One of our regular customers came in to the store yesterday. A perfectly nice, normal guy who pops in now and then, buys mostly non-fiction. He brought his book up to the counter and as my colleague put the sale through, he peeled off the price sticker. 'Oh, would you like it gift wrapped?' asked my colleague, as we do that a lot. 'No thanks', he replied. And then, deliberately but unselfconsciously, put the sticker in his mouth. Was it an absent-minded mistake, we wondered? Would he spit it out, with a sheepish smile or a slight air of surprise?
No. He actually chewed. And then, making eye contact and smiling contentedly, said 'mmm'. So that has set the bar defiantly high as the strangest thing I've ever seen a customer do.
Booksellers and customers alike are renowned for their oddities, but I rarely actually witness any Black Books-quality eccentricity. We did used to regularly host one of the show's stars (who is himself fairly odd) but in what is at heart a service industry, none of us would get very far by 'doing a Bernard'. Though who among us has not longed to crack open the red at 10am after a particularly demanding mother or fastidious academic.
And strange customers, well there have been a few. I particularly enjoyed the elderly gent who phoned the store and told the answering staff member that he 'needed some dick' without any further explanation. (Detective fiction it transpired.) The parents who insisted their eight year-old would enjoy Freakonomics while he trailed behind looking at his Horrible History, disconsolately. The Morningside Ladies, an octogenarian group famous in Edinburgh for their hellraising ways at book events which belie their demure outfits and aristocratic tones. Regularly thrown or carried out of launches, they are the living definition of 'all fur coat and nae knickers'. The excellent facebook group First Against the Wall is a great compendium of observations from booksellers around the world, and evidence that in spite of reward cards, corporate branding and fears of homogenisation, a healthy amount of eccentricity is still alive and well in the book world.
All part of the rich tapestry of life. Any booksellers have a favourite oddball customers?