And doing another thing…*
In my case it is not really hard to do. I lead a small life that does not go to many new places nor does it do many new things – any small variant is a bit of an advance. I can get a great deal of excitement buying a new pair of shoes because the intervals between visits to the shoe shop are so prolonged as to make me forget what happens there. I am always at a loss to know what size I want and have to look inside the current pair to find out. You don’t want to get your nose too near when you do that…
It is the same with visits to food stores. I do shop more frequently for bread and cheese than for boots, but a new supermarket or small shop is akin to an unexplored continent. Some of them are so confusing and pretentious as to cure any hunger without actually selling me any food. I have literally been put off by the intensity of the styling and promotion when I walk in. It can be the same with fast food restaurants and some pubs if the human touch is missing or the human scale has been exceeded.
Yet a bookstore holds no terrors. This is not a claim for superior intellectual tastes – I can cheerfully browse in a comic store like Minotaur. It is just that I know what books I like and no-one has to sell them to me by high pressure tactics. Just rack ’em and let me walk past the titles.
I think we all cope in different ways with commercial or cultural pressures. The ones that are so far over the top that we do not even recognise them are not a problem – neither are the simple and familiar. Those we cope with easily. It is the middle ground of being in a milieu that we recognise has rules and expectations…and spectators…but that we are not familiar with that causes most anxiety.
But as long as there is a gentle welcome and patience on the part of the staff, we can cope and add one more skill to our internal resume.
* For those unfamiliar with the Victorian vernacular, this was a phrase that was employed to bid a genteel defiance to one’s enemies..
A poem lovely as a Pharisee…
Hang on, that can’t be right. Let me check my notes.
No, here it is. Clear as a cow horn. Pharisee. But Wiki says they were members of an ancient Jewish sect who were very strict and had superior sanctity. Can’t see how that would…oh, wait…the next line is applicable to modern-day; it says that the term refers to a self-righteous or hypocritical person. Well, that’s OK. Now we’re on track. Now the poem is fine. Pharisees are indeed lovelier than poetry. I know – I have been looking over the books of poetry in the secondhand bookstore recently.
I didn’t go there for poetry initially – I went to see if they had any P.G. Wodehouse books in. I gave away a seven-volume set of them once and have regretted it ever since – they were a textbook of instruction for etiquette that Emily Post cannot touch. If I ever wanted to know what to do in any social situation, I would consult Jeeves or one of his colleagues. Indeed, if ever I win Lotto I will resist all temptation to spend money on motor cars or yachts and instead will invest in a good manservant. It will not make a gentleman of me, but it will make being boorish bearable.
Back to the bookstore. No Wodehouse right now. No Dashiell Hammett. No Kinky Friedmann. No Ernst Jünger or Anthony Trollope. No naked girl books. It was a desert of paper and I was driven by the hot wind to the poetry section.
Now I like a good poet normally. Ogden Nash. Ulysses S. Grant. Benjamin Disraeli. Something you can get your teeth into, or if you are in the dental trade, someone else’s. But I made the mistake of picking up a modern poet’s work. I cannot say who it was because they appear to still be alive and may have lawyers, but it only took two pages of the book to bring me to the sort of despair that generally drives people to win Medals of Honour. Quite frankly, there would have been no human fate worse than continuing to read that poetry.
I put it back on the shelf and gave the man in the bookshop a small smile. He looked at the title and he knew. He knew. He knew what was on that shelf.
Come to think about it, I think the poem was written by a Pharisee. Probably to punish us for our sins. After reading it I think I am in the negative sin column and can go out and lust or covet or murder a bit to bring things back into balance.