Sunday, October 19, 2014
Locked in a Bookshop
He tweeted: "Hi @waterstones I've been locked inside of your Trafalgar Square bookstore for 2 hours now. Please let me out."
Waterstones replied "Thanks for the tweets today! We'll be back at 9am tomorrow to answer your queries :) Happy reading!"
Fortunately, thanks to the power of social media, he was released within a few hours. If it had been 25 years ago, when I worked at Waterstone's, the poor man would have probably still been there the following morning.
It was a good story, but less unusual than people might think. I've locked people in a bookshop several times and I know that some of my former colleagues have too. It's more easily done than you might think.
On each occasion, we walked around the shop floor shouting that we were closing, then started turning the lights off, beginning at the top floor. This was usually a foolproof way of forcing people downstairs, like moths to the flame, until the only source of light would be the street lighting outside.
But sadly some people failed to take the hint.
One poor man was deaf and didn't hear the annoucement, but I still wonder why the darkness didn't make any impression on him. Another man was foreign and, perhaps, came from a country where unlit, empty shops were the norm.
(Thinking about it now, it was always men who got stuck in the shop)
Another time, some members of the criminal classes deliberately hid in the shop and went to a great deal of effort to open our safe, even making a hole in the wall behind it. They failed. If they'd succeeded, they would have found less than £1000 in cash.
Once we'd twigged that shouting and darkness weren't sufficient clues, we became more vigilant and no further incidents followed.
But to return to the locked Texan, during the Twitter storm, several people remarked how they'd love to be in an empty bookshop at night and I remembered the times when I took advantage of having the key to the shop.
Sometimes it was just enough to be able to browse without being disturbed by anyone. But I also remember dancing on the shop floor at midnight with some friends, playing my favourite tapes on the PA system at full volume and, on one occasion, walking around in my boxer shorts, just because I could.
In another branch, the manager and her staff would often go to the pub until closing time, then return to the shop for a pyjama party, during which more alcohol was consumed until everyone finally collapsed from exhaustion.
I've also heard that a few customer sofas have been the scene of some decidedly non-literary encounters between members of staff.
Of course, none of this could happen today. These days, shops have digital CCTV and sophisticated alarm systems, so dancing in the dark, noctural nudism, midnight couplings and sleepover sessions are no longer an option. Even entering the shop outside trading hours would probably count as gross misconduct. How sad.
On the plus side, if you want to get locked in a bookshop, you can now feel reasonably confident that you won't stumble on any safecrackers, copulating booksellers or midnight bacchanales, so it's probably a good time to try. Just head for an upopular section like poetry or transport and keep your head down.
P.S - Please check the opening hours. An absence of customers and staff is no longer an indication that the shop is actually closed.