The Changing of the Seasons


Each year the beginning of September sees the Autumn Medal of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club. An ex-Saturday girl who came back looking for work was not satisfied with the few slots I could give her covering staff holidays, and went to serve their post match gin and tonics. I note that their dress code is much more formal than mine: they expected her to turn up in white blouse and straight black skirt. And they, of course are all in dark blue blazers, and to her look so like each other that she had to memorise a distinguishing feature before going back to the bar. ‘I just think Toad or Big Ears,’ she told me. But if the R&A have lured away an employee, they have also provided me with a true J.R. Hartley moment.

A member called in to ask me about a book of war-time experiences called Over the Horizon, by Miller. I found him a copy on-line and asked if I should get the vendor to send it to his home address. When he spelled it out, I realised that he was the author (a fact I should have guessed as it had sold so swiftly to R&A members several years before). A few hours later, the phone rang and the elderly voice at the other end asked to speak to Mr. Miller. When I told him that I was merely the bookseller who had procured Over the Horizon, he said ‘What a pity, I was in the same outfit you know!’ He enclosed a post-card with the book, and its author phoned next day to praise the speedy service and comment ‘Small world!’ Later I received an e-mail from the admiring book seller who told me that the author still plays nine holes of golf at age ninety two

Meanwhile, as I can’t carry all the text books in on the day before term begins, I spend Septembers gradually swapping Life Sciences for Gardening, yet more French for Supernatural and German for Novels M-Z. The golf has to linger on until the last Member drinks his last G&T and plods wearily back past the Quarto window, just in case he should wish to celebrate his success with a new golf book. Then, in a normal year, golf books go into hiding until the Dunhill Tournament in October.

Once the scrum at the beginning of term is over, I try to remember which text books may sell in the second semester, and which should have the last rites according to St Andrew. I have a very short period in which to make up my mind, as St Andrews University starts a week before most other universities, and if I don’t get the potentially dead books onto the internet soon, every British student will have bought their texts for this term. It’s back to the computer to feed in the ISBNs and wonder if this parcel will cost me £4.31 or £4.78 to post. Instead of frantic St Andrews students all arriving at once, I get emails swarming in my Inbox.

How do they dream up these e-mail addresses? I have sent sober textbooks to people who are eccentric to say the least. State and Society to legsakimbo, From Taylorism to Japanization to icklefluffypuppy, while her side-kick ickleeggy received Marketing Concepts and Strategies, as did princessrozola not to mention little_miss_chatterbox5 (can there really be 4 others?) who got Marketing too. Tenshadesofgrey got The Ten Commandments in Recent Research. Hannahbannaboogoos wanted The Voice of the Past. As for superstud – my memory fails. What will happen to them when they grow up and apply for jobs in accountancy firms? Unless there is some rule forbidding human resource managers from divulging e-mail addresses to those who draw up short-lists, they may never get the chance of an interview.

This year, the last week of September was nervous breakdown week in the Quarto. Term started, the Dunhill Tournament coincided, and it was the estimated date of arrival for my latest grandchild as well. My daughter goes for home births, so grandparents come in handy to entertain the other children. Last time we arrived to find a birthing pool being set up in the living room, and two-year-old grandson in Fireman Sam kit filling it with a hose. He was going to prove difficult to distract. Luckily, he has a vivid imagination, so when I announced that I was Elvis Cridlington come to take him for a ride in my fire-engine, he was prepared to believe that I was Sam’s side-kick, and our Toyota was equipped with ladder and hose. The imagination can run wild sometimes: he phoned a few weeks ago, and I asked him if his new bed was built yet. ‘Yes granny, but there might be a problem!’ ‘What sort of problem?’ ‘There might be something UNDER it!’ I told him that of course there was something: toys he had dropped. But I remembered what he meant.

I had opened a box brought in for sale one day, only to find the scariest book of my child-hood lurking within. So could I be brave and look at Saints and Their Stories? I had blamed Margaret Tarrant for my nightmares, but when I came to look at the illustrations saw that they were by Cayley Robinson. I doubt if she, or its author Peggy Webling, had any idea of what they were letting loose when they outlined the story of St. Bride. She didn’t get massacred, like some of the other saints: St. George failed to be subdued by ‘imprisonment and merciless torture’; St. Denis was beheaded after wild beasts and flames had refused to devour him; we all know what happened to St. Joan; but St. Bride seemed to have lived a boring life. However, unlike the other saints in the illustrations, who all had bodies, arms and legs, she had only a head, wound around with a white scarf. In my squiresm02pic1.jpg imagination, that’s all she was. Compact and spherical, I could imagine her bouncing out from under my bed in the dark. In Period Piece, Darwin’s granddaughter, Gwen Raverat, tells how she always knew that there was a tiger crouched on the canopy of the four-poster bed in her grandfather’s house (and then, in true Darwinian fashion, says that the British tiger has now died out, due to loss of habitat). So is Saints and Their Stories scary? All sorts of saints died horrific deaths and I can’t for a minute think how I was supposed to emulate them – but what scared me was totally illogical, and now I come to look at it again, completely harmless. But my grandson isn’t getting his hands on it.

My new book buyer told me of a different sort of horror. Clothes catalogues sometimes drop through her letterbox, and one such has diversified into gifts, so of course my dutiful employee looked to see what the competition was offering in terms of books. The gift market has solved the problem – in its own way – that the Booksellers Association solved years ago by setting up the Book Tokens scheme; namely what can you give your bookish friends if you and books parted company on leaving school, or more charitably, if you just haven’t got around to discussing their latest reading interests? The gift market’s answer apparently is The Booklovers Journal, with a fixed number of pages allocated to each letter of the alphabet for the authors you have read. There are also spaces for recommendations and books you mean to read. ‘What happens,’ she raved ‘if you like Dickens and Dostoyevsky? You have to write them up in the same amount of space as Yeats’. Then the final condemnation: ‘And it’s bound in PINK SUEDE!’

So September crawled perilously to a close, each busy day won for the Quarto at the expense of delaying getting to know the new grandchild. The considerate baby postponed her entry into the world until October – by fifteen minutes. And with October came, if not boredom, sanity again.

© Margaret Squires 2005


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