Thursday, December 21, 2006


‘Do you have a copy of ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’?’ I asked the girl behind the counter at Angus & Robertson.

‘Er, the what?’

‘The Scarlet Pimpernel.’

The look on her face was evasive. She was obviously wondering if she was supposed to know what this scarlet pimpernel thing was.

‘I don’t know’, she said, slowly, and cast a slightly panicked gaze at the older man doing something else over at the till.

‘I think we’ve sold out,’ he said, glancing up momentarily and without any interest. ‘Check the computer.’

She began to move over to a nearby terminal, just as a middle-aged woman standing next to me asked another young clerk for the copy of the soundtrack to ‘High School Musical’ she’d ordered.

Any thought of the scarlet pimpernel (whatever that was) went out of the salesgirl’s head, like a balloon snatched from a child’s hand by a sudden gust of wind. ‘Ooh, I just love that movie! The soundtrack is just the best. My mother has it on, like, all the time in the car and we all just sing along! It’s so much fun!’

Salesgirl and middle-aged woman chatted gaily about the delights of the ‘High School Musical’ soundtrack, although neither was apparently moved to wonder why it was being sold in a bookstore. Eventually the salesboy who’d actually gone to collect it had to interrupt them to ring it up. The salesgirl watched happily as it was slipped into a paper bag, then paused for a moment, first reflect on the glory of ‘High School Musical’, then to recollect what she’d been doing before her attention had been diverted. The memory seemed to come to her at the same time as she noticed me staring at her.

‘Oh, sorry,’ she trilled nervously, and turned to the terminal. ‘What was it again?’

‘The. Scarlet. Pimpernel.’

She tapped at the keyboard, and stared at whatever it was trying to tell her as if she found it difficult to concentrate on any piece of information not directly related to ‘High School Musical’.

‘I’m sorry, we don’t seem to have it.’

‘Thank you for looking.’

‘Have a nice day!’

On my way out I passed the older man. The look on his face suggested that the only reason why the salesgirl wasn’t lying strangled in a dumpster was because it would require too much effort.


Anonymous Matthew Jarvis said...

I've always wondered why the chain bookshops insist on employing people who've never actually read one...

7:48 AM  

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