I toyed with buying the Kingsley Amis Bond novel Colonel Sun at the recent Lewes book fair; that's if you, or anyone really, is actually reading this blog. But let's assume you are. Anyway, I strolled up the road just now, intending to go in A & Y Cumming on the high street; I keep hearing there's a basement there with even more books, but once again this mythical basement either wasn't open, or just isn't there (and maybe never was). I had a look on the shelves anyway, and as usual didn't find much of interest (an Arthur C. Clarke novel apart).
And then on a whim I decided to go in the Fifteenth Century Bookshop, slightly further up the road. It's a funny, musty old place, laid out in a crooked fashion (and indeed in a crooked building), a wide variety of books piled high everywhere, with a usually scowling or at best disinterested French owner who sometimes sits outside on a stool puffing on a cigarette and reading the paper (I think his name's Pasqual). I've been in there lots of times, and always feel slightly guilty for doing so, like I'm disturbing his otherwise tranquil day. In fact I think that's how most people who visit the shop feel.
As a result of not feeling terribly welcome in there, it took me a fair few visits to notice the books he has behind his counter, a couple of shelves of modern firsts. And on this visit, what did I spy but a first edition of Colonel Sun. Bugger me. Had it always been there and I simply hadn't noticed it? Sitting there in the shop, waiting for me, for my interest in fiction to reignite? Maybe. In any case, it's a nice copy, clean pages, no inscription, and a bright jacket with only slight discolouration at the top and bottom where the plastic coating didn't quite reach – and not price clipped either. It was twenty quid less than the one I saw at the book fair, and I knocked him down a bit further too.
So now I have a first of Colonel Sun. And I even got a smile out of Pasqual. And the lesson here, as with the Secret Bookshop, is I should always turn to Lewes first when I'm looking for a book. Lewes will provide.
(P.S. I also won a first edition of Sebastian Faulks's 2008 Bond novel Devil May Care on eBay last night for two quid. So there.)