It has to be said that there isn’t an awful lot to do in Alnwick on a showery Palm Sunday. After a quick coffee, (but no soya milk available – Mike was not happy about that), a whizz around the small market (a white Primula Denticulata ‘Snowball’ purchased – let’s call it an anniversary present [to myself!]), and a glance at the Tory election campaign billboard (the highly imaginative [not] and environmentally destructive: ‘let’s dual carriage the A1’) – we sought refuge in Barter Books.
Housed in the (now redundant) Alnwick station, this temple to secondhand books is surely the highlight of any trip to Alnwick. It beats the Castle and (contrived and gimmicky) Castle Gardens hands down. Rails and platforms have been replaced by shelf upon shelf of secondhand books. Each lovingly categorised and displayed with love and reverence, (appropriate for a cathedral of books). In an age when the Internet has all but killed off the independent bookshop, Barter Books is a beacon of light.
As well as the wonderful books, the warm welcome is far better than anything you’d find in any chain store. Roaring coal fires greet you in the former waiting rooms, now converted to snugs, perfect for perusing you chosen books. The old station buffet has been lovingly restored (and extended) to accommodate the hoards of hungry bibliophiles. High above the shelves trains on a model railway clatter their way round the store and on the end wall an artistic arrangement of neon tubes means that the sun is always shining, even when (as this afternoon) the rain was hammering down on the roof.
Best of all though is the sign on the entrance that proudly announces that ‘dogs are welcome’. What else would you expect from the place where the original (and now much reproduced and mimicked) ‘keep calm and carry on’ war time propaganda posters* were re-discovered? Dogs are the ultimate calming influence – much more so than children, and if they’re let in, why not dogs too? Zoly was in heaven. At almost every turn there was a new friend to say hello to and admiring glances and comments from the two legged punters. The only down side was that Mike kept wandering off to look at books (how inconsiderate), leaving poor Zoly angst ridden until Mike reappeared from behind one book shelf or another. Fortunately today’s separation anxiety was a fairly quiet affair (no barking and just a little bit of whining) – that’s Zoly I mean (not Mike).
What’s even more remarkable though is that Mike only purchased one item – and it was for me. Returning to the cottage I was presented with an anniversary gift, wrapped tastefully in a Barter Books plastic bag. The contents ‘Something Wonderful’ Bryn Terfel signs Rodgers & Hammerstein, is now playing as I write this. I can’t think of a more appropriately titled gift to sum up our marriage.
* The ‘Keep calm and carry on’ posters were prepared by the government in case of a German invasion, but as that never materialised they were never used.