Ex Libris

Where do our childhood books go? I know many of mine are still downstairs in the storeroom. Most though have gone. When we moved house 30 months ago I gave away 6 large packing cases of books to someone who intended to open a book cafe. I have not seen it open and I suspect it never will. That was a sad day for me. I rarely part with books. I have always preferred to own my own rather than use a library. I know the economics are stupid but somehow I just like being surrounded by books. The idea of a hidden library containing every book ever written appeals to me.

The childhood books are gone and in their wake have emerged growing and groaning shelves of books on business, natural history, local history, biographies and sports.

Each year Hong Kong hosts a book fair. Each year I vow to go and never have the time. I fear the crowds and the crush. And my patience does not extend to queueing for more than 15 minutes. With 950,000 people visiting the fair last year and more expected this year a visit is an intimidating prospect. Many people take with them suitcases on wheels, such is their expected haul. This year I again expressed a desire to go and being now all but retired I had no excuses. I did try to wriggle out but Mrs. H insisted today is the best day to go – just one day left and a typhoon warning in place. The weekend crowds back at work. So off we went. We used the Park & Ride option and I took my backpack rather than a roller-case.

I was alarmed at the length of the queue if this was a good day. However it was slowly moving. Well controlled the only point at which I was dismayed was when we arrived at what I thought was the front. Sadly it was only the front if you were with children or qualified as elderly. I tried to convince Mrs. H that we were elderly and have the minds of children but she felt it better to go with the compos mentis adults . That meant another loop around the bridge before we finally entered the exhibition centre. Entry was a miserly HK$10 for adults Рjust over a dollar in US currency, under a pound for you Brits. It rises after midday.

I headed straight for the stand with the entomology books. Straight is probably misleading as like all sensible (= stubborn) males I refused to use the floor plan, preferring instead to follow my instinct. I guessed rightly that a special interest stand would not be in a prime location and that we would have enough room to browse in peace. I was right. Eventually. The man in command was Yiu Vor, with whom I had previously corresponded by e mail. We chatted for a good half hour, I collected a number of books to which I was entitled gratis as a member of the HK Entomological Society and I bought a few too.

We veered off insects and on to fungi. I bemoaned the lack of a decent reference text on HK fungi. Yiu Vor promptly said, but no, there is a good book. It may not be here at the fair but you can get it. Now I was, I admit, sceptical. I had heard mention of this mythical book before and after telephoning all over the place I was fed up with being told ‘out of print’ or ‘unobtainable’, ‘not stocked any more’. Yiu Vor couldn’t remember the publisher but narrowed it down to two in his mind and promptly offered to walk me to their stands. Two minutes later the book was found. Three copies were on the stand so I bought two. A massive HK$99 price tag did not put me off and I was delighted to find them discounted to the book fair price of HK$79. So for US$20 I had 2 pristine copies of the text for the price of a couple of bottles of plonk. As a forced-teetotaler I thought that was a good deal.

We wandered further after thanking Yiu Vor. We found yet more stands selling books on the environment and natural history. By this stage I had bought books on ‘true bugs, fireflies, diptera / flies, bees and wasps, butterflies, a butterfly site guide, the Antarctic, my fungi books and finally a book on landscape photography by Ed Stokes.

The young people manning the HK Discovery stand were a real treat. Two had been to Antarctica and shared some of their experiences with Mrs. H, trying to allay her fears of sea-sickness, hypothermia and a lack of rice on board the ship. I “liked” their Facebook page on the spot and added two new FB Friends. They were enthusiastic beyond measure and spoke great English even though the website seems to be Chinese only.

What I took away from the fair was that though the number of people engaged with the survival and beauty of the planet may be small in Hong Kong, the knowledge, passion, commitment and energy are all abundant. I left a lot happier than I arrived. I do not believe I could cope with a first day or even a weekend day at the book fair. Crowds and I don’t do well together. But once inside the hall there was plenty of room to wander round, lots of bargains, some hard to find works on offer and a splendid group of people. So maybe next year we will go back……….. but only if there is a typhoon warning up!

My challenge now is where to put all the new books. As a temporary measure I have moved some of the less well-thumbed books down to the storeroom, where they now sit on top of others, gathering dust and hoping to avoid the humidity. Space has thereby been created for the new influx. My study bookcases are stuffed to the gills and I need a better solution soon. Perhaps the answer is to move into a TARDIS. Who knows?