Having collected my ten stamps from Waterstone’s – £10 off my next purchse -I went off to buy a book today as a special treat, a trip postponed from the pre-Christmas nightmare that was my life.
My local bookshop is the Waterstone’s on Gower Street, a gorgeous building, all turrets and nooks and crannies. But it has undergone unfortunate refurbishment in recent years. First they closed down the best Costa in London, where you could sit in one of those nooks or crannies in the basement, surrounded by books, in an atmosphere of wonderfulness. In it’s place is a horrible coffee shop called Dillons (the original name of the store) and the Costa space downstairs is now a seriously pretentious art gallery. Fiction is no longer on the ground floor where you would expect it but shoved in the smaller space that is the first floor, with tremendously dull history (and, I think, travel) taking up the ground floor. The upper floors remain textbooks, which is fine, but the divine mythology-type section has vanished entirely, reduced to a single shelf in some crap section called “mind, body, spirit.” All the most interesting books have been squashed into the horrible basement with its low ceilings, lack of fresh air and view and space to turn around. It was only ever interesting when the travel section was next to the Costa, but with that gone ….
I took myself off to the huge Waterstone’s on Piccadilly. Caught a bus which I don’t do often but it was just too damn cold to walk (and spitting ice nuggets.) Hurling myself onto the back of a bus before the doors closed, I tramped upstairs, forgetting entirely to tap my Oyster card. This is the FIRST time in my entire life that I’ve forgotten to pay on a bus. Never mind, I thought, when I finally remembered, I’ll tap my card on the way out. At least then no one could accuse me of stealing bus fare. When was the last time you saw a ticket inspector on a bus, anyway. And what were the chances I would be caught.
Well, fuck, I got caught. In horror, I saw a scary transport police type bearing down on me where I was sitting at the back so thought I’d better nip downstairs to tap my card – only to have another one coming up the back stairs. I was surrounded. I was trapped. I was almost in tears, apologising over and over, trying to convince them that I was a boring middle-aged woman who had a tendency to forget things in moments of stress (had a bad morning at work) and not a dangerous criminal cadging a free ride on a bus. They hounded me for ten minutes until finally I said, okay, how much of a fine do you want me to pay? £50? £100? And then I saw my stop and they let me off with a warning. I did tap my card when I got off the bus but being a silly sensitive bunny, I felt rather shaken for the rest of the morning, all the excitement gone out the morning.
Thought I would relax when at last I was finally in the huge big bookshop and could browse to my heart’s content. Except that the mythology section was about as pathetic as the smaller branch, having being swallowed up by thousands and thousands of shelves on food writing, recipe books, diet books, the kind of garbage writing I can’t stand with stupid celebrity faces beaming off every cover. In fact, every table in Waterstone’s seemed to have books with celebrity faces beaming maniacally at the world in garish technicolour. Where was the bookshop atmosphere? Why did my feet hurt so much as I desperately opened yet another book, trying to find at least one chapter on the apparently esoteric subject I’m interested in? Half the time I could hardly read a line because some arsehole was talking at the top of his voice on his phone (notifications set to full blast) to someone who was also speaking on a loudhailer.
I was really NOT having a good time. Never mind, I thought desperately. I’ll buy a fiction book instead but the only copy they had of the book I wanted was imported – £15 for a paperback?! NUTS.
I left without buying anything and walked home in the ice nuggets, resolved to only buy books from Amazon in future, where browsing is done sitting down while drinking a decent cup of coffee/tea and listening to nice music instead of some foghorn on a phone. And actually finding the book I want.
I can’t believe that bookshops are no longer the heavenly sanctuary they used to be, where the books on sale are much the same as the crap you find in the supermarket, where the nice coffee bar has turned into a wine bar (or just gone) ….. but far worse, where no niche-type books are available. Only seven million fucking recipe books.