How Pleasant to Meet Miss Pym
Every week book shops are closing, so I feared the worst last week in Tunbridge Wells when I saw that the windows of Hall’s book shop were painted white and the bookshelves outside were gone. I was delighted though when I got a bit closer and saw a notice that announced that the shop was only closed for renovations and would open again in November in time for Christmas. It’s one of my favourite second-hand book shops. I visit it every year and always find some treasures.
This year I thought I was going to escape from our few days in Sussex without buying anything – but no. On a visit to Petworth I saw the magic sign ‘second hand bookshop.’ I went up the stairs into a small room. No-one was there. A sign read ‘Hard backs £1 and paperbacks 50p.’ Five minutes later I was departing with Civil to Strangers, a collection of Barbara Pym’s unpublished fiction, including four short stories. It’s in excellent condition: a bargain. I have already read the short stories and they have reminded me why I have so much enjoyed her in the past. She is just so funny in such a understated English way. This is from ‘Farewell, Balkan Capital,’ set in WWII when Laura is reflecting on what her parents would have thought of the mingling of classes at the ARP centre, which she is rather enjoying. ‘Perhaps it was a good thing that they had not been spared to see it. Laura had always thought that the shock of a Labour government in office had hastened the Archdeacon’s end.’
Incidentally, this was the perfect place to buy a book by Barbara Pym. A National Trust house with a tea room and a second-hand-book shop: just the sort of place where you might find one of her characters.