Book shops were until comparatively recently the last bastions of afternoons of unhurried pleasure and tranquility as far as browsing was concerned. Years ago before the birth of bargain book basements, you could certainly prowl the aisles of Borders, Dymocks or Whitcouls for an hour or more attracting no undue attention.
Alas, in the intervening years much has changed. Borders has gone and is unlikely to return and Dymocks is now hard to find although I'm told the branch in Newmarket is still going strong. Quite the most alarming change is that browsing has become far less acceptable in the stores that still exist although of course there are notable exceptions to this (Unity Books in High Street for example).
Bright young people in smart uniforms and wide smiles briskly walk the aisles with `Can I help you?' tripping from their tongues. And should you not meet their eyes and simply shuffle sideways as you mumble `No thanks' they will follow up their original question by asking what plans you have for the rest of your day or even query what you might do at the weekend.
Now my response to either of those questions is generally to advise them to mind their own business which I must admit causes offense and, should he be with me, embarrasses the husband enormously.
`Why do you have to be so rude?' He demands to know.
And sometimes I ask myself that question. However, I have now hit upon a less rude response though it still does not please him. Picking up a book with a blue cover and shoving it under the nose of the stalking shop assistant I say, `I'd like this one but would you see if you have it in red.'
To my astonishment they rarely hesitate to scurry away to do just that.