Bye bye bookshop

You are just like my cat.

Thus spoke a young woman in the bookshop the other day. I had just heaved myself up from putting a book away on the bottom shelf – no mean feat when one is quite so heavily spherical – and she had caught me exhaling perhaps a little too vociferously. I certainly didn’t feel especially feline.

The lady’s cat, it transpired, had just been pregnant. She said that as she herself was only twenty-seven, she’d never given much thought to being pregnant or babies before, but watching her cat get more and more pregnant had made her really think about it all. And, she explained, it was very funny because I looked just like her cat when she’d been about to give birth. She giggled slightly madly, and I could only feel grateful that she didn’t have a pet elephant instead.

It was one of the stranger exchanges to have taken place in the bookshop over the past few weeks. Saturday was my last day: now – with under two weeks till due date – the blissfully wide open space of maternity leave spreads out ahead of me.

A friend dropped into the bookshop on Saturday afternoon, and stayed for a little while, chatting to me in any brief gaps in what turned out to be a particularly busy day. This must be the nicest place to work ever, said my friend, who had been quietly and smilingly observing the various comings and goings over the past half-hour.

I could only agree.

And, though certainly tiring, it has been a particularly special place to work when so obviously pregnant.

The thing is, my enormously protruding bump has turned out to be an amazing signal of common ground, an open invitation for conversation. I imagine it’s not dissimilar to going for a walk with a very sweet pet dog. Everyone wants to come up and say hello, stroke or pat it, ask some questions, and tell you about their own. Of course, in a bookshop, one has conversations with customers all the time. These are, however, always about books, and while I am at my happiest chatting away with people about what they enjoy reading, it transpires that most people are keener to talk about babies.

In the bookshop over the past months, I’ve had at least ten conversations a day about having a baby. They don’t usually begin with someone telling me I’m just like their cat. A more standard opener is: ‘Do you know what you’re having?’ or, ‘Where are you having it?, ‘Is it your first?’, and – especially over the past few days, accompanied by looks of faint alarm – ‘How long have you got left?’

There have been other comments, which are rather funnier: ‘You are getting nice and fat.’ Or from one rather awkward gentleman, ‘I had no idea you were so, so … well …’ Um, pregnant? I eventually had to offer.

These are just opening gambits and before long the customer has launched into smiling reminiscences of their own pregnancy, or offered advice on babies and children. Over the end of the very hot summer I was given a great deal of sympathy while I was so visibly melting. Someone offered to buy me an ice cream and one lady advised me to time it better with the next one – she said that she’d had all her babies in the early spring so she hadn’t needed to turn the heating on all winter. I’ve been given all sorts of advice: from what sort of sling to get, to the pros and cons of routines, and, my favourite: ‘If anyone offers you any help, take it … always take it. If you say no to help with the first one, no one will offer you any help at all when it comes to the second.’

Sometimes there’d be a note of cynicism along the lines of ‘read/sleep/have fun/go to the cinema now while you still can…’ but any vague hints of the horrors to come have always been compensated for by a very tangible excitement and feeling of goodwill. The customers were always smiling as they left, wishing me good luck, all the best, asking to let them know how I get on.

I’m sure that some of them, with whom I’ve built up a bit of a friendship and rapport over the years are genuinely interested in my baby, but for many I think this strange happiness that comes with seeing the bump and talking about babies is more of a reminder of something universal and miraculous.

People have babies all the time. It is, of course, how we all came into the world. There shouldn’t really be anything so special about it … and yet it is – evidently –undeniably, unavoidably exciting and mindblowingly amazing. A whole new person is about to arrive in the world! A whole new life!

For many of these customers, their children are no longer babies. Parents come in and are usually rather fraught, with their scootering sprogs knocking all the books off the shelves, making a racket, demanding the sixty-seventh Beast Quest book. Or their children are teenagers, or going off to university – all so grown up. It must be easy to lose sight of the quiet miracle of the start, when they are so tiny and helpless, all wrinkled and squashed, more like a frog than a human. Perhaps seeing the bump inspires a chance to remember this special time of newness, firsts, and beginnings.

The bump is such an obvious visible cue that it is impossible to ignore it, it is impossible not to think of a baby being just in there, so close to coming into the world. Perhaps seeing me heave my roundness around the bookshop is not so unlike the lady watching her cat fill up with kittens.

To return to this particular exchange … After a long account of the ins and outs of her cat’s birth, the lady said that I so reminded her of her cat that she’d like to give me one of her kittens. Somewhat bewildered, though touched, I politely declined. I explained that I already had a pet tortoise, who might well find it hard to adjust to life with a baby around, and the addition of a kitten as well would be a recipe for disaster. I could just see the kitten playfully pouncing on a terrorised Daphne, whose curious head would never emerge from her shell again. The lady seemed a little disappointed, but I think she understood.

As I left the shop at six o’clock on Saturday, looking especially spherical after having scoffed a great deal of cake – thank you dear bookshop colleague – and bearing flowers, cards, and a stack of books, just in case I find I am able to read while breastfeeding in spite of what the cynics warn, accompanied by the husband carrying a load of boxes for when we eventually manage to move house (let’s hope), I felt excited about this next chapter, and also very aware that I’d just experienced a strangely wonderful few months.

I would never have imagined that having a bump would prompt so many people to be so chatty, friendly and open, so full of stories and advice and excitement. Working in the bookshop has been exhausting, for sure, but as people keep telling me in an attempt to reassure me about the sleepless nights to come: you don’t really mind feeling so tired when something amazing is happening.

So bye bye for now bookshop … see you on the other side.

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24 Responses to “Bye bye bookshop”

  1. Kathryn Sanders Says:

    Em you write so beautifully I
    shall miss your posts. Now for the
    Next chapter …. Good luck and
    Can’t wait to hear the good news.
    Kathryn x

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • emilybooks Says:

      Thanks so much! And fear not … there will be plenty of posts during the next chapter, though possibly rather less eloquent and more erratic, depending on the sleep situation.

  2. genusrosa Says:

    I’m in awe over your next adventure. Words will no doubt fail…but that is just how it should be. :o) All the best to you!

  3. jaggedwithsophistication Says:

    Sounds so exciting! My housemates have a one month old baby, and he’s small and a bit helpless and of course cries a lot, but is definitely a little miracle. So, the best of luck with yours! 🙂

    Also, am eagerly awaiting the return (hopefully not too far off in the future), of the Walking Bookclub. I already miss the discussions.

    • emilybooks Says:

      Aww thank you! l too am looking forward to the return of the walking book club and seeing you there – I hope it will be towards the end of January.

  4. Maria Matthews Says:

    Every mother gets excited at the thought of another woman experiencing the joys of pregnancy and then actually holding your baby. I wish you and your baby many years of health and fun.

  5. Tiina M Says:

    Good luck Emily, hope all goes well! Discovered your blog only recently and have enjoyed reading it very much. It has encouraged me to read books which I hadn’t heard about and reread some old favourites. I live down on the south coast (near Bloomsbury in the country) so sadly can’t join in with the Walking Bookclub which sounds wonderful. Sorry I missed it at Perch Hill – perhaps Charleston one day?! Very best wishes, Tiina

    • emilybooks Says:

      Tina – thank you, I’m thrilled this has helped you discover (or indeed rediscover) some good and lesser-known books! That is the best thing anyone could say to me, as sharing the joy of these great books and encouraging others to find them is the whole point of the blog. Thanks! And yes, I hope the walking book club will continue its festival meanderings next year – Charleston would indeed be a real treat.
      Emily

  6. jobaileysunny Says:

    I hope everything goes well for you all and you enjoy as much as you can. We are really looking forward to the next chapter! Take care x

  7. Alan Murrin Says:

    Bye Bye Emily!

    kind bookshop colleague

  8. bmwillson1936 Says:

    Your take on this is interesting and the habit is something I share as well.

  9. Anbolyn Potter (@anbolynp) Says:

    Best of luck to you, Emily! It was so nice meeting you while I was in London. Thanks for letting my friend and I join in with the walking book club – we loved it.

    • emilybooks Says:

      Thanks! And it was wonderful to have you two on the book club – hope to see you if you’re ever passing through at the right time again. I hope you had a fun rest of trip.

  10. Lucía Ballbell Says:

    Great post. I´m spanish, but I have read this and i think that your write beautifully 🙂 greetings from Spain!

  11. Nella Logan Says:

    Hello Emily. Just learned from Persephone Books that you had a little girl! Welcome to Vita Rose and felicitations to the new parents.

    • emilybooks Says:

      Thank you so much! Yes Vita arrived 12 days ago now – and is wonderful. Though there seems to be time to do little more than feed and nap…

  12. JAR Says:

    Emily, wishing you all the best. There truly is nothing more miraculous than a baby.
    The most important thing is to have faith in yourself and your husband as parents, and to try and go with the flow. More easily said than done – but trust in yourself, and carefully choose the people whose advice you value, and I am quite sure that pretty soon, you will be able to breastfeed and read at the same time. So important for one’s sanity – even at the price of reading aloud so you don’t feel you’re ignoring the baby!!

    • emilybooks Says:

      Thank you! And yes, I have just mastered the reading-feeding combo. Reading aloud is rather lovely, so long as it’s not during the night feed, when the husband would rather not listen to the latest Dorothy Whipple…

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Congratulations from a follower in Canada. All the best to Vita Rose (what a lovely name!) and also to Mom and Dad. Looking forward to seeing you back with your blog in the new year.

    • emilybooks Says:

      Thank you very much! And I do hope to post something soon – but my writing schedule has been rather thrown by feeding and napping…

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