Chorleywood Bookshop was the bookshop of my childhood. It was here that I coveted the Doctor Who novelisations and Star Trek fotonovels in the children’s section, and sometimes stole money from my mother’s purse to buy books of sordid black magic stories. Later on, it was where I would buy the first popular science books that would set me on my career of interrupting physicists on Radio 4.
There is a thrill in returning to your childhood bookshop as a published author. Unless no one turns up for your event. That would make clear that the schoolboys who bullied you at the bus stop were right. Fortunately, the shop is full. After my talk, I am shown a beautiful tattoo. It is on the arm of someone you would not immediately imagine would be inked in, but ever since Judi Dench had a tattoo for her 81st birthday, all bets are off.
This mother’s tattoo is intricate and beautiful and the connective tissue to someone she has lost. It is an image of our galaxy, not an easy tattooing task, with an element of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot and a quote from Douglas Adams. An experience like this is one of the many joys of the 100 Bookshop tour. I stand up in front of people and spill out stories and then afterwards, people give me their stories. Such times crush cynicism and should be savoured.
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Douglas Adams’ hugely influential Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy began in the next town to Chorleywood, Rickmansworth. It is probably its greatest claim to fame apart from the fact that Wham!’s Andrew Ridgeley briefly owned a wine bar there in the late ’80s.
Earlier in the day, I was in Gerrards Cross. Lacking an ’80s pop phenomenon opening a wine bar, its claim to fame is that the local cinema is where Sid Boggle and Bernie Lugg take their girlfriends to see a “nature” film in Carry on Camping. After signing some books, while browsing and eating biscuits, a customer pops in and asks if I can help with Paddington Bear, so I do. After we have found the right book to send to her granddaughter in Perth, she asks how long I have worked there. I explain that I don’t. She asks what my book is about and serendipitously I say, “things like the nature of time”.
“Oh, I am doing a philosophy course on that, I better buy your book.” And she does. I am glad that I look like a bookseller. One day, I will be doing a book signing and then I will blend into the shelves and never leave the shop.