Uisge betha

A lovely surprise this week for me, especially welcome after my bout with some horrid flu that’s doing the rounds of our booksellers (perhaps we’re allergic to all these bloody ‘miscellany’ and ‘little book of’ cash-ins) – a bottle of 17 year old Bowmore to add to my fine single malt collection. From the Isle of Islay off the western coast of Scotland, whence come some of the finest examples of the water of life known to civilization. Smooth and peaty, warming against the winter, best served in a rounded-glass so you can swirl it and sniff the fine aroma before sharing it with friends by a nice fireside. Huge thanks to my vampette Jan and her husband, my mate Lin, the American Boffin (one day someone will realise your cutting edge alternate power cells are the way forward instead of burning dead dinosaurs).

The stress at work is, as you’d expect, utterly dreadful. All shops are busy at this time of year and bookstores suffer even more because we get some very stupid people in who never set foot in a bookshop except at Christmas to buy a present. This means they have not the faintest idea of how to find anything. Even the alphabet is a mystery to these dullards as the concept of ‘authors A-Z’ means nothing to them as they try to find the new John Grisham under ‘B’. Obviously we’d normally try to help someone like this but at this time of year with vast queues and a phone that rings off the hook and massive amounts of stock to be sorted, arranged and constantly tidied and arranged we simply don’t have enough free people to help many of them. Then there are the idiots who just ignore the fact it is Xmas and try to come up to the busiest till points in the whole store with a huge list of titles and get very shirty when we tell them there is no way we can help them look up a list of twenty obscure college books a few days before Xmas. One such customer complained loudly to a colleague only yesterday that this was ‘terrible customer service’. She pointed to the enormous queue of people behind him he was holding up and tried to explain to him that this close to Xmas we simply can’t do these sorts of things that we would normally be happy to help with and as they were college books could he come back a few days after Xmas when it was quieter? After all the colleges are closed… So of course he storms out.

Then there are the dreadful Old People Brigades. How a bookseller’s heart sinks when he has a massive queue of impatient Xmas shoppers who have left it all too late and are blaming the underpaid shop assistants for their own tardiness and then they have an Old Person Wanting Book Tokens at the head of the line. This most dreaded category of customers almost always wants an odd amount of tokens. No ten or twenty pound one, they must have eight or twelve or seven, which necessitates a much longer time to count out single vouchers t o make up the amount rather than a single denomination. They will then have to have the difference between our own gift vouchers and book tokens explained to them four or five times in increasingly loud, exasperated voices. When they come to pick a card they will take ages, carefully sorting through each card several times, taking them out, looking them over and always, always checking out the inside even although all of them are blank inside. They will then, after discarding ten or twenty designs mutter ‘is this all?’ before disparaging all of the cards and muttering loudly about the paucity of the cards on offer. When, after several minutes of this charade, with twenty people standing impatiently behind the Old Person waiting to be served, you try to goad them on by pointing out there are several designs including some simple blank ones if they don’t like the rest and that they are FREE they will eventually take one. You can’t imagine how much some people can moan over a fair selection of cards that are, after all TOTALLY FUCKING FREE, GRATIS, WITHOUT CHARGE! JUST TAKE ONE!!! And no, we don’t do fifty pence worth, granny, please learn the concept of inflation…Maybe we should sentence Saddam to work behind a bookstore counter every Xmas for the rest of his life. Then he would know the real face of suffering.

Still, it’s not all bad as the lovely Nicola at Gollancz sent me a copy of Richard Morgan’s next book (due March, expect rave reviews in the Alien) and the new Rob Grant novel. We’ve got Rob coming back for a return visit in January and after a little wrangling I ensured the event is in our branch and not the fancy bigger Edinburgh branch which has been getting all my suggested authors of late, despite the impoverished nature of their SF section. Rob’s gigs have always been great in the past so I am looking forward to seeing him again, should be a good night. Now we just have to see about doing something for Newton’s Wake in February – we have had a good launch night for each of Ken MacLeod’s books for several years now and they normally end up with us all going off to the Victorian environs of the nearby Guildford Arms afterwards, with Iain Banks and Charlie Stross coming along for support. Of course, all being well this summer we’ll need to see about doing something to mark the first UK publication of Charlie’s excellent and unusual Singularity Sky (due around the same time as Iain’s next SF novel) and Mike Cobley and Miller Lau are interested in doing a joint gig for us in the spring, plus we have our now-regular little SF Book Group each month that Alex and I run – so at least there are some good times to look forward to.