Category Archives: Mental Health

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.’

The Birdman of Aberdare

In which The Author sees the weirdness continue to build

On Monday I needed to make a phone call, so I took my mobile into the back garden. The reception in my house is unreliable at best, and it was a bright and mild autumn morning to stand outside.
I left the kitchen door open while I was on the phone. My back ‘garden’ isn’t really the grand vista the name might lead you to imagine, by the way. It’s more of a yard, with some very overgrown shrubs, a small pile of stuff which I keep meaning to sort out, and a shed with the door hanging off. It’s also a favourite rendezvous for the neighbourhood cats – which is why I very rarely get any visiting birds. They’re usually limited to the odd jackdaw dancing on my kitchen roof, and the occasional sparrow or thrush passing through.
It’s a total contrast to my mother’s garden, which is a haven for wildlife. Mine’s more of a concrete desert, really
That’s why I was amazed to walk back into the kitchen and find a robin cheekily perched on top of my stacking saucepans. It didn’t give me a second look, but just carried on swooping from perch to perch while I was watching it. I had to go out shortly afterwards, and I didn’t fancy chasing a bird around my house for a while. Instead I left the kitchen window open, guessing (correctly) that it would make its own way out when it had finished exploring.
I made a comment about the fact on Facebook, and Kristy M. replied immediately. She’s been interested in spiritual matters for as long as I can remember. She told me that the robin is a symbol of growth and development – exactly what I hope my proofreading business will experience in the future.
Janette L. also commented on it. She said that a visiting robin was often the spirit of a departed loved one. I’ve got a long list of possible candidates for that one.
Anyway, on Monday evening I was finishing off the proofreading of my first big project (not counting The Men Who Marched Away, of course). It was already dark outside. I heard a loud thud from the front of the house and went to investigate.
It sounded as though someone had thrown something heavy at (or possibly fallen against) my front window. There was no sign of anyone in the street, so I returned to the pages, a little bit baffled.
When I eventually decided to turn in, I discovered what the noise had been. An owl had flown into my bedroom window, and left a ghostly outline of its face and wings on the glass. (I tried photographing it last night, but it was a waste of time.) I’ve heard of such things happening, but I never imagined it would happen at my house. I assume that it must have been making its way from Aberdare Park, a short flight over the houses opposite mine, and been confused by the darkness through the glass.
I’ve only ever seen owls a handful of times, and I’ve always been very excited when I catch sight of one in flight. A tawny owl became our lucky mascot when I was playing for The Blossoms quiz team back in the day. We were making our way into the Brynffynnon pub (Llanwynno) when an owl hooted from a tree in the churchyard.
‘The owls are not what they seem,’ Liz P. said, referring to a famous line from Twin Peaks. Owls are traditionally associated with wisdom, so we decided that it must have been a good omen. We were right – we notched up our biggest win of the season that night.
It’s strange that a robin (change, growth) and an owl (wisdom) should choose to invade my house on the very same day that I completed my first full-scale commercial proofreading assignment.
In spite of my scientific background, after a sequence of strange events over the last decade or so I tend to keep an open mind on things these days. Six months ago I was ready to throw in the towel. Now, I’ve just embarked on the most exciting thing that’s happened to me since Brain of Britain, and that in turn was the most exciting thing that happened since I returned to university. Growth and development indeed!
Today would have been Dad’s 87th birthday. I’ll never be able to tell him about my successful foray into the real world of proofreading to his face, of course. The same goes for all the other family members I’ve lost in the last fifteen years. All the same, did Dad (or one of the others) suddenly look in on me on Monday morning, just as I was coming to the end of my first big job?
I hope Kristy is right, and Monday’s avian visitors were the signs of a change in my life. I hope Janette is right too, and Dad (and the rest of the family) are keeping an eye on me. Who knows, eh …?