Bins and Things

quarto.jpg The morning must have been quiet, because instead of merely paying the bill from the Environmental Health Department, I actually read it, and was shocked to find what a large proportion goes on the rental of a bin. On the assumption that bins are like phones, and one can purchase a bin with about one year’s rental, I found a bin supplier, who unfortunately only dealt in hundreds, and seemed to regard my request on par with asking to purchase a single traffic cone. My husband pooh-poohed the entire idea: to distinguish my private bin from the others, it would have to be different, and the only reason why one can leave bins out all day in the street unguarded is because they are all the same and so inherently unattractive; they only ever disappear when drunken students think it fun to push them into the sea. My pink or zebra striped bin would be an immediate kidnap target. Undeterred, I phoned the Environmental Health Department and asked if I could buy one from them: of course I couldn’t, and even if I could, they wouldn’t empty it. I lost interest, paid up and started to think up other ways of killing time besides annoying Fife Council in revenge, since customers weren’t breaking through the cage their contractors had erected round the Quarto while undertaking road-works.

The pavement in Golf Place was being dug up and replaced with a more upmarket version. Being so much more attractive, according to my husband’s theory, it should be kidnapped, but it would take as much effort to remove as it did to lay. The ‘Caithness’ slabs were apparently sourced in China. The word ‘sourced’ made me think of another ploy. Sitting in my shopping bag in the store was a pack of Tesco turkey. On the label, the words ‘Sourced and packed in the UK.’ Call me a stickler for language, but what is wrong with the word ‘reared’ or ‘produced.’ I emailed Tesco to ask if ‘sourced’ meant ‘originated’ or merely ‘paid for.’ Their customer service person emailed back to tell me she didn’t know, but would tell me as soon as she had found out; a reply that immediately induced paranoia. Were Bulgarian turkeys, dripping with avian flu, being passed off as British?

squiresm03pic1.jpg None of this gets the bills paid, so I am hoping that my older grandson will get moving and bring out a bestseller I can launch soon. When, with considerable effort, he had finished one chapter, he phoned to ask how much authors get for their books. As it happens, I was in a position to tell him, having just launched one of my own. In Quarto is a collection of the columns I have written for the Scottish Book Collector between 1997 and 2005, and has been selling modestly from a space on the desk, partly because it has enough golf in to pass as a golf book. My publisher said that it should have a blurb on the back cover – so I looked at other books to see what sorts of things are included in blurbs, to discover that they are mostly nice things that people have said about the book. Since it was too early for people to say things, nice or otherwise, I ran out after the first quote and had to think up things people had said in or about the Quarto instead:

‘I like your column – are all your customers barking mad?’ Customer

‘Can’t you tell me the story?’ Student customer

‘What’s your best price on this?’ Another customer

‘You’re not going in there, we’ll never get you out again!’ Spouse intent on passing by the Quarto.

‘…the sublime second-hand bookshop called Quarto.’ Tom Morton, Express

‘Margaret er kjent for sitt utrolige utvalg av gode golfboker’ Halvor Kleppen, Golferen

‘The best golf bookshop on earth?’ Today’s Golfer

There was also a quotation from a Japanese golfing magazine, which I was a bit nervous about using, since I couldn’t understand it. But I was reassured when a customer translated it for me as: ‘You will find a good selection of golf books from Margaret, who runs the shop 30 metres from the 18th hole of the Old Course.’

As well as buying it in Quarto, you can now buy In Quarto from Amazon – it extended me to the outer limits of my technological know-how to put a picture of the cover onto their site. As to the question my grandson asked, the author gets 40 0f you buy it from the quartobooks option on Amazon, but ends up almost paying Amazon if you get it direct from them.

The November boredom was broken by a customer whom I have never met, but who I assume deals with me because he has tried all his local shops and found them wanting – or unwilling to talk at length about the reality of flying saucers. I even have to censor descriptions of books on-line that say ‘A wonderful picture of a lamp-shade – sorry, flying saucer – on the front cover.’ I have supplied him through his son’s stint in the army, when he wanted books on how not to be afraid, ranging from pop-psychology to bull-fighting; through the disappointment of his son refusing to join him in the family business; into purveyors of comfort such as various yogi; and then into the paranormal. The Caithness slabbers were drilling ferociously right outside the door when he phoned, so we had to cut short our conversation, but he will be back.

Another customer who phones in her orders has decided to pay us for several books in advance, as she would hate to think of us being out of pocket ‘should anything happen.’ She is only a few years older than me, but is frail, and while I can still get up the Munros in the company of Naismith,* she is chair-bound. All the more reason for counting my blessings rather than cursing the pathetically small number of slabs the workmen managed to lay per day; after all, they were definitely scheduled to finish by Christmas. I cycled to her house with the books on my way home and left them in her porch for the carers to discover later. She buys splendidly illustrated hard-backs on British battles, perhaps on the principle that it is better to be chair-bound than wounded at Agincourt.

As if the slabbers weren’t bad enough for trade, a lecturer who bought eight books, sale or return, brought back five. All the other people who entered the shop that morning turned out to be trying to sell me things: more cartoons, a memoir of a father, used books on cocktails, and a newly self-published book on golf. The boxes full of orders turned out to consist mostly of Christmas presents ordered in advance by the staff. When I pushed the bin out the next evening it seemed very empty. In the summer it is always full, and in September I have to take away rubbish to put in my home bin. Late one evening while removing the rubbish thus, I discovered a golf course architect from Bejing on the doorstep demanding to be let in. I am famous in Bejing, another Chinese customer told me: just now I would trade it for being famous in St Andrews. November, even without Caithness slabs, always sees economic activity decline, and the bin is a perfect indicator, almost on par with the time of day the van man arrives with our orders. I wonder if the government knows. Perhaps I could start a new career as an economic analyst.

* Naismith’s formula says that, walking in mountains, one should allow 1 hour for every 3 km and half an hour for every 1,000 feet of ascent. When I was younger, Naismith ambled along behind, but now, although he strides out ahead, we are still in touch.

© Margaret Squires 2006


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