‘The Bookshop’ A monologue by Jess Boot-Cowie

The Rows in 1724


Sorry, Mr Garby, sir, but never again.  If he was to come back, I wouldn’t serve him.  Never again.  Not as long as I live.

It was a quiet one, this morning.  There were a couple of customers, no-one really special.  Old Mr Fortescue after more books for that grand-daughter of his.  A couple of farmers, maybe.  Then, just after lunch, as I’m keeping my eye on the clock, cos I’m thinking to myself, that’s when our master the bookseller’s daughter usually comes in and – oh, forget I said any of that, Mr Garby, and don’t tell him, I don’t want to lose me job, please sir? – anyway, just after lunch, it starts to rain. Really heavily, so of course, the Rows get fuller and there are more people bustling past.  As you’d expect, sir. 

Then there’s this almighty splash, and then a humongous shout, and everyone runs to the railing to see what is happening.  And you know, if it hadn’t been for our master the book-seller’s daughter coming in – I might have gone to look too, but I didn’t want to miss her, so I stayed behind me desk.

The bell rings by the door, but it ain’t her, just this grizzled old man.  He’s got one of those poncy-looking wigs on, all grey and long, and I remember his face cos he had this really long nose, sir.  Really long.  He’s coated in mud, too.  He stands in the middle of the shop, dripping water and mud and slush all over the carpet, and all I can think is – Mr Garby’s going to kill me.  I thought you’d be so cross, sir.  Then he points at me, all imperious like, and says “You, boy!” in this voice that just makes me think he’s rich.  And it’s been slow today.  So I think, “How many books can I unload onto him?”  You see, I was thinking in the interests of the shop, sir.

The actor gesticulating while performing
Jess Boot-Cowie

So I goes over to him, all bowing and scraping like, and he says “Fetch me some towels, boy”, so I’m all but licking his shoes, and I say “Of course, Mr…?”  And he says, “Defoe. Daniel Defoe.” 

Well.  You could have knocked me down with a feather. Daniel bloody Defoe in our bookshop.  The Vicar can call me ignorant all he likes, but I know the names of authors when I hear them. And Robinson Crusoe keeps selling out, sir, we keep having to order more in.

Bloody hell.

So I run and fetch him some towels, and help him wipe his stockings down, and pluck up me nerve. “Mr Defoe?  Why weren’t you walking in the Rows if it was raining?  You wouldn’t have got yerself splashed all over then.”

I have never heard anything like it, sir. The man must be what, four times me age?  And he yelled and yelled at me for, like, five minutes.  “The Rows are bloody impossible…. they’re dark and dingy… keep falling over…. uneven stairs… smell like piss…”

Well, it’s only when he says “piss” that I realise that there’s a crowd in the doorway, watching him yell at me.  And there are ladies in the crowd.  So I have half a mind to throw him out just for yelling “piss” in front of the ladies, but then I sees them laughing, sir.

And as this man, this great author keeps yelling about “smelling like piss” and “too dark to see”, one of the crowd calls out: “Yeh, but you still got splashed by the horse, and we didn’t!”

Well, that’s all it takes for the man to storm out in a huff, sir – with the cheek to take yer towels with him!  He didn’t say sorry, nor come back with them later. Just shoved the crowd aside and marched out, all glowering and cross. 

So now you’ve got three towels unaccounted for, Mr Garby, sir.  And our master the bookseller’s daughter said I was a coward for not throwing him out. So sorry, sir.  Looks like we’re both having a bad day today.