“You are always welcome in a bookshop”: discuss

My friend Angus O’Neill (Omega Bookshop) found this gem of a bookmark tucked into a 1936 pocket edition of Norman Douglas’s South Wind, an outré title which – at that time – carried with it certain connotations. It rates an appearance inClouds of Witness, the second of Dorothy L. Sayers’s Peter Wimsey novels (old favourites of mine) as conclusive proof that the victim was an all-round bad egg.  (He also cheated at cards, so you can appreciate what sort of bounders read Norman Douglas!) Having dealt with the morals of the original owner, now onto the bookmark itself. It was designed in the 1950s, perhaps (Angus suggests) by Ashley Havinden, or a fairly close follower of his. The wording was used as a chapter heading in Anthony Rota’s entertaining booktrade memoir Books in the Blood (Pinner, 2002) but I can find no other link.

questionable-bookmark

 

As a generic phrase “You are always welcome in a bookshop” sounds innocent enough, but it’s so palpably untrue that everyone I’ve shown it to has fallen about laughing. So much so that I’ve promised to run off a few copies to give to friends! As any fule kno, the welcome afforded by bookshops is among the warmest on the planet. Intimate knowledge of issue points (denoting edition or state) is not a prerequisite for admission – that’s what the bookseller is there for – so just a spot of general enthusiasm and courtesy will do nicely.  Nobody should feel nervous about stepping across the threshold. But I’ve witnessed some extraordinary scenes since I opened my own bookshop, and there’s a point where the invitation can be subtly withdrawn …

I’m not one for posting up signs around the shop (‘no mobile phones’, ‘use both hands’, ‘no wittering’ etc) but I admire my predecessor here at 8 Cecil Court, Robert Chris. His daughter in law Val sent me this photo, probably taken in the forties (he held court here for a good half century, until a fortnight before his death aged 86):

Robert-Chris

 

The sign pinned to the wall above the mantelpiece reads: “Do not mistake courtesy on my part as an invitation to stay all day”. I’ve been told (with affection on the part of the teller) that in his day he was the rudest man on Cecil Court. Quite an accolade!