So, you travel to the wilds of Wales to talk about books, and when you return you discover that happiness can be found in your own backyard.
In my case, happiness was found not only in Wales, but in Exmouth Market at Clerkenwell Tales, a heavenly bookshop a short hop from the Angel, Islington. It’s run by a man called Peter Ho, and if you are at all remotely interested in books, you will fall in love with the charming Mr Ho. Because he has read everything (not just everything in the shop, but everything everywhere), has an opinion on everything he’s read, and aside from all the literary gossip (lots) and ad hoc reviews (“don’t bother with that one”) I managed to find the book of my dreams in his shop — because Peter magically intuited that I’d be visiting for the first time that afternoon and put it in the exact place that he (somehow) knew I would find it.*
This is not to say that I don’t buy books at Waterstones, WH Smith, Amazon, The Book People and my local Oxfam shop (I’m convinced that my neighbour, Nick Hornby, has a direct line to our local Oxfam — their collection of unread first editions is mind-boggling). I buy books in quantity from all of these retailers — too much quantity, according to my accountant, who suspects that I’m an arms dealer laundering money disguised as book receipts. But at Clerkenwell Tales, I found a treasure that I don’t think I’d have found at WH Smith or Amazon. And I wouldn’t have known to look for it at Waterstone’s. It’s called Staying Alive, and it’s a collection of poetry edited by Neil Astley and published by BloodAxe. And it offers more revelations than the Apocrypha.
Here’s one (and sorry, but it’s another horse).
By Chase Twichell
I’ve never seen a soul detached from its gender,
but I’d like to. I’d like to see my own that way,
free of its female tethers. Maybe it would be like
riding a horse. The rider’s the human one,
but everyone looks at the horse.
*You don’t have to warn Peter that you’re coming. He’ll have intuited your dream book, and it will be waiting for you, too.