My Glasgow hotel had a sort of Rennie Mackintosh theme – at least, that is, until you got to my room, which seemed to have disappeared down a wholly different avenue of Scottish art – think Landseer in Monarch of the Glen mode given a makeover by Walt Disney. The bedside light also had the darkest and most opaque lampshade I’ve ever encountered – I swear the room got darker when you switched it on. Certainly couldn’t read by it. The hotel also stood at the top of the steepest hill I’ve ever seen – a mountain goat would have baulked at it – far too forbidding for a portly president – I walked round the (very) long way. So steep in fact that I couldn’t even bring myself to walk down it the next day. But, hey – it was by far the cheapest British hotel (courtesy of Late Rooms) I’ve stayed in for over twenty years: clean, comfortable and the breakfast wasn’t at all bad for a Scottish breakfast as interpreted by mittel-Europeans. And the coffee (which admittedly didn’t arrive until about twenty minutes after the breakfast) was really rather good. Not complaining. Not complaining at all.
Just the thing to set me up for an early morning visit to Cooper Hay Rare Books in Bath Street. I find Cooper grappling with Janette Ray’s adamantine rules about the only possible correct usage of the new ABA logo in relation to the posters for the forthcoming Edinburgh Book Fair (link to the right) in March. Problem seems to readily solved.
Meanwhile I’m looking at the books. The thing about Cooper’s stock is that all the books are in such lovely condition – no matter what it is – an expensive book or a cheap one, it can be relied on to be just the perfect example of whatever it happens to be. Purring with delight as I unpack his parcel just now – four charming and unusual nineteenth-century books for children, a beautifully bound copy of a Pickering edition of Bacon’s Essays, a John Buchan and a Lytton Strachey. Very pleased to have them – and very happy with the prices paid.
Cooper is another graduate of Smith’s of Glasgow – not sure whether he took over the antiquarian department from George Newlands, or George took over from him – but the official history of the firm apparently gets it wrong in any case. And now we set off together to the station to meet up with Marianne (Mrs Cooper H.) and catch a train to Edinburgh for the main event of the day – lunch with the Scottish branch of the ABA. Pick up our way through the Edinburgh tram excavations (how long has that been going on?) to Rutland Square and the Scottish Arts Club.
Open fires and a warm welcome – and what a good turn out – booksellers, spouses, partners, a few friends and even a couple of auctioneers. Alex Fotheringham full of praise at the outcome of our ABA meeting with the British Library recently. Puts in a good word about a young bookseller in the north. Alan Grant (Grant & Shaw) is there. My very dear friend Elizabeth Strong (McNaughtan’s Bookshop), one of our past presidents, is there. And another past president – Senga Grant, now retired as a bookseller, but still likes to be kept in touch on ABA matters (although, she promises me, she wouldn’t dream of trying to tell the current elected Council how to go about its business). Collector and scholar Dr Bill Zachs is there. The Ian Watson half of the John Updike Rare Books partnership is there (Edward Nairn not quite up to it today, but then he has turned ninety) – I swiftly make an arrangement to go and see them the following morning. David Brayford (Jay Books) is there. Larry Hutchison, another stalwart of the Scottish trade is there. And there – yet again – is that man George Newlands – the third time I’ve sat down with him in as many days. And Domhnall MacCormaig is there – I chat with him about Scottish independence, a good young bookseller on the Isle of Skye, and Domhnall’s own impending move to North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. He suggests we should have an ABA Book fair there. Challenging, I say – but we could call it the Book Fair at the Ends of the Earth. I think I’ll get the ABA Office to carry out a feasibility study (just out of badness).
An excellent and convivial lunch, thank you all so much for a delightful time. We all agree to see each other again in a few weeks’ time at the Edinburgh Fair – a joint enterprise which we put on in collaboration with the PBFA – and always the jolliest fair of the year. Just enough daylight left for me to saunter down to the bookshops of the West Port in the Old Town. Andrew Pringle’s away on holiday – shame to miss him (I’ll be back in March) – but I find Peter Bell still there after so many years. He entertains me agreeably and pithily on the woes and pitfalls of the modern trade – but is clearly still enjoying himself very much. Buy a few more books (another parcel just arrived and ready to open) – and then wander off to meet up with Elizabeth Strong, with whom I am staying. The only things I know steeper than the hotel hill in Glasgow are the endless flights of stairs up to Elizabeth’s flat in the New Town.