets are full of them. They peer at us inquisitively, a fat man with a dog in a maroon jacket (the dog, you understand, not the man) evidently being a curiosity in these parts. We are as fishes on bicycles, circus clowns in funeral parlours, vampires in tanning salons.
Summoning our courage from the inner depths once more, we step in through the door of the Wesbourne Bookshop where we survey the shelves packed densely with protruding spines and brightly coloured covers that belie the metaphoric wisdom buried invisibly, millimetres below the surface. This is our own natural habitat. John Steinbeck, Jan Rowling, L. Ron Hubbard, Dan Brown, Orville the Duck. We groan, emaciated with literary hunger, to join these erudite giants in such halls of bibliographic fame as the Wimbourne Bookshop.
But once again the yearnings of our common soul are to be dashed to disconsolation, our embryonic aspirations slaughtered before drawing first breath. For the young -gentleman-manager explains to us that they don’t do many signings here. Apparently the locals are apt to stare in the window but will not be tempted inside. We are told not to worry though. For the young man’s father, the bookshop owner, runs the Wimborne Literary festival. So what is this? A second Wimbourne Literary Festival; their organisers sworn arch-enemies? Rivals feuding for the hearts of the literature-hungry of enlightended Wimbourne and darkest Dorset beyond? The coincidence is too much even for me. I conclude this father can only be one and the same man! Does he have parallel families in Westbourne and Wimborne? Are they in happy ignorance of each other? Should I expose the bounder for what he really is? The act would be superfluous, not to mention libelous. Brother and sister not only know of each others’ existence but work closely together in the family enterprise and even sup at the same table regularly. Eat your heart out Conan Doyle. Holmes has nothing on us.
I leave a card… and a copy of Dragonsong. hope I shall encounter this father of literary vision in due course.
Lunch may be for wimps, but experience tells me that bookshop managers take mid day breaks. The sun has edged unnoticed over the yardarm and it is now perilously close to 1.00pm. There would be no point in our venturing forward to Bookends in Christchurch til after 2.00pm. What shall we do with the time? We check, but Rushdie and Ishiguro both have priors so, we reconnoiter Messers Marks & Spencer, known purveyors of fine midday repasts, where the oh-so-well trained staff manage to look Matt over surreptitiously without actually confronting us over his entitlement or otherwise to be in the store. Smiles follow in universal affirmation of his acceptability from satisfied and immeasurably endeared staff. In other retail environments customers would be entertained by Matt’s presence and engage with us in animated fashion as to his purposes and capabilities. But in M&S you get a more self-conscious class of patron. They look sideways, straining sinews to breaking point in order to appear not to be looking. We don’t mind so long as they don’t tell us to push off like they do in Waitrose. We’re only here for the sarnies. We buy a classy one in a box, marveling at the range of exotic drinks. Finally settling on Apple, Coconut water and Cucumber, we don’t feel so classy when a checkout machine politely but efficiently parts us from £3.90 of our hard earned remuneration, the equivalent of royalties on nearly four books. They cackle at you silently, those machines. They’re evil. And they’re breeding. Haven’t you noticed that there are more of them than there were a year ago? We have yet to establish how to distinguish male from female by visual characteristics alone. We consider looking underneath, but think it would draw attention to the fact that we are onto their masterplan for world retail domination. We do not wish to be kidnapped in the night, our hungry children waking to our absence, whilst somewhere in a disused Bolivian cucumber sandwich mine we are secreted, bound and gagged in checkout machine world HQ, awaiting questioning by mechanized equivalents of Moriarty, Lord Voldermort, Svidrigailov or Boggies, Bunce and Bean. We glance around furtively. But we are safe. No one has realized we are aware of their plot to take over the world to run it for the benefit of checkout machines everywhere. But who to tell, we wonder. Who will listen? We alone are sane in a world where people pay a penny for a the complete works of William Shakespeare but £3.90 for a sandwich and cucumber juice in M&S.
We leap back into Oswold, our faithful Skoda Octavia, now some twelve years a member of our family, and make for the Southbourne beaches, which are sited conveniently on the way to Christchurch, meaning to consume victuals overlooking the bay. Repast complete, Matt negotiates an extension on our lunch break. We proceed down the boardwalk towards Hengistbury Head, Matt seeking without success to locate creatures smaller than himself to torment, me cognizant of the need to use this time well while we remain relatively fit. Though all six of our legs are up to the pilgrimage, the day inexorably approaches when they will not be. My little friend has arthritis. We’ve managed it proactively all his life, but the waves don’t turn back, not even for Canute. Matt stumbled today and gave himself a shock. He gave me one too. He’s fine, but he’s still refusing to accept he’s not three years old any more. There again, why should he? He’s not ready for pipe and slippers yet. Nor am I.
an undemanding stroll we turn for the car park and make our way back through the nature reserve. We see 107 Starling’s in a row on the fence and take out the camera. But we are too late and lose the joy of the moment in a vain attempt to preserve it beyond its time. How
human of us. How very un-starling like.
It’s 2.20pm now. Time to go lust after literary recognition in Bookends, Christchurch. We know not whether the manager is male, female or non-binary. We know not whether they are wont to conduct signings in Bookends, Christchurch. But we will not worry if they are not. For the manager assuredly has a father who organises the Wimborne Literary Festival.