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1:50pm on Saturday, 28th October, 2017:

Not so Fair


I find it amusing that the P in NSPCC means "prevention" and the P in RSPB means "protection", and will occasionally refer to the National Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Children or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds when I'm in company who won't deem either too serious to be the subject of humour. What is serious — the fact that birds merit a royal patron and children don't — is rarely commented upon.

Anyway, this weekend was the annual NSPCC book fair in Colchester, so I went along. I was back forty minutes later having bought nothing.

In the past, I've bought many good books there, but the fair has been in decline for many years. The entrance fee is now £1.50, up by 50p, which I took to be a warning that they weren't expecting to make much money on book sales. As it happens, there were some people with carrier bags stuffed full of purchases, but there were considerably fewer people overall. This, coupled with the fact that there weren't as many tables with books on as in previous years, meant I was rarely in danger of inadvertently brushing against someone and so finding myself guilty of an offence that carries a three-month prison sentence in Saudi Arabia.

Usually, there are tables with books in boxes underneath them. This time, there were tables with no books on top of them. Most of the books were either outdated reference works, airport fiction or books purporting to be humorous that only ever sell for one year at Christmas. There weren't nearly as many of the old-time books as there used to be; I could have bagged some children's hardbacks from the 1930s, but am not currently contemplating writing any fiction set in that period and they were all written for middle-class children anyway. There used to be quite a selection of books over a hundred years old, but not any more; I guess the book dealers have a look through first and pick out the best ones.

I did come across an edition of Arthur Mee's The Children's Encyclopedia, though.

We had this when I was a child: my mother's parents (who were not well-off) had bought it for her and paid for it in installments. I did look at it quite a lot when I was a child, although its content was patchy; the last time I looked anything up in it was when I was considering which universities to apply to, and found that the sole entry on Colchester was a piece about the bypass. Also, it scattered articles around: I once carried three volumes of it to school because the three entries on frogs that it had weren't together. It was heavy, and always seemed enormous, but looking at it today at adult scale it doesn't look big at all. I have some fond memories in it, though, so I won't be throwing it out when I eventually inherit it (assuming it has survived living the past 25 years in her attic, although if they're only £15 for a set I don't suppose it'll matter too much if it's perished).

The Children's Encyclopedia has largely been made redundant by the Internet, as have books, as have book fairs.

"Book fair" is a great Spoonerism in northern dialects of English.

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Copyright © 2017 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).