The Story of a Bookcase: Way on High in Hay on Wye.


These days the book town of Hay on Wye is famous for its annual literary festival, as well as the large number of second hand book shops which are its raison d’etre, in the 80’s it was not quite such a commercial venue. Located literally miles away from anywhere an absolute sod of a place to get to, with no public transport link, a location for car owners only, or the privately arranged coach trip.


Back then , it was still a wild place to visit, safest to stay within the boundaries of the town, as vampires and werewolves lurked at night, and a small but particularly aggressive tribe of cannibals lived on an eyot in the Wye valley and many an unwary traveller ended their days as “Man Sausage”as they so quaintly referred to their prey.


Back then my sidekick T and I made many trips to Hay, which if memory serves consisted then of about 10 shops, dominated by the Hay Cinema Bookshop and the Castle. There were locations where books were left out on uncovered racks open to the elements, legend has it that once books were sold there by weight, but that is before my time.

AB7G66 Used books at Hay Cinema Bookshop at Hay on Wye UK. Image shot 2005. Exact date unknown.

AB7G66 Used books at Hay Cinema Bookshop at Hay on Wye UK. Image shot 2005. Exact date unknown.

Hunting for titles could be difficult as numbers were huge and sorting was primitive, for a time hunting was good, much of the stock was imported by container load from various locations but mainly the States, it was possible to find some quite obscure American piracies of pseudo erotic titles and their rip offs of Paris Olympia titles, but rarely the real thing. Particularly interesting items including  illustrated editions, published by The Pierre Louÿs Society, and The  Rarity Press and other privately printed items, often the poorly reproduced offset copies but occasionally books in small limitations with full colour illustrations by the like of Clara Tice and Alistair, at that time not in vogue, but rather beautiful and very cheap.


Because of the United States refusal to honour anyone else’s copyright up until the mid 60’s  a lot of material was just lifted from European editions and in those days in Hay it was relatively easy to find both copies and original material produced by the Obelisk Press and other Paris imprints from the 1930’s. The real treasure for me however were the foreign language books where I was able to pick up clandestine erotica published in French with relative ease and also very cheaply, simply because no one knew what they were.

To do a visit justice you needed several days, and as rooms were too expensive for me back then, in summer I sometimes took a tent but otherwise slept in the back of my Vauxhall Carlton estate, which i used to park in the large public car park on the edge of the town, which had the advantage of an on site toilet block. My favourite memory is of the time T and I arrived in Hay quite late in the evening, with only enough book hunting time to visit the Cinema Bookshop and stash a few titles for collection the next day, before retiring to our double sleeping compartment in the back of the car to “Spliff Up” and while away the evening. Next morning bright and early, having ignored the tapping’s and pleadings of the persistent vampires ( whoever thought of designing a monster that could fly , lift ten times its own weight but is totally incapable of breaking a glass window?).


After after the obligatory good morning “doobie”, I left T in charge of the kettle on our gas fired cooker, housed in the former bedroom now converted to kitchen in the back of the car, and wandered off to the toilet block, returning some several minutes later, from across the car park I heard the plaintive cry of “FIRE, FIRE” and espied T pathetically waving a tea towel at a rather aggressive jet of blue flame emitting from the open tailgate of the car, this image is forever etched on my mind and totally inexplicable, T was and is one of the brightest and capable human beings i have ever known, by the time I had stopped laughing and reached inside the car to turn off the valve on the gas bottle, T had regained his composure but not overcome his embarrassment at his bizarre reaction to the crisis, it is still possible to reduce him to a sulky silence by uttering the words”Fire Fire”.

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