Paramount Books on Shude Hill in Manchester opens on Fridays and Saturdays only. The last remaining secondhand bookshop in Manchester city centre, Paramount Books is a link to the past in more ways than one. 'No mobile phones,' say a number of hand-written notices inside the shop. You wouldn't be able to hear yourself speak anyway as there is always fairly loud music playing. Today's mood is jazz, the unique sound of piano player Lennie Tristano. I've often tapped my feet here to Ella Fitzgerald, or been unable to prevent a smile forming as Louis Armstrong sings 'What a Wonderful World'.
The proprietor is pleasant and affable without being over-friendly. ('The appallingly over-friendly Roger,' a colleague once wrote of a particular publican.) You may browse in peace, as long as you like jazz (or classical). This afternoon I spot The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin (Picador) by Idries Shah. I know I already have either it or the companion volume The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin, but how can I check, given the ban on mobile phones? I learnt some time ago that unless I keep an up-to-date photographic record of my rapidly expanding collection on my phone, I'm going to be buying more and more Picadors (and Penguins, King Penguins and Paladins etc) that I've already got. I don't mind when it's a charity shop and the price is more like £2.50 and you know the money's going to a good cause, but in this case we're talking about £4 and the only good cause is keeping this bookshop open, which, when you think about it, is a pretty good cause. But, still, four quid.
I slip my phone out of my pocket. Lennie Tristano should mask the sound of my pressing the home button. I scroll through my photos to confirm that it's the other Mulla Nasrudin book I have, not this one. Back goes the phone into my pocket and now to the till I turn. The proprietor of Paramount Books has two artificial hands, of the low-tech variety. You give him your money and he pushes whatever change you need towards you on a tray that sits on the counter. Then, unless he's run out, in which case he'll apologise, he offers you a piece of fruit from the basket by the till. Today, unusually, the choice includes heads of garlic, but I opt for a banana.
The Mulla Nasrudin books are filled with very short stories, from five lines to a little over a page. They're charming, funny, wise and extremely well written. Everything a lot of so-called flash fictions are not. Shah wrote these collections in the 1960s, long before the invention of that awful term. When I get home I take down my copy of The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin. I had forgotten that it contains what I call an 'inclusion', in this case a single second-class train ticket (used) from Preston to Croston dated 1 October 1987. No rail-replacement bus that day.