Adventures in the Book Trade (Part 15)

In which The Author has some more strange dreams

I knew my recent visit to Cardiff would stir up memories of working in Dillons/Waterstones. I even told my friends that I was bracing myself for post-traumatic stress flashbacks as a result of calling into the shop to catch up with Jeff T. and Christos. Well, boys and girls, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Dr Davies has prescribed me a small amount of melatonin, in addition to the 45mg of Mirtazapine I currently take at what I laughingly refer to as ‘bedtime’. She was quite horrified when I told her that, if anything, my chronic insomnia had been exacerbated by the maximum dose of the antidepressant.
‘Did you see the trailer for last week’s Doctor Who?’ I asked her, last time I was in the surgery. ‘One of the characters said, “Now you can go for a whole month without sleep.”‘ Dr Davies laughed, and I added, ‘Only a whole month! Bloody amateurs!’
I’m taking a third tablet to address my recurring stomach upsets. I can’t remember what it’s called, but it also starts with M. I teased Dr Davies that we could work our way through the British National Formulary, letter by letter, until we find a combination that works.
At first she wasn’t sure about the melatonin, but she checked my blood test results and apparently I’m okay to take it – ‘You haven’t got any liver problems or anything like that.’
That was a pleasant surprise, I can tell you. I’m slightly on the young side, but (as Dr Davies said), I’m not far off my fiftieth birthday. I told her about my last visit to London, when we were delayed for some time outside Reading.
‘The overhead sign said 50 AHEAD. I thought, “Yeah, really don’t remind me.”‘
It’s always nice when you can have a laugh and a joke with your GP.
Anyway, the combination of the three Ms hasn’t done anything to give me a good night’s sleep, but on the rare occasions where I do go into a REM cycle, the results are even more bizarre than usual.
Last night I was working in a bookshop (not Dillons and not Waterstones), along with some of the people I used to work with. There were mountains of stock everywhere, so it must have been the period between Freshers’ Week and the start of the January sale.
I was helping a customer to find a number of titles from his list, and we were nipping around tables and dumpbins, grabbing books as we shot past. He was quite impressed by the speed at which I was able to pin them down, and I told him (quoting Dr Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard from NCIS), ‘It’s more an art than a science.’
At one point we stopped to examine his list again. When I turned around, one of the temporary Xmas girls had picked up our pile of books and was quite happily re-shelving them. At that point, I knew I was dreaming lucidly, because no self-respecting Xmas temp would ever have shelved a book on his/her own initiative.
The weird thing is that, unlike many of my dreams, that one is based on a true story. I was working late in Dillons one evening, and I decided to kill the last half hour of the day by picking a load of travel guides which were due for return. (Final quote of the day, I promise!) As Prof. Jim al-Khalili would say, Let me explain …
One of the quirks of the book trade was the fact that almost everything was supplied on a Sale or Return basis. It was a fantastic tool during the academic season. We could order large quantities in relative security, knowing we wouldn’t be stuck with a mountain of surplus stock when the initial rush subsided.
There was another side to it, too. As new editions of books were published, we sent the previous editions back to the publisher for full credit against the original invoice. I kept a watchful eye on the publication schedules, and a few publishers would also issue recall notices just before the new editions came out. That’s why my Law section was always bang up to date, unlike its counterpart across the road. Shanara and I once called into Borders after work for a look around, and I was amused to see current and old editions sitting quite happily together on their Travel shelves.
By an odd quirk of fate, this story concerns travel guides, too. A batch of updated Rough Guides were due to hit the shelves any day, so Penguin had sent a recall for the obsolescent editions. I printed out the paperwork and started gathering them up. By closing time I’d found ninety per cent of them, so I decided to tuck the paperwork in the top book and resume collecting them in the morning.
Unfortunately, Jeff nearly always got to Cardiff before I did. It was great for him, because we operated a system of unofficial flexitime. If he started work as soon as he got to the shop, he could bank that time and shoot off to get the through bus to Abertridwr. He also looked after the Travel section.
Needless to say, when I arrived at the shop, he’d re-shelved all the books I’d picked the night before. How he’d managed to miss the paperwork remains a mystery which neither of us ever solved.
It gets better.
‘Here’s a strange thing,’ he said. ‘I’ve just had a load of Rough Guides in, and there was exactly enough space on the shelves for them.’
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