Friday, 17 September 2010

Dirty Books

A while ago I visited Porthleven, on Cornwall's south coast between Helston and Penzance. A village 'fun day' was in full swing. Side-shows, stalls, raffles. Face-painting and balloons. Elderly ladies selling cakes the like of which supermarkets will never, ever be able to create. Under the hot sun I worked my way along the stands, looking for a bargain here and there, until I came to the book stall.

In front of me, a lady was thumbing through the spines; in charge of the stall was a middle-aged woman with frosted hair, pearls and a starchy blouse. One of the local doers of good works, I supposed. The lady selected several battered paperbacks, but paid only a pound or so.

I turned to frosted-hair woman and attempted engagement. "Your prices are very reasonable", I ventured.

She had a rather plummy voice, which carried, and to my delight replied, "Well, we charge less for the dirty books."

There are times when your options are just too many. In the end I fixed her with a faux-outraged glare and managed, "I wasn't looking for anything like that, madam." How would she react?

Once again I'd got it wrong. Instead of tutting or colouring up, she laughed with a raucous heartiness I simply couldn't have predicted. We got into a long conversation about this and that which lasted most of the afternoon, interspersed by punters and cups of tea. A lovely day and I bought a couple of books, but nothing too racy.

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