You know how it is sometimes when there is something you particularly want to see on holiday, but somehow you drift on from day to day and for one reason or another it just doesn’t happen. Sometimes you make a big effort and get there and sometimes you don’t.
When we were on holiday a couple of weeks ago, the place I wanted to get to was Hale’s Book Shop near the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells. I had been there before, certainly once, maybe twice, but many years ago. The time I was sure about was a poignant occasion almost exactly 20 years ago. I was with my mother and we were en route to the funeral of close family friend who had died in his forties. His own mother had died when he was young and my mother had been a maternal presence in his life. I was fond of John, too. I can’t remember now why we were hanging around in Tunbridge Wells: waiting for a lift on the way? waiting to catch the train home? I’m not sure. I can just remember being in this attractive second bookshop choosing a book and I really wanted to visit it again.
The first time I tried I got there 5 minutes before it closed. I dashed in and snapped up a World’s Classic of Chekhov short stories, including ‘The Lady with the Little Dog’ and that only whetted my appetite. Finally on the last day on the last possible occasion my husband and I made a last-ditch effort, spent half an hour there, and, holy-moly (as my daughter would say)! What a bookshop. Wonderful stock -and the prices! I bought a copy of Jason Becker’s THE CHINESE, Bamber Gascoigne’s THE DYNASTIES OF CHINA, and DELIGHTING THE HEART: A NOTEBOOK OF WOMEN WRITERS, edited by Susan Sellars. Three paperbacks in excellent condition and what did they cost me: £3. Yes, that’s £3 for the lot! How can they do it? It’s cheaper than a charity shop.
And added to that was the pleasure in roaming around a fine old book shop run by people who love books and know their stock. Sheer bliss. And isn’t it great when something is even better than you remember it?