What had gone wrong?
I didn't have time to book a van, so I decided to spend a day there sorting through the stock and bring the best books back in the car.
When I arrived, the following day, the staff seemed philosophical about the closure. Someone told me that the sales had been declining steadily for quite a while and the business had reached a point where it was no longer making any money. They'd been given the bad news last Friday, with one week's notice.
But if the Lewes branch of W.H.Smith's is to be believed, some people are still buying books:
For example, in November and December 2000, my bookshop sold around 400 copies of this:
We sold six copies.
During my last day at the supplier, I saw thousand of celebrity biographies in a huge waste container. At some point they will be pulped and turned into something useful.
I must have sorted through 2,000 books yesterday and arrived home with just 350. I was covered in dust and the remnants of rusty water from when I tripped and fell in a waterlogged skip. I went to the loo to wash my hands and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.
I looked feral, in a vaguely post-apocalyptic way.
At home I had a bath and changed into my Lewes gentleman's clothes to attend the screening of a documentary on fracking. I'm ashamed to say that I knew very little about the subject until last night and only went to support a friend who had organised the evening. I'm very glad I went.
Here's the trailer:
Our friend was nervous about the event. She'd arranged for the director, Josh Fox, to present the film and answer questions afterwards. A few days earlier he'd been doing the same thing in Los Angeles. How would he feel talking to a dozen people in Lewes?
We arrived expecting a half-empty hall. Instead, we found this:
The documentary was an eye-opener. Until last night, all I knew about fracking was that it involved pumping water into the ground and fracturing rocks - a process that might cause minor earthquakes. I had no idea that the water that was being pumped included carcinogenic chemicals and elements that include benzene, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid, mercury, lead and uranium.
Even allowing for the director's bias, the scientific evidence seemed overwhelming. If we permit fracking in the United Kingdom, there is a very real danger that our water supplies will become contaminated as they have been in parts of the USA.
Before the film began, several people spoke passionately about fracking. I was most impressed by a very ordinary-looking man who said that he'd come all the way from Blackpool to warn us not to believe the hydraulic fracturing companies:
"They said they'd be able to pump the contaminated water back up and take it to the one treatment plant in the UK that deals with water like this. But the plant couldn't cope with such a quanity at that level of pollution. They were overwhelmed. In the end, they had to quietly dump some of it in the Manchster Ship Canal."
I thought of a BBC News clip that show children swimming in the canal, earlier in the year.
I'm not a scientist, but even my rudimentary grasp of the subject tells me that if you pump polluted water down into the earth and fracture rocks, those fractures will create fissures. Gravity will pull the water down into these cracks,at which point we no longer have any control over where it goes.
Of course, we can't prove that any future fracking activity in Balcombe will have an impact on the local water table. But as one person in the audience pointed out, the burden of proof lies with the energy companies to prove that fracking is safe, not for the protesters to prove that it's dangerous.
I will keep reading around the subject - I want to hear as many opposing arguments as possible.
In the interests of balance, here's a film from Chevron.
Has that reassured you?
I will not be buying a 'Frack Off!' t-shirt - I think that pun alienates as many people as it amuses. But unless the energy companies and pro-fracking lobby manage to put forward a convincing case, I will be joining the protest.
It has been a day a grim forebodings. A bookless future, drinking poisoned water out of methane-leaking taps. It sounds like a Kevin Kostner film.
I think it's time to watch another DVD boxed set.