York

Recovered: A RAMBLE THROUGH YORK’S BOOKSHOPS

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August 4th, 2012
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Ellis Nore here, editing this recovered article into some sort of publishable shape. It is ‘recovered’ in the sense that were it not for a chance look in the spam bin of the One&Other inbox, like so many of literature it would have been lost forever. I feel as I step into the role of Max Brod, rescuing the works of duo of masters of prose from the smouldering pyre of the MacBook trash can. Addy and Larry (A and L) would not have wanted the article to have been edited in this way and, one can only assume, when they return to the magazine we may find ourselves able to publish it at full length. What appears below, the messy and often unreadable muck of a day of ‘research’, is an accurate reproduction of the notes I was emailed a week after the incident. The images are in the order they landed in my inbox. As an editor I have only intervened when absolutely necessary – several names of people still living have been omitted and all references to criminal events have been removed until the various court procedures have wrapped themselves up and the verdicts are made. Enjoy.

A RAMBLE THROUGH YORK’S BOOKSHOPS

L: As any Kindle owner can tell you, real books made of paper, ink and glue are for clever people. With that in mind, and with the ever-shrinking pockets of the working man, it was decided that A. A. Alcock and myself should research where best to buy the baubles for your bookshelf. Unfortunately the establishments, though numerous, are far apart. As a direct result of this, one would be foolish not to combine a day of hunting the hardbacks with exercising the right arm and emptying the coffers – drinking. I found Adam outside one such house of ill repute, chewing on a cigar and harassing a dog tied to a gutter. Hooking my arm under his, we set off to Ken Spellmen’s of Micklegate for our first review. Once inside you realise why book hunters from far and wide converge on this shop – the collection of rare and out of print books which fill the two floors. However, as my companion reminded me in a booming whisper, ‘we are here for the common man, another time, another time’. And so ignored the treasures of the back rooms and checked on the obligatory fiction sections for what would interest the readers. As with all the shops we visited, we recorded the price of a choice paperback novel, a book of poetry and a find of the shop. We endeavored to find a copy of the big book (Joyce’s Ulysses) or Hamlet in each shop to compare prices, though for reasons that will become clear, this did not work out.

Though it is only a stumble from Spellmen’s down the hill to Oxfam Micklegate, it was decided that a refreshment was needed. It had taken every fibre of our being not to buy those critical editions of Donne. A quick breakfast G & T later and an odd look later, we crossed back over the road to the Oxfam. Though there is a large selection, and often very good things in the window, the body of the materials inside is weltered, starving and crying out for better donations. There is a good selection of Penguin paperbacks, if you like that sort of thing, the drama and poetry are very good too. However, the real purpose of a visit has to be the literature section. A wall of well preserved editions awaits the patient man or woman above 6”2 who can traverse the shelves. Once again, we refrained from purchasing anything. This time Adam needed something stronger, so a trip to the whisky miniatures isle of Budgen’s at the bottom of the hill was needed.

A: My dear Larry had a little slip on his way out of Budgen’s. So eager was he to empty the seductive Glen Fidditch miniature into his gawping mouth, he failed to see the small child, so innocent, so unassuming, who wanted to buy his disabled mother a pint of milk. He went arse over flatcap and sustained an injury to his left hand. His right hand was perfectly fine but his state of whisky-fuelled drunkenness knocked him mentally unconcious.

It is a long walk to the next port of call – speaking of which I have been supplementing my bought drinks with a subtly hidden flask of finest ruby, only three people have asked me what thaat square bulge was protruding out of my right buttock. I responded with confused laughter and sprinted away from said accusateurs as fast as my brogues would carry me, dragging along a stupefied Larry with me. We had two slurps of port to calm ourselves down from all the excitement and I returned the flask to its natural habitat. A celebratory cigar! I found an abandoned shopping trolley in the lesser travelled part of Newgate market. I bundled my esteemed and noble colleague into the trolley and lit a cigarette to try and sobre him up. It was’t working so I stuck another three in his mouth then laughed to myself as I had made him look like Jimmy Saville on a bad day. Inspired by the poetry of Baudelaire I walked flaneur-like to the book stall on Newgate market as one approaches the Little Shambles. Pulp fiction my dear fellows. Pulp fiction. Two quid a piece for a holiday read, not bad admittedly. But as I explained to Larry earlier, I am a reader of literature. Two pound a book on a market stall is not literature. I refrained from hitting the man and satisfied my anxiety by wheeling Larry into the nearest restaurant and eating to the point of nausea.

Both of us were at half capacity now our respective meals had soaked up the devil’s liqueur. Larry, now able to stand, hurled the Tesco trolley at the nearest octogenarian, who in return threw her Red Setter back at us. Your humble writer refrains from giving away the details of our battle with this snarling mutt, but the outcome of this dog-fight did not go well for me. Lets just say I had aquired a life long limp and a criminal record with the RSPCA by the time I’d finished with the setter, who I later learned from his tag which I had ripped from his neck, was called Mr. Furry. Perhaps Mr. Fury would have been more apt. We had ended up on Petergate, it seemed only polite to pop into the Oxfam there; for the sake of political fairness if nothing else. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” sang to me as I entered the store. I, cartoon-like floated towards its tarnished cover and knew from the “Faber” logo that what I was looking at was the best thing since sliced bread.

In my peripheral vision I noticed Larry fumbling over McCarthy, or some other “modern author” – I was under the impression literature ended in 1950?

L: I fear that I have somewhat been misrepresented as this narrative has gone on. For those of who know me, and many of you do, I am not the disreputable miscreant that has been presented here. Though I do, in fairness, enjoy a drink, it was my jowlfaced and tweedclad friend who placed the bottle first in my clammy open paw and later in my trembling lips. With this in mind, dear reader, imagine a straightbacked and sober young man, slim with tender green eyes and a very smart haircut, dragging the babbling Igor along with me through the streets of York. My friend was by this time dripping 50% proof blood from a wound in the paunch from an angry setter. The only way to forget the pain was to march on and up Petergate to its handsome minster end. We reached the most historic of our targets, Minster Gate Books. Up the many flights of ever shallowing staircases and to the literature.

After this, my friend calmed by his purchase of the find of this particular shop (a wonderful recent release of Nabokov’s unfinished novel presented in a pleasingly Kinbote style), we marched back out of town. The streets becoming more ragged, more dusty and the sun ever dimmer as we flew down toward Colliergate, avoiding the Shambles. We halted suddenly when, eagle eyed, I spotted a charity shop specialising in books. However, as I had just lit my perfectly fashioned roll up and the law in this country leans toward the boring, the deadeningly healthy, the ‘smoke-free’, I did not go in. Instead I sent the minion in, recording the results of his findings on a crumpled envelope – now our only available resource for documentation.

We carried on down the road – Larry was far too preoccupied with his rolling tobacco so I once again seized control of the narrative voice. I swung my umbrella – for the enjoyment of joe-public rather than out of any pragmatic necessity – and we made our way from ale house to ale house on Fossgate. Once we had prepared ourselves for Fossgate books, we entered, quietly, not daring to disturb the silence. The owner, a little man, poked up his head from behind his fortress of hardbacks and smiled, acknowledging the fact that two esteemed regulars had entered his establishment. We nodded simultaneously back at him and sidled over to the poetry. Paradise Lost. Illustrated. Ten pounds. Divine (or maybe not judging by the portrayal of Satan).

Unable to afford anything we tiptoed our way to the exit, before being verbally arrested by the owner: “Were you looking for anything in particular?” I will not be bullied, nay cajoled into book buying. I, red-faced was about to erupt but my friend held me back and dragged me down the road to an even stranger establishment.

The bell jingled as we entered Stone Trough Books. The day had turned cold and the wind spiraled into an eddy and the door slammed shut behind us. A little light from the front window lit the room of cobwebs. No one had been here for many years. Clearly potential customers passed the shop’s blue door mistaking it for a house of ill-repute, making “Stone Trough” take on an entirely different meaning… We looked through the dusty volumes finding some treasures when we heard a stirring from upstairs. A haughty whinny and a bang-bang later and the owner, Philip Martin stood before us, a man of Dickensian proportions. His wiry hair bristled from his pall, his half-moon glasses hung around his crinkled neck, swinging to and fro against the chalky, academic rags he was wearing. He looked at us as if we had broken into his dear little shop. But, dear reader, we were mere customers. “If you need anything, I’ll be upstairs.” We exchanged glances, Larry and I, and continued to look around. We found a fabulous collection of Willa Cather books – too steep to buy outright. I took the plunge and went upstairs to strike a deal. “You’d better put them back,” he scoffed when I wanted to haggle. “You’d better put them back!” This man’s attitude to the forces of local commerce were strange, I thought rather clearly as I stormed downstairs, almost in tears at the loss of such munificent volumes.

EN: Image omitted.

Never have I considered arson a violable dialectic before. The day turned to night and the night (as we both agreed) was still young. We skipped off like Fagin and Oliver into the distance, knowing that what we had drunk was a thimble to what we would drink.

 

And that, dear reader, was that.

 

 

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