I've written some derogatory comments about my seasonal customers, so it's only fair that I come clean about my own moments of madness. In my time I've managed to recruit a paedophile to work in the children's section (funnily enough, he didn't mention it in the interview), heckle one of my own author events (that lethal combination of stress and alcohol) and confuse Nick Hornby with a shoplifter (he is a shifty-looking man). However, there is one incident that still haunts me.
I was once approached by a woman who had written a book about her son, who had hanged himself in a local park a few years earlier. She had decided to write a book as a tribute to him and hoped that it would be of some comfort to parents who had gone through a similar experience. Would I consider stocking the book and holding a launch party? Of course I said yes.
A sample copy of the book arrived a few weeks later. It wasn't great literature, but it didn't matter. The author had endured the worst thing that any parent can experience and writing a book was obviously a cathartic experience for her. We'd hold a launch party, sell a few copies to her friends and that would be it.
For the next few weeks she made my life a misery. Had we received the book? Were there enough copies? Should she invite the Mayor or would I do it? Did I think vol-au-vents were better than sausage rolls or should I have a mixture of both? Should we have paper plates? Should she sign the book before or after the main speech? At one point I was receiving three or phone calls a day for several weeks, but if this woman was anxious and obsessive she had every reason to be so.
The day before the event a new Patricia Cornwell novel arrived. I asked someone to do a window for it and they came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea. They got a few dustbin bags and filled them as if a body was inside it, then after a trip to a local park, scattered a few dead leaves around the display. I was impressed. Unfortunately they ran out of time and weren't able to put up any posters.
The next evening, over 70 people arrived at my shop to attend the launch of a book about a person who died in a local park. As the approached the front window they saw a display which featured a corpse covered in dead leaves. Unsurprisingly, a couple of the dead man's friends assumed that we had created an extremely tasteless window display and seemed pretty upset. I was mortified. Stupidly, I had never made the connection which was now so obvious. I wondered whether I could get away with dismantling the window before too many people noticed, but every time I tried to edge towards the front of the shop I was stopped by someone thanking me for holding the event.
In the end I got way with it. The window lights were on a timer and switched off before everyone left. I am still haunted by the memory of that evening and the near-debacle that I only avoided by luck.
Back to the present and my delightful seasonal customers, today they became more desperate and impatient than ever. One intelligent-looking woman became quite angry because she couldn't find any James Bond novels. Had she looked in Fiction under Fleming? Of course not. Another customer asked us if we sold fishing rods whilst one insisted that we had two branches in the town. I suggested that the fact that we had a front and back entrance could be deceptive but no, I was wrong. There were definitely two branches.