MAN IN THE BOOKSHOP

The man in the bookshop is famous but few who enter know who he is.

He is elderly, upright, astute and in some ways a literary genius.

Someone once compared him to the prince who could never be King.

Some people aspire to be who they are and to a claim to fame.  Others do not.

His name is Chris.

At least that is the name he goes by but it is more than possible that we know him by another more recognizable name.

Chris is in the second category.

The bookshop lies on the harbour front at Dartmouth, a picturesque town in the county of Devon in the south west of England.

Chris has worked at the bookshop for the last fifteen years.

The bookshop is small and crammed but there is not a single book on a shelf that Chris does not know.

He has found his vocation.

Chris is at peace with life and what he needs to do.

Chris carries a legacy no man should have to carry in life.

The legacy of fame which is directly attributed to you by someone else.

The perception of being immortal while still living.

Chris has socialized in literary circles with the likes of Agatha Christie, Barbara Cartland, Daphne du Maurier, Enid Blyton and even Jackie Collins.

Stephen King, Sidney Sheldon and C.S. Lewis  have come avisiting too.

He has never heard of J.K. Rowling.

Chris is not a celebrity but he knows what it is like to be famous and the cost of it.

Not everybody announces who they are when they visit the bookshop.

For the customer and for the bookseller, discretion is often the better part of valour.

As a child, he enjoyed visits to London zoo with his family from their home in east sussex.

His favourite animal at the zoo was a black bear cub called Winnie which had been gifted to the zoo a few years before by a Canadian cavalry veterinarian during the course of the first world war.

He was fond of feeding the swans and of saying a certain word in a child-like way that his father could not get out of his head.

He himself had a little teddy bear and enjoyed his childhood playing in the Ashdown Forest and the Hundred Acre Wood.

Little would he know it until years later that his Father would write childrens stories based around the childhood experiences of his own son and a honey bear which would have a dramatic and lasting impact on his life.

Odd perhaps that the certain word he had always said as a child (and still says from time to time) became synomous with the name of the bear itself and when anyone did something which was slightly accidental.  Oh pooh!

He would spend at least half a lifetime trying to come to terms with his worldiness and worthiness while living in the shadow of the character his father had created.

There was always a wry, whimsical smile on Chris’s lips whenever a customer came into the bookshop and asked for a copy of the book in which he was a featured character.

If only they knew.  If only they did.  If only.

The shy, stammering schoolboy he once was is nothing like the Christopher Robin character created in his Father’s stories but then fact and reality, they say, are stranger than fiction.

Chris was in his teens when the real life Winnie Honey Bear sadly passed away in 1934.

He can, however, still recall the last time he himself saw Winnie alive a couple of years after his father published the stories.

It was poignant and touching.

Just as it was two years ago when he returned to London Zoo and stood for the first time in nearly seventy years at the spot where Winnie used to be kept.

Things are different now but the memories remain.

Oddly enough, he still keeps contact with the Canadian Veterinarian who first brought Winnie to London Zoo in 1916.

It was he who initiated the contact back in the early 1950s, a few years after serving himself in the second world war.

The two have never met face to face and with the passing of time and the considerable years of both gentlemen, there is no likelihood.

The man in the bookshop has found new fame as the model for the bespectacled, grey haired old man known as J.R. Hartley in a British television advertisement.

It is a role reversal of a customer entering a bookshop and the bookseller is oblivious to the fact that the man entering is looking to buy his own book.

It is only by virtue of the fact that the book being sought is out of stock and needs to be ordered that the bookseller finds out the name of the customer to be the same as the author of the book.

The man in the bookshop, Chris, for want of another name, has done his day’s work.

He will ride his bicycle for the short journey to his humble abode at a simple cottage which overlooks the Dartmouth estuary.

His own story has been respectfully told.

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