Although it's only 13 miles away, I never go to Eastbourne. I don't really have anything against the place, but its reputation as a rather dull geriatric coastal resort full of nursing homes and dingy guest houses isn't a great draw. Eastbourne is reputed to be a place where people go to die.
However, today I woke up feeling restless and the word Eastbourne kept nagging me insistently (intimations of mortality?). I'm a great believer in following a whim so I decided to take a chance and drive there, even though I had no idea what I was was going to do once I'd arrived.
I'm glad I followed my instincts because today I discovered one of the best secondhand bookshops I've ever seen:
Only a few minutes' walk from Eastbourne Station, Camilla's Bookshop has three floors that are crammed from top to bottom with books. This area is just inside the main entrance:
And here is a photo of a small part of the labyrinthine basement:
The initial impression is one of organized chaos, but the sections are far more ordered than they look and this section of Penguin paperbacks is in strict alphabetical order:
Although these Pelican titles seem to be in a slightly more random arrangement:
The Pelican jackets are masterpieces of design and when I get the chance, I shall return and take some more pictures.
Sadly, like many local councils, Eastbourne's seems to be on a mission to deter people from visiting the town and I only had enough change to pay for an hour's parking. I resented having to cut my visit short, but perhaps it was a good thing as I could have spent a fortune. In the end, I spent a fairly modest £9.50 on eight paperbacks, including Ballard's Drowned World, Muriel Spark's Robinson and a title I'd never heard of, One by David Karp.
Camilla's Bookshop is a paradise for anyone who loves browsing and it's the antithesis of today's bestseller-driven chain stores. I can't wait to go back.
Walking back to my car, I was pleased to see this bookshop:
Two years ago, Jeff Doak ran one of the most profitable branches of Ottakar's, but when HMV Media bought the company they decided to convert Jeff's shop into a branch of HMV, as there was already a branch of Waterstone's in town. The staff were only given few weeks' notice and were expected to work up until the last minute, boxing up their stock to return to the publishers and other stores. To add insult to injury, they were asked to relinquish their Waterstone's staff discount cards.
After a period of uncertainty, Jeff Doak decided to open a bookshop of his own, using his house as security against a bank loan. At the time the general consensus was that he was taking a huge risk that could easily end in tears, so it was heartening to see that his shop was full of customers.
It's only a tiny shop, but somehow Jeff has managed to squeeze in a really good range of children's books and a coffee shop! The shop is bright, colourful and welcoming and if lived in Eastbourne, I'd be a regular customer.
I didn't see a lot of Eastbourne, but Camilla's Bookshop alone is enough to tempt me back. There are worse places to die in.
On the way back, I stopped at Beachy Head - the suicide hotspot of Southern England. The wind was so strong that I almost got blown off the cliff edge. I expect that some people would have assumed that I'd taken my own life. However, I hope that my bright pink Camilla's Bookshop carrier bag, bulging with eight novels, would provide evidence to the contrary.