Sunday, 12 February 2017

Time for tea

Being traditionally British, I can be far too polite. I queue in all the right places, I apologise for everything and I don't like to put people out.

Which means I see the signs in bookshops saying "help yourself to tea and coffee" but never like to be cheeky enough to actually do so. If a bookseller offers tea I won't turn it down – I am British after all – but the thought of asking for a cup brings me out in a cold sweat.

Which is exactly the situation I was in during my visit to Toppings & Company in Bath when I finally plucked up the courage and asked for some tea.


You see, this was my third visit in as many days and I'd seen other people drinking out of beautifully matching blue and white spotted cups and saucers and I knew I had to do the same. Only I couldn't quite pluck up the courage to ask.

Admittedly, the first visit had taken place with a friend, so we'd mostly been chatting about the books and enjoying the beauty of this very elegant bookshop at what I came to think of as the top of the town. But on the second visit I was completely on my own (and kicking myself for not asking for a cuppa when I'd previously had moral support). I'd even seen other people asking for their own drinks. Maybe I suffer a little from anxiety – although I think of it more as excessive politeness – but I just couldn't do it.

Finally, on my third trip to the bookshop, having already been browsing for a good half an hour and chosen a potential purchase in the first five minutes, I approached a bookseller and asked about a cup of tea. He replied with a friendly smile, said something like "no problem" and went to get brewing. I continued browsing.

Toppings is a long bookshop, thin at the front then gradually opening out into a relatively large and inviting space, with an extra room at the back just in case you've not found enough books to buy already. I'd started at the front, where non-fiction lines the walls and recommends tables called to me. Rows of smart wooden ladders were the extra detail and this became another bookshop where I found myself wishing I could have a room such as this to use as my own personal library.

The recommends tables kept me for some time, and I found myself often returning to Tim Marshall's Prisoners of Geography.

Fiction takes up a large area in the back of the main part of the bookshop, with the cheerful children's section to one side so parents can happily browse while their youngsters are safely tucked away and entertained in their own right.

When my tea tray was delivered – and even more beautiful than I'd anticipated because it was mine to enjoy – I made myself comfortable at one of the tables with a pile of novels from the fiction recommends table (and the previously mentioned title) and began my dithering process. The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie kept drawing me in, but whether it was for the name, the cover or the promise of the actual content I couldn't say, and so I again accosted a friendly bookseller.

I'd seen a chalk board listing the staff's current reads so I knew McKenzie's book was being read by someone, it was an easy start to the conversation. Typically that particular bookseller was on their day off but it didn't stop us from having a good chat anyway. Which lead to more dithering on my part – should I buy the Veblen or return to the geography? No prizes for guessing how that question was resolved.

Topping & Company in Bath is a delightful place to while away a few hours, and given the lateness of its hours (9am-8pm) if I lived nearby I'd happily conclude my working day with a spot of bookshopping – I might even ask for another cup of tea.


Topping & Company
The Paragon, 7 Bladud Buildings, Bath,
Somerset, BA1 5LS
Tel: 01225 428111
@ToppingsBath

8 comments:

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    1. Me too! It looks even lovelier in reality.

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  2. I also love the tea set. Here in the US a cup of tea usually means just that, a cup with some lukewarm water and a teabag. This looks so inviting and comforting. I just reserved Prisoners of Geography at my library. I'm sure it will be a great read.

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    1. Oh! That sounds like a very sorry tea experience, at least you still get to enjoy the good book – I hope you enjoy it.

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  3. We went to Topping and Co. on the Bath bookshop crawl last summer and I think it was generally held to be the best shop. It was quite late in the day, so it was nice to sit down with a cuppa while we browsed and talked, and I really liked the wonderful selection of signed first editions with plastic coverings over the dustjackets. I bought The Muse by Jessie Burton.

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    1. Another bookshop crawl I couldn't get along to! I'm so glad you were able to properly enjoy the atmosphere there. And how do you like the book? I rely on your recommendations now so I'd be interested to know.

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  4. That is such an English story...I would be just the same...

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