Richard Knott: The Man in the Bookshop

The Man in the Bookshop

George’s Bookshop, top of Park Street,

The second floor. It is high summer,

The tall trees in Bristol’s Berkeley Square

Spreading pools of shade. His back is to me

And, although he is no longer gowned,

Dusted with chalk, or speaking sonorous verse,

Salivating with pleasure at Bridges or Arnold,

Spit gathering at the corners of his aesthete’s lips,

It is demonstrably the man we called

‘Raver’, aka plain Mister Lee; although

My mother, at parents’ evening, in her bright-eyed,

Artless way, called him ‘Mister Raver.’

I sidled around a pile of

Publishers’ remainders to get

A clearer view: it was emphatically him,

Largely undamaged by the passage of time,

Same gleaming cranium, as if his morning

Routine involved an enthusiastic rub

Of that convex dome, with furniture polish,

Or some transparent, slick wax. Glasses,

Tweedy jacket, sober tie and an umbrella,

Lest the weather turned ‘inclement’.

I should have spoken – it was perhaps seven years

Since he had stood before us for his farewell gig,

Ours was a world where the Beatles held sway,

Or Jagger, not Ruskin and Carlyle,

And we were entirely absorbed in contemplation

Of what lay in store for us. As always,

We let him indulge his taste for overacting.

What possessed me now to avoid the chance

Reunion? Who knows. At all events,

I slipped away, half-ran down the bookshop’s

Stairs and out into the sunlight. Relieved, unaware,

That the chance would never come again.

Richard Knott has written several books of modern history, notably The Sketchbook War and, most recently, Posted in Wartime. His book The Secret War Against the Arts is to be published next year. He is also working on his first collection of poetry. He lives in Somerset.