20 September, 2011


Timing is all

An elderly German-sounding gent approaches the checkout in Waterstone's.

"You haff an excellent bookstore," he comments to the assistant — or bookseller as I believe we are now required to call them — as he hands over his intended purchase for scanning.

The assistant, sorry, the bookseller preens, appreciatively accepting the compliment on behalf of his colleagues. A pause of at least 4 or 5 seconds ensues.

"... at Trafalgar Square," finishes the elderly gent. The bookseller slumps visibly.

I'm convinced there was no sarcastic intent. Perhaps he was struggling to remember the place name. Or whatever. The bookseller was of the same opinion when he and I discussed the incident afterwards.

But the natural comic timing was exquisite.

Some years ago I visited Waterstones seeking, on behalf of someone else, a title by one Terry Pratchett, a name then unfamiliar to me.
Having failed to find it under "Author Index" the girl with a ring thing though her nose first suggested I try the childrens section and then somewhere else before I cunningly enquired.
"Would that be the same Terry Pratchett featured in the 2m X 3m full color(sic) glossy POS material alongside which she had been polishing her nails for the past week or so?"

My next visit was in search of the Highway Code which likewise was nowhere to be found. The oaf on the till suggested I try the 'Travel' section.

Wasn't there a famous quote about Foyles (the notoriously unhelpful bookstore) to the effect that, in order to purchase a book there, one had to convince the sales assistant that Dickens was an author?

I recall buying a copy of Peter Hitchens' The Abolition of Britain in Waterstone's. The reaction of the, er, bookseller was delightful. If he could have drawn on a pair of gloves or used tongs to handle the offensive item, I'm sure he would have been much happier.

Mind you, this was the Islington Green branch, so perhaps it was to be expected. The incident described in the OP took place at the Greenwich branch, which seems to be staffed by normal human beings.

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