THE BLOG

Save the London Book Barge

19/11/2014 13:28 GMT | Updated 18/01/2015 10:59 GMT

While I consider myself a spiritual person I don't really prescribe to a religion. My wife and I were raised in differing houses, she a religious one, and me in a non. Funnily enough now I have certain beliefs and she doesn't. Saying all that, I do have a point of worship. A thing I devote my time and money towards. That I couldn't live a fulfilled and happy life without. What I'm saying is, my religion is books.

Any books will do. New books are great. Unexpected little bundles with fresh spines, full of untouched possibility.

My real love though, are second hand books. Pre-loved tomes that smell a certain way. That outwith of the contained story have a narrative of their own. Sometimes if I'm lucky I'll find a book with an inscription, an old price sticker, or an airline ticket left as a bookmark.

Second hand book shops are better than new bookshops for the distinct reason that you never quite know what you're getting. If I was to go to the same Waterstones (still a fantastic place I love) over the course of a couple of weeks there's not much variation. If I was to visit a second hand shop over the same amount of time, the selection would be wildly different.

There's a certain thrill of going there. Will one of my Wish List books be there? Will I discover something new and exciting? Will the book I couldn't afford last time be there today? Or did someone find it hidden behind that cookbook that I reckoned no-one would ever look behind?

They're also cheaper. Depending on the shop I can get two or three pre-loved books for the cost of one new paperback. This isn't an indictment of the publishing industry, it's just simple economics.

So why this pontification on my love of old books? Well it's because this week I had my heart broken.

See if books are religion then my Mecca, my Western Wall, my Jagannatha: is Word on the Water, the London Book Barge.

While my religion has been a lifelong dedication, the Barge has only been in my life for the past year. My wife and I both do counselling (which we do separately. I said that to someone once and they assumed my marriage was on the rocks) near Little Venice.

One day I was watching my baby girl and I decided to have a little wander. I'd never ventured past the floating café but it was a nice day, and I wanted to explore.

We walked under the bridge and we came across Paddington Basin. Coffee shops, restaurants, and an amphitheatre all to be enjoyed. I said to my baby (who at the time was a gurgling new-born) "the only thing that would make this better would be a bookshop."

It was then I met Paddy Screech. He sat outside his beautiful floating palace of books stroking his cat looking like the most relaxed man on the planet. In the hand not on the cat he had a book which he was leisurely enjoying in the midday sun. Despite reading, within moments of me stopping he welcomed me and struck up a friendly conversation.

See the boat was moored outside the entrance to Paddington tube, so he had this rare opportunity for trade and stock. With Paddington being a somewhat transient destination you have a massively varied selection of people coming through. Tourists both international and domestic will walk by the barge and want to deposit or purchase travelling reads.

Because of the nature of books you don't always want to pack them on your journey so Paddy will get some amazing things into the shop.

Talking to him I realised this man wasn't running the shop to make money. Yeah, he and his business partner (a man named John, the cat was a lodger) need to eat; but they just wanted a relaxed life dispensing literature.

They charged two paperbacks for five pounds (or three pounds each) with five pounds for hardbacks. Kids' books are a pound, and you often hear little cries of joy as a child finds a new picture book. The guys would make extra effort to get stock for children as they know the importance of getting kids into reading.

Word on the Water also would pipe out relaxing Jazz over their speakers, as well as sometimes having live music and readings.

Essentially giving London a positive and beautiful tourist attraction.

I visited the barge every week and my wife was happy to see me taking around five times the amount of books I would buy. Whenever I was there I'd see people smiling at the sight of it, and more often than not excitedly getting something they've wanted for ages.

Whenever I could I would sit with Paddy and chat about everything from Science Fiction, cat owning to the Middle East.

So when he told me he was applying for permanent mooring, I thought it was a shoe-in. The Canal and River Trust had even used the boat in its press materials.

So we waited and waited.

And then they announced two permanent moorings had gone to British Land, the £12 billion property company. The same company who are developing half of London. Not only that but one of the boats is a coffee boat. That's in an area with five restaurants that serve coffee, a Starbucks, Pret and Poncho 8 who serve coffee, a fantastic independent coffee shop (love you Beany Green) and a café boat up the water.

So a petition has started. We the people are going to try and get the Canal and River Trust to see sense and let Word on the Water get a permanent home.

To give London a lasting bastion for literacy, calm and recycling. Somewhere I can show my children that bookshops are exciting and cool. Where my friend can make a living doing something good for the city.

Please sign and join the over one thousand of us who want to right this wrong.

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