This story was inspired by one strange facebook conversation I had with Simone Chalkley long ago, we were discussing the tactile/sensual aspects of “old-skool” books. At the time we were both regulars at Fay Roberts Allographic spoken word events, which is where I first performed The Bibliophile’s Day Out. I was delighted that Simone was in the audience that Sunday evening.
So, I have been performing this story for a good few years now, but I realised today that I have never posted it on the website. Here goes…
The Bibliophile’s Day Out
The curtain closed with a swish, making the cramped changing room cubicle even more claustrophobic. I hung the random clothes on the hook, plonked my rucksack on the chair in the corner and turned my back against the mirror. It was bad enough doing this, I didn’t want to watch myself doing it. Greedily, I delved into the dark depths of the rucksack. The mixed odours rising from the bag were heady with promise, I’d been looking for the privacy to do this all day. I felt light headed as I drew out a thick Victorian binding, it’s leather-bound case positively encrusted with ornate blocking. I quivered slightly as the unmistakeable smell of academics smoke-filled study clagged in my nostrils – the definite fruity tang of pungent nicotinicity. I smiled, though I wasn’t yet sated. I allowed my sensual ecstasy to mingle with my unerring booksellers instinct and I knew the smell of erudite content. Probably the unloved cast-off of some Cambridge Librarian Lothario.
I heard a vague harrumphing the other side of the curtain. I could sense the waiting woman’s presence without even registering it. I was onto my second book. A slim pocket book sized Ayurvedic sex manual. The aroma of incense-laden temple, with notes of satanic doom played through my cavities. Invariably, the smell of cloistered hermitage denotes books that are long out of print. Highly collectible, in my Dealers Hat. The woman waiting outside clattered her plastic dress hangers together and tutted. I could hear her looking at her watch. But it was water off a duck’s back to me. A boutique changing room was pure luxury for your average booksniffer, I’ve made do with a cubicle in a public lavatory – not an olfactory nirvana, you know. The bleach played havoc with my nasal consciousness. In any case, I was about to do number three, a large format hardback, desperately signed by the author, never even opened. The sickening musty whiff of the remaindered warehouse, a foul but vividly unforgettable reek. The stench of the over-priced. Known in the book trade as “a dog”. Suddenly “Are you going to be in there long?” Jolted back to reality my breath solidified in my lungs. Fighting the shame of discovery, my “Sorry!” burst through my paralysis with a rush of out breath. Snarking, waiting woman said “You’ve been twenty minutes already” Then wheedling “Only I’ve got to be some where at two”. I had to get out of here. In a panicked flurry I grasped at my books, stuffing them hurriedly into the rucksack. “What the hell are you doing in there?” the alarm in her voice peaking with my own. And then I touched the last book in the hoard.
My fingers slipped wantonly over the tomes Yapp binding in naked vellum, curving pale flaps around thick sections of handmade deckle-edge paper. The Kelmscott colophon laid across it, a Morris font entwined around with curling, twirling botanic forms of erotic intensity. Probing the books flexible spine with my nose I breathed in a perfume of pure unadulterated First Edition, a tabla rasa of a book. The abandoned scent of forgotten storage in a dry secure garage. A book dealers dream. The most expensive book smell of all. The cubicle curtain was suddenly wrenched aside “A Booksniffer!” screamed the waiting woman. “No” I pleaded “I’m a Bookseller, a binder, no really” I stumbled. Crashing into clothes racks, running for the door. “A Booksniffer!” she fainted. A Security Guard, as thick as a bear, ambled behind me. His pungent aftershave , like a disinfectant smudge stick, cleansed and sterilised the book-heavy air.
Bella Basura 2022