Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Voltaire and Rousseau! *Day 3*

Voltaire and Rousseau - Day 3

Another day gone, and what a day it was.

The morning went by like usual - me wandering around, nudging the books into position and occasionally reading one of two (or four) or them. Only a few people of interest caught my eye:

A man came in asking if he could get some books on Antarctica, which resulted in an avalanche of 
art books cascading onto the shop floor. It turns out he wanted the books because he had been part of the team that discovered Captain Scott’s ship buried in the ice and he wanted some more information on his life and his passion.

A girl came in asking for cooking books. She was a chef who knew Gordon Ramsay and was now preparing a dinner for a group of prestigious London bankers.

Someone who worked with River City (a Glaswegian ‘soap’) phoned, asking if we could provide them with some old Burns’ poetry books. As it turned out, there weren’t very many there as a man from Edinburgh bought most of them on his weekly visits to the shop. He ran a bookshop himself, and like most of the bibliophiles in Scotland, he sourced his books from Voltaire and Rousseau. However, we managed to get enough to keep the film crew happy.

The most interesting part of the day came after lunch. I had spent my break in Kelvingrove Park, reading a book and eating sandwiches, and when I came back to the shop, I was expecting another hour or so of calm and quiet.

I was wrong.

As soon as I got in Eddie asked me if I wanted to join Ian and Brian on a house call. I said yes, and soon I was bundled into the van and we were driving through the West End. Students were pouring out onto the streets, walking in pairs and trios and quintets, all laughing and smiling and talking. Brian and Ian pointed out buildings as we chugged along, and though I was paying attention, I couldn’t reply with much more than a ‘cool’ or a ‘yeah’. I was too awestruck to give a fuller answer.

Now, I understand completely why some people (eg. my dad) don’t like Glasgow, but I love it. It’s so busy and thriving, so full of knowledge. Whispers of conversations that wafted through the windows were always about something profound or engaging and the landscape was beautiful. Golden leaves spiralled down through the shafts of sunlight and the old sandstone buildings towered like kings over the bustling streets. The place simple sang with wisdom and excitement and learning. I loved it.

Finally, after ten minutes of creeping around the one way system we arrived at the house on 68 Great George Street. It was tall and slim and unassuming. Maybe that was the point. But as soon as Brian produced the key from his pocket and opened the door, my mouth flew open.

The carpet hadn’t been hoovered in about ten years. Letters and pamphlets lay like corpses on the floor, curling up at the edges. Discarded suitcases and binders were strewn along the side of the hallway. It looked as if no one had stepped foot in it in a century, but Brian and Ian had assured me someone lived there. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t believe it. How could someone keep their house - such a beautiful, old house - in such a mess? How?

We stepped into the living room, and my concerns vanished. The shock disappeared and was replaced with respect and amazement.


Everywhere you looked there were books. More and more of them, stacked onto bookshelves, piled onto the floor, loaded onto a sagging couch. Old paperbacks, new hardbacks, old leather covers and ancient yellow pages. Winston Churchill biographies sat on top of German dictionaries, and old leaflets about Glasgow expenditures were crumpled under huge volumes of classic Polish literature.

What made it even more bizarre was the fact that the room was covered in comic book posters and Doctor Who paraphernalia.  A life size Dalek was stuck to the window, while a collectible Batman figurine stood, arms crossed, atop a book of poetry. There was a Cyberman stuck behind the TV, and a ‘How to Draw Comic Strips’ book hidden amidst piles and piles of Penguin paperback novels.

The house looked like it belonged to a student - someone who was studying to become a graphic designer, a video game creator - but that would have been impossible. No one could collect that amount of books in such a small amount of time. You would need a time lord’s lifespan to gather all those books, and an even longer one to stack them all.

It was amazing and ridiculous and strange and inspiring.

After the initial wave of wonder had gone, Brian, Ian and I got to work. Stacking the books in our arms, we staggered into the sunlight and piled them into the van before turning back and getting some more. We repeated the process over and over, until the van was full to bursting with books.

But in that time of stacking and sorting and waiting for Ian/Brian to finish unloading their bundle, something strange happened.

My heart swelled and joy flooded my heart and my mind. It was so...odd, but invigoration. Just standing outside a dusty house, books in my arms and a smile on my face made me want to sing. Leaves corkscrewed to the ground and the sunlight hit the pavement with a glimmer. Students smiled at me as they walked past, their eyes sliding involuntarily to the van full of books. They smiled at the books too. One or two even waved at me, a grin on their faces.

I have never felt so alive, so full of happiness and light.

Eventually, Ian and I got back into the van and drove back to Otago Lane. Hardbacks fell and crushed my neck, but it was worth it. I would go back to that house a million times, just to see those books again...just to see those leather bound covers merging with Green Lantern comic strips. The old and new.

And that was that.

Tomorrow there will be pictures. I promise.

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