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Paradise Postponed (not the TV series)

I don't know quite what I expected from this situation, I went into it unsure of how long it would last (in my case, a bloody long time by the sounds of it), how it would affect the people I love, what I'd miss. A few of the absences are fairly obvious, work, trips out, meals out at our local Turkish barbecue place (meals out in general, but particularly those), but one of the things I realise I miss most is book-shops.

To paraphrase Borges, I've always thought that Heaven would be a second-hand book-shop.

You know the sort, the ones over several floors, full of sudden rooms and surprising geometries, the ones where the stairways switch-back on themselves and there's generally a two-bar heater going regardless of the time of year. The sort of book-shop where, you feel, pretty much anything might be unearthed. The kind of bookshop where the owner doesn't raise an eyebrow when you're in there for half a day, the kind where when you emerge, blinking at the gloom into sudden dusk you suddenly discover that you've got a dog-eared Raymond Chandler, a collection of East European poetry and a copy of the moral discourses of Epictetus bearing a library stamp from a long defunct minor public school. None of these, it goes without saying, were what you went in for.

It seems slightly incongruous writing of such a place as the sun blazes down, the bass from someone's stereo a few doors down thuds and the smell of marijuana wafts gently over from next door. I should be thinking wistfully of pub gardens, barbecues with friends or trips down to Cornwall for dips in the sea, and these are all, undoubtedly, fine things. But they are not, currently, what I am missing most keenly. What I'm missing is a bloody good browse.

(It's not all that incongruous, either. I've always rather enjoyed crepuscular spaces on bright summer days, there's something pleasantly transgressive about flicking through a box of records or rootling around a stack of books when the world expects you to be out and about cheerfully developing skin cancer - this is not to say I don't enjoy being out in the sunshine, but it's a pleasing two fingers to every time someone suggested as a child that I get my nose out of a book and go and get some fresh air)

Now, I'm fond of a bookshop in general, and I have no wish to offend my local Waterstone's, in the absence of a handy indie, they will often suffice(For the record, when the chance arises, I much prefer to go to the estimable Broadhurst's in Southport); but they lack serendipity. You rarely get the opportunity of the chance discovery, the book that you half-remember a review of that you thought at the time "Oh, I must read that" that one that that author you whose other stuff you liked wrote that you'd not heard of ("they're still going? Thought they died years ago"), they lack the less popular genres, the old pulp books, the forgotten, the obscure (and their poetry sections are normally woeful). So whilst I miss shops inn general, and book-shops in particular, but it's the second-hand bookshops that I miss the most.

I miss the small rooms, the winding corridors, the meticulous cataloguing, the occasionally bizarre titles, the inexplicable collection of old maps, the mystifying stand full of old umbrellas. I miss wondering why two editions of the same book have a price difference of two hundred pounds, I miss the hunt, generally futile in terms of what you wanted but always ending up somewhere worthwhile; in a house full of wonderful but boisterous children, I certainly miss the silence.

So anyway, that's what I miss, one of the things, anyway. I'm sure you have yours.


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