But I collect Picadors and Bob has lots of them. Most are ones I've already got. I find myself looking at the Bs. Bob's got several Julian Barnes books – Metroland, Cross Channel, A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters and a few others. (It's nice to see A History of the World... in fiction; in other shops I often see it in history. Bob wouldn't make that mistake.)
Then I notice Staring at the Sun. Have I got that? I don't think I have, but how could I not have? Surely I've got all the Julian Barnes titles that were published in Picador, in the classic Picador (as opposed to the Picador Classic) look – white spine, black lettering. I check the B shelves of my collection in my photos on my phone. I don't have it. So what if it's £4? I've had a difficult day and here's a Julian Barnes Picador I don't have and it has a cool cover by George Underwood, who also did the covers for the editions I have of Before She Met Me and Talking it Over. I give Bob four pound coins and after a moment he gives me one back. I tell him it's the first time he's given me a discount and immediately correct myself because I do actually remember him giving me one once before.
'Happy birthday,' he says.
It's not my birthday, but I think he knows this.
I've only read one Julian Barnes novel – Before She Met Me. I didn't really get on with it. I would like to read Metroland and The Porcupine. I will, before long. Well, before too long. I've read more of his short stories than his novels. There's at least one excellent story in Cross Channel. Is it 'Experiment' or 'Gnossienne' or 'Tunnel'? I can't remember. There are some very good stories in Pulse, too. I wanted to put one of them in Best British Short Stories, but his publishers wanted more money and anyway he decided he didn't want the story lifted out of the collection. My favourite of his stories was 'Vigilance', which appeared in the TLS in April 1998 and was reprinted in The Lemon Table. It was about a Southbank concertgoer who loses his temper with another punter. There was something shocking about it, mainly to do with the use of the C-word. Partly it was the shock of the word being used in the context of a classical concert at the Southbank, but also the shock of the word being used by Julian Barnes. If you had asked me to name the contemporary British writer least likely to use the C-word, I would have said Julian Barnes.