Since on New Year’s day, at Topping and Company (in an as yet unburned hemisphere of the world), I was not tall enough to pull down I Remain in Darkness from where it sat squashed in next to its twin between Happening and The Years in the Biography section – and the rest of us were still dispersed among the rooms upstairs (except for Nela, who was folded over a book of what looked to be modified Garfield cartoons, and shorter than me anyway), I stood there waiting around in my habitually numbed out state for one of the two taller people in our group to come downstairs to help me out. And while I was half looking at the other books on the lower shelves, I could hear someone behind me talking continuously and energetically about what had to have been books and their authors, although at that stage I still wasn’t interested enough to follow what he was saying. Evidently, I had assumed there had been a conversation going on – although really one of those conversations in which two like minds carry on with each other in parallel, half to be overheard and half for self-comfort – but when I heard the main voice say that X (i.e. the person he’d just named) writes horror graphically, and in such an enthusiastic and thoroughly Scottish enjoyment of its own emphasis, I became curious enough to turn around and so got to see the teetering back of an unusually square, short balding man in a long, very rumpled beige coat, which made the deep brown, wiry U-shape of his remaining hair all the more striking – an eccentric if ever there was, I remember thinking then – perhaps even one that was occasionally homelessness or at least without friends – someone who needs to go into a bookshop or some other wide open, vulnerable location – that is, vulnerable to its denizens being harangued by people who are driven by the need to harangue. And so I began to look with some interest, now, at this small situation as it was stirring on this side of the counter, with the man still moving from one foot to another as he waited for the other to respond, and I couldn’t help but note, in contrast, the overly smooth because perhaps also startled expression on the face of his interlocuter on the other side, which is to say on the face of the younger and paler of the two men behind the counter (the other had his head down and shoulders forwards – clearly busy), who must not have been saying anything but a yes or a no the entire time the supposed customer had been speaking. This, as it turned out later, was the very same bookseller who, after I had bought my books from him with a card, flinched when I asked him for a paper bag and then turned his whole body to the wall where the bags were displayed to point them out – the 5p one and the larger one with handles for 20p – as if he were expecting me to blast him with my scorn. Of course – to be fair – even before I had bought my books, I had already been asking this younger bookseller about book vouchers, and he had told me, in what might only have been his usual quiet, stop-start, tremulous voice, that the vouchers were not delivered by post to the person unless they were separately paid for – and the whole time he had spoken then – which is to say, the whole time I had stayed in my place at the counter and, necessarily, responded to what he was saying – I myself had become increasingly nervous and hesitant in everything I was saying too, which in turn might have only made him more and more nervous, or rather, nervous straight out (whereas, before, he had only been gentle and quiet). All in all – as I remember thinking very obscurely at the time – even if it is the same old story of the bookish kid who persists in his dream of working in a bookshop despite its many awkwardly venal and uncomfortable social realities, this is still a very cooked up, complicated process of becoming nervous. And I can only say that, since I left the shop that day, I have been thinking somewhat differently about the short square man with the U-shaped head of hair, who might only have been trying to be encouraging to this younger recruit to the Topping and Co world, in his own similarly confused and confusing way.