Imaginary Bookshops (8 & 9)



The pier looks abandoned. Murky waves surge round its rusty old legs. Only the fried onions and mushy peas seasoning the wind let passersby know it’s still open for business.  

The rickety planks are lichen-encrusted and you have to step over cracks full of sea. The arcade is at the far end of the pier. Only gamblers, fishermen and a few determined pensioners walk out this far. A cup of tea in the arcade café only costs 20p. 

The machines bleep and ding without rest. Most of their bulbs are burnt out, their plastic panels cracked. The machine you need is a converted penny pusher. Shelves of books slide forwards and are drawn backwards whilst a tinny tune leaks from its side. The book you want will always be resting tantalisingly close to the edge. You hope they haven’t glued it down. You pull the book you’ve brought from home out of the carrier bag in your hand and drop it into the slot. There is a soft thud as it hits the top shelf and you watch as this sets off the lethargic chain reaction that will result in the tumble of one book down the chute and into your hands. 

Of course, it’s not the book you wanted. You’re tempted to try again but you could come off worse, so, for now, you stuff it into your carrier bag and go and get a cup of tea. Once you’re sat at a grease-patterned formica table, steaming polystyrene cup in hand, you fish the book out and open it to the first page. You find it was the one you needed to read after all.


The town lets down its ladders at night. The streets of charity shops, estate agents and boarded-up pubs remain, for the most part, deserted, but if you look up you will see figures clambering along the terraced roofs. 

You choose the ladder outside the pound shop. The air at top is sharper, rinsed clean by recent rain. You step onto the slippery slates and your heart rate climbs into the sky. You can see the odd star between banks of orange cloud.

Stallholders mostly position themselves next to chimneys. It gives them something to lean against and they can rest a box of books on the chimney pots, although they also make use of all sorts of ingenious shelves and slings to display their wares. Books are strung up like lanterns from wires; they are slung across the apex of roofs in knotted-together satchels. There are pulley systems with baskets that allow books to cross the street. All of this, together with the gloom, makes the journey between stalls more precarious. Candles are frowned upon in the presence of so much paper and torches might draw the attention of the authorities, so in this world-above-streetlights it can be difficult to read from prospective purchases. But where else can you perch on a roof, book in hand, knowing that when you get home the pages will still be crisp with night air and that between them will be preserved the idea that every town has its secrets.