Thursday, 22 August 2019

Harry Halls.

While moving some books I came across a clipping from a newspaper, one that was a photograph of Harry Hall's bookstore back in the day. I never saved the rest of the item but I suspect it was an article about declining footfall in the city center. I vaguely remember a grim article about the threatening tsunami that is the shadow of online shopping.
             Anyway, it reminded me that when I was a boy my dream job would have been to work in Harry Hall's Bookshop(After the position of Scientific Adviser to UNIT , off course.). I thought Mister Hall had the best shop in the world. Well, the small amount of the world I was familiar with. I always seemed to find something, no matter how little money I actually had. Which was always; not very much. Pan anthologies of horror, Target doctor Who novels, most of the Puffin books of my childhood, every kind of comic you can think off, British and American and thousands of horror and science fiction titles at affordable prices. Condition was never really important to me. Sure, I liked to get things in good nick but my entire world has always been a bit frayed around the edges, so I did not mind so much as long as I got to read whatever it was. I had no notions of collectability beyond reading, experiencing the book or comic in the moment and I always got my moneys worth.
            Even its location seemed cool to me, on the corner of the bottom of Gresham Street , like the prow of a stone ship facing forward. The interesting exterior was but a prelude to what could be found on the inside. always with a few temptations on view in the window display. you never knew what you were likely to find on display, what someone had sold, what Mister Hall had bought in.
            And there was Mister Hall himself, what a character, larger than life to me.Tall and solid, it was his shop and you knew it. I looked up to and respected this man so much. Here was a man who understood the book trade and built a comfortable domain on that hard work and knowledge, an undiscovered country of second hand books. he treated all his customers the same way, with courtesy , good manners and respect. And he was not afraid to stand up to bullies. I saw him do it once and..well, he handled it like a gentleman,old school but leaving no doubt who's shop it was.
            I did ask him for a job. Quite a few times actually. A part time job? A summer job? A work experience position? A cleaner? Anything? I hoped as I grew older and less foolish (Ha!Like that ever happens...) he might see that I would make a good bookseller.
            I never relented and neither did he.
            One day he did explain to me why he would never give me a job, he told me the reason and I understood it completely. I understood why it was never going to happen and there was nothing I could do to change that. There was such a simple truth there I decided to let it go and resigned myself to finding something else in this world to do. Something else to aspire to.
             It did not diminish my appreciation and love for his store one iota. In fact it seemed to make it all the more precious, knowing I could never be part of it. I had to accept that it would never be me bringing order to the old comics or the horror section. it would never be me sorting out the crime fiction from the crime faction, arranging section in some way that would make perusing them all the more enjoyable and more likely to generate sales.
              You know, its never really left me. Even after fifty and more years on this planet I still have vivid dreams that I am back in that store, stepping in through its door from the rain, so familiar with the layout of the shelves, the surprising quality and quantity of the content, like arriving home. Silly stuff really, no adventures or whatever, just me putting out stock, tidying up. So real, like a memory, perhaps a bit like time travelling.
               Maybe the only form of time travel that is real.