This year, one of the many 'big' achievements I got to tick off my bucket list was to visit my first international bookshops.
Admittedly, they weren't in Bermuda, the Mediterranean or even France (that'll be next year/when I win the lottery), but I can't begin to tell you my excitement as I walked through the door of my first Irish bookshop and paid for a book with Euros instead of pounds.
At the time of writing about that particular bookshop I briefly touched upon the reactions of my fellow travellers, and their inability to understand why I'd want to arrange my exploration around the addresses of bookshops. However it's been a bit of a recurring question over the past two years (Happy birthday to The bookshop around the corner) and so I've decided to explain: everyone needs a hobby.
I don't collect stamps or have a football season ticket, I'm not a regular theatre-goer and my music collection's hardly changed since Blur and Oasis were mortal enemies, but all those things take time and money. They take dedication and – if you're going to truly embrace your chosen hobby – enthusiasm. Which is how I feel about my bookshop travels.
Lutyens & Rubinstein, my football club is Newham Bookshop, for drama I'll one day make it to Aberystwyth Arts Centre Bookshop, and for live music there are Big Comfy Sessions at The Big Comfy Bookshop – also for every one of these bookshops I can think of another five that could easily be swapped in.
On top of that I've met an amazing selection of characters, including Mrs Chicken, the fantastic Mr Fox, a psychogeographer puppet, my first four-legged booksellers Coco and Cassie, and in a couple of weeks I'll be telling you about a floppy-eared bookseller on a boat. You can't get that on the internet. Well, you probably can, but I'll bet it's not nearly so much fun.
These bookshop visits have also taken me to new (to me) places. From the Peak District to Winchester, Alfriston to Hebden Bridge, some are areas I'd not previously heard of while others I'd long meant to visit but never quite found the time. All have meant extra ways I've explored this amazingly diverse country I call home. And there's been a lot of cake.
Yes, there have been sad moments as I've watched the RIP list grow and even one of the strongest of bookshops closed, but on balance the highs have outweighed the lows. I'm sure most readers will agree I've picked up a pretty impressive book haul to help me remember all my adventures.
And what books I've found, including a long sought-after cookbook for a relative, and The Stand for a mere £1.95. Not forgetting the stories themselves such as All my friends are superheroes, or even The Name of the Wind which broke me for all other books for a long time to come.
I shouldn't have to explain my hobby, but I do so every week because like football, music or any other passion you may have, bookshops are a way of life – something that cannot be said enough.
Thank you for continuing to keep me company.
PS If you love bookshops as much as I do perhaps you'd like to join in and write a guest post?