I am alone behind the till. The BookSeller is out back, ostensibly checking the Reading Recovery books but I know he's just bought his son's Beano and the comic is not with me behind the till. A woman enters - purposefully strides through the door - reminding me faintly and perhaps not entirely pleasantly of Nancy dell' Oily.
'I want a book' she says. I wait breathlessly. 'It's a book I've read and I want it for a present. It's called Death in Venice, Lost in Iraq. Or something like that. Something that's alliterative.'
I type venice and iraq into the Bertrams search engine and surprisingly - or not - come up with zilch. So I say 'Any idea of the author?'
'No. It's by a journalist and it's a travel book. It's got Venice and Iraq in the title. Is Jon here? He recommended it and he would know.'
By now her attitude is slightly starting to piss me off and I get stubborn and say - oh foolish me - that he's unavailable but I'm sure I can help. I surreptitiously google it - she wants Jeff in Venice, Death in Varansi by Geoff Dyer. Of course. We have a copy in stock in Fiction. I go and fetch it for her.
She lets me get back behind the counter, fixes me with a challenging sort of stare from behind the completely unnecessary sunglasses and says 'I want a hardback copy of Birchwood by John Banville.' I point out it's unlikely we'd have the hardback in but the paperback is. 'Oh, but it's a present.' I duly fetch it for her and she accedes. This time I ca' canny, because I sense she and I have not finished this slightly tedious game of How can I annoy the shop assistant, hand the book to her and say 'Anything else?'
She is clearly a master at this. She shakes her head and continues browsing new titles. I go back behind the counter and she opens her mouth and says 'I want the book about pandas. It's for...' and she says it in a peculiarly strained, emphatic, meaningful way, 'My Husband's Best Friend for his 50th.'
This time I do know what she's talking about - 100 facts about Pandas, a witty amusing little jokey fact book, none of it true and perhaps not entirely amusing for that fact alone. It came in only the other day and I am only too pleased to once again traipse to the end of the shop and fetch it for her.
This is clearly the end of the spree; she gathers them into a pile and then asks me to permanent marker over all the prices. I make sure I do this in front of her - something tells me this is risky as the pen might slip and I might accidentally permanent marker her face, but I do it anyway. I put the books through the till - again stupid, as she then turns away for wrapping paper and birthday cards. Meanwhile the 3 ladies who've been hanging out in the bookshop after their morning coffee next door approximately 5 years ago come to the till with a grand total of £18.98 to show for their browsing. I have to over-ring 'Nancy's' order.
She deigns to come back to the till and this time I manage to get actual money out of her. The sunglasses are still in place. She leaves, barely acknowledging my strained and perhaps snarled Goodbye. Later I find out The Husband's Best Friend is actually Rod Liddle. Good luck to him.