Up There on a Visit

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I really should have known better. Young publisher I may have been, but I wasn’t completely wet behind the ears. I’d edited (and lunched) some pretty famous people in my time, and kept pace with an alcoholic crime writer who liked to kick off with a large one, though never before 11 in the morning.

It was the custom then, in the late ’70s, and still is for all I know, for editors to saunter forth from their ivory towers and visit bookshops with the reps, experience life at the sharp end of the book trade and so on. It was called being ‘on the road’ but tended to concentrate on large centres of population easily reached from London. Nothing could disguise the jittery bonhomie of the unfortunate rep chosen for this honour, or the loathing in the eyes of the bookseller forced to undergo ordeal by young puppy on top of the usual ordeal by rep.

On this occasion I was in Edinburgh, doing the rounds of Thins, Bauermeister’s and other shops no doubt long gone. Some months before, I had commissioned a rather opportunistic anthology of dirty verse, to be edited by a Scots poet and littérateur of some notoriety. We had never met, so it seemed a good idea to join him for a drink on his home patch.

At the appointed hour, 6 p.m., I turned up at a pub off the Royal Mile, still dressed in my meet-the-bookseller slate-grey corduroy suit. I had no idea what my poet looked like, but a quick scan of the crowded bar told me that he was the gravel-voiced party with scrubby beard and pink eyes. I was right. ‘The Grouse,’ he growled when I asked him what he’d like. Instinct told me he meant a double, and I was right about that too. I felt I should join him.

I no longer remember what we talked about for the next hour or two. I suppose the anthology must have featured, and I dare say the iniquities of publishers made an appearance. I was beginning to think longingly of my hotel room, only a few hundred yards away, reserved but not checked into, when he suddenly said, ‘We’ll eat.’ He led me out of a side entrance. Parked in the narrow street was a small car. Behind the wheel sat a woman, while in the back seat was a small, furious girl of about 12. Opening the passenger door, the poet motioned me into the back. Once I had squeezed myself in beside the girl he slumped into the front seat and waved us into motion. I had just met the poet’s wife and daughter. They had been waiting outside in the car for several hours. The daughter

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About the contributor

Mike Petty to his great relief, only visits bookshops these days as a civilian, except for the one at the Eden Project, where he works as Publishing Manager. Scots poets are rarely seen in his part of Cornwall.

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