Thursday, 15 January 2009

The new year heralded the demise of Shipley Art Booksellers, a stalwart of the Charing Cross Road, and a place where I found work, friendship, intellectual stimulation, and all manner of abstract sparks, for the past four years. Graham Ward has written an eloquent tribute on his blog, with anecdotes about Derek Jarman, Susan Sontag, and the Golden Cherub to name but a few... you can read it here.
Nancy Campbell is in the process of compiling interviews with the staff that worked there over the past 25 years. I am looking forward to reminiscing about Ray, a "Michelangelo with Araldite", who always stopped by on saturday mornings to show us the "stunning busts" of his gold coin collection, and wax lyrical about "the strongest of all glues", or Clement, the Durer-esque anti-digital German who liked us because we had a "pre-collapse of the Berlin Wall" atmosphere going on. Then there was Wendy Bevan, who floated in wearing Ozzy Clarke, looking for something on Flamenco, and who, last time I served her, spoke only in a conspiratorial whisper! The goat-like Ken Isaacs, who regularly came by, in an Arsenal cap, stroking his strong bearded chin, to sell us books, and poignently retold his time as an evacuee, and showed us his brass figurine bells... I shall miss the grandiose sight of Rodney Player, in his Fedora and fur-collared tweed overcoat, always appraising 19th Century French Art for something he must've not seen last time, and finding in Rowland, an intelligent, gentle, and sympathetic spirit. Barry from Any Amount of Books would often appear; "Greetings!", looking for something Gothic, or "that delightful book on corrugated iron churches..." and Anthony from Henry Pordes would always call in to say hello, bolstered for more bookselling after a surrepticious visit to the pub.
Although people make a place, I think that I will just as well remember the peculiarities of ladders that conversely, "should never be opened the right way, for fear of death!", the carry-on like arrangement of an Erotic Section on top-shelf (next to Animal Art), Ivor Cutler's stickers, of stacks of books that always seemed to defy shelving and defy the laws of physics in the way they arose on Rowland's desk, of feeling either like "the high stool" or the "low stool" depending on the kind of rigours you'd experienced the night before... When all the orders had been sorted, and random catalogues catalogued, there was always a period of "Shipley Pride", where we sat back (on the various heights of stool) and checked how many 20p after Rossetti postcards we'd sold for coffee money, then we'd go round to No.1 cafe, and come back with slightly wrong orders because we'd become involved in a banter and lost all reason! Susan and I often forgot that our conversations where audible to the customers, and often found someone suddenly laughing with us (at us?!) over our derision of posh kids going ski-ing in Bratislava.
It is no good mourning the past too much, but it is sad to feel that even in my lifetime I have seen London lose so much of it's character, from the end of The New Piccadilly, Cornucopia, Laurence Corner, Ray's Jazz Cafe, the Hammersmith Palais (where my grandparents went dancing), even the buses... and now Shipleys (where else would you find flames flickering dangerously in an ancient fireplace, warming those browsing the theory section?!)
We have photographs, and many happy memories, and there are still some special places in town, but I hope the future will still be flexible enough to accomodate the more eccentric (not necessarily money-spinning) places like Shipleys that make London London.

See also: London R.I.P, Lost London


Graham Ward said...

What a wonderful homily to the shop; it's eloquence and humour puts mine somewhat in the shade. Still, a testament to the ongoing spirit of the shop, from my time to yours; sadness upon sadness; and how clever of you to think about the shop furniture; so much part of the quirkiness. You do know that we were always going to replace that ladder, but it never quite happened. Somewhere in the basement, there was also a shelf which one of our erstwhile colleagues from the U.S. decided should be designated her 'memorial'; wonder if the little label still adheres there... A great tribute.

Phoebe said...

Thanks Graham - inspired by you! I'm sure the others will bring many more stories to the table. The "never quite happened" aspect of Shipley's is perhaps its quintessence! I don't think we ever quite believed it wouldn't apply to it's existance, however :(

J Catlow-Shea said...

This is beautiful, Phoebe. Thank you for sharing.

After reading this and Mr. Ward's tribute I am terribly sad that I never had the opportunity to visit.

MargOH! Channing said...

Hi Phoebe,

Sorry for the late post. I'm so sad about the beloved shop. The sign of the times is not a pretty one. There are so many vacant store fronts in NY, its sad. You are special and a wonderful writer, this piece made me cry..