Round about this time of year but back in 2013, I worked as a Seasonal Bookseller at Waterstones Piccadilly; the flagship store. And in short, it was the best job I ever had.
That’s right. You heard it here first.
I loved it, I loved being surrounded by books, stroking their spines and restocking them, making them look pretty in a display, practising the art of pyramiding them on a table and most of all recommending them to other people, sending the books off to good homes and talking about literature all day long.
It was ideal for me.
And yes, some of the customers were exceptionally irritating and quite a few of them were rude and used to expect the outright ridiculous from me.
Like one young lad, who came into the Children’s department (where I used to work) and asked me to look for a specific book that he’d loved from his childhood.
But the only thing he could remember about it was the image on the front cover.
No title. No author name. No ISBN. Just, ‘Umm, can you help me find this book that I used to love? It had a girl with a bowl of fruit on her head on the front cover? Thanks!’
Thank goodness for Google, is all I can say. And then, after finding out that it was called Handa’s Surprise and establishing that we only had one copy left and literally searching high and low for it, including the stock room and our whole, long shelving unit full of picture books, I found it and handed it to him proudly, expecting him to rush to the till to pay for it, only for him to take it, snuggle up with his girlfriend, read it to her and then leave the shop. Leaving a massive pile of picture books that they had spent the afternoon leafing through, out on the table for me to stack away again.
And the amount of times that I got asked if we sold DVDs! Each time, I so desperately wanted to shout ‘No, this is a bloody book shop. We sell BOOKS! The clue is in the name! Go to HMV and leave me alone!’ but I held my tongue and instead, politely informed them that, ‘No, sadly we do not stock DVD’s but I will take your point to Head Office and who knows what could happen in the future.’
Or the time, when a Head Master from a school in Abu Dhabi came in to the store and I sold him our entire stockist of the Biff and Chip books; he couldn’t get enough of them. I made a sale of about £700, just in that one transaction. I felt like I should have signed up for The Apprentice right then and there.
And another time, when a man came in very close to Christmas, needing to buy some presents for his nieces. And he bought literally everything that I suggested, I mean everything. A whole stack of books and several soft toys too. I felt like a personal shopper.
I used relish my breaks, in the staffroom that was practically made of books; there were that many stacked up in the place. It smelt like paper and ink and good coffee. And the sofas and chairs were comfy and leather and they just cried out to be sat on. And boy, did my feet ache doing that job. Retail-foot-ache is a real thing, the struggle is real.
Oh and my 50% discount was pretty sweet too. And on my last day, me and my friend Maddy went crazy and bought most of the shop and every book we’d ever wanted to read, brand new and half the price, was popped into our basket. It was all kinds of wonderful.
But one of the best things about working in this magical book kingdom, was the fact that it was during the most wonderful time of the year; at Christmas.
And it was in London where everything is heightened and automatically grander and much more wonderful and enchanting. There’s something quite special and secretive almost, about pottering around in a giant shop, in the quiet of the early morning, before the city is properly awake, or nearing midnight when the city is just starting to drift off into slumber, there is something special about busying yourself in the shop, preparing it for the masses who will soon descend.
If you ever get the chance to be a bookseller, even if only for one day, grab it by the pages. You won’t regret it.