We were out on one of our Ashburton shopping forays, when we decided to drop in at the Chertsey Book Barn. We had no intention of buying any books.
This is an old wheat barn that stands beside the railway track. Visitors pull up in the rough car park and then squeeze in through the side door. Once through the door it is almost impossible not to gasp. The barn is huge, and every square metre is full of second hand books of all sizes and genres. Heaving higgeldy-piggeldy bookshelves are crammed in throughout the yawning space. It feels that it might be necessary to unravel a piece of twine in order to negotiate the dim passages and find the way back to the light. One side of the barn is dissected by a partition, beyond which countless boxes of books loom in mountainous stacks right up to the roof – all waiting to be sorted.
We scarcely noticed a woman sitting behind a counter. This was partly because she was too busy to say hello, and partly because she was almost buried under boxes as she mined their contents. Instead we were met by a very handsome ginger cat sitting on a broken chair, who miaowed an introduction and proceeded to show us around. In reality he was probably pleased to see someone with hands available for stroking, who was not a book, or holding a book, or unwinding a piece of twine. I suspect his name is Zag. I only suspect this because I later found out that his brother is called Zig. Could be wrong.
New books are rather expensive to buy in New Zealand, so we were not alone in this place. As we plunged further into the maze, accompanied by our whiskered guide, we occasionally stumbled upon other explorers. They were browsing in corners, delving in piles, or sliding round battered tables and shelves, totally immersed in their discoveries. Zag was rapidly loosing interest as our hands became full. We negotiated children’s fiction, cooking, and medical self help, explored the room of fantasy books and then hunted for C in general fiction. This was not an easy task. The handwritten labels were visible and orange, but often obscured by height or…you guessed it…books. Eventually we came across the woman and the counter again, Zag having long since abandoned us for a much younger explorer whose mother was wielding a phone to take pictures. We had to pause a moment while the woman at the counter slammed a box down onto the floor, then we paid our dollars and squeezed out. She retreated behind a new pile.
“I thought we weren’t buying any books!” Said Hubby, clutching his hardback by Chris Ryan.