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There's nothing very unusual about carrying objects around the street; most people bring shopping home, or take a bottle of wine to a dinner party. But under normal circumstances, few carry bookcases. In Edinburgh during the summer of 1998, this convention was suspended and the city was almost brought to its knees.
There are practical difficulties associated with carrying bookcases. Even when small and light, with only two shelves, they are usually a little thick to fit under the arm. And with the heavier sort made from solid pine or oak, there is no real alternative to carrying them hefted on the shoulder. On a crowded pavement even one bookcase carrier causes congestion. And on a sunny day during that summer, fully one in eight people were packing.
Furniture retailers, of course, were ecstatic, and rode the trend by advertising lighter designs and limited edition bookcases. Tourists were at first mystified by the hordes of perspiring locals bumping along busy streets, bent under the weight of a Georgian five-shelf monster bookcase. In time, however, they too were caught up in the fever and raced to get their own wedge of the action. A huge rise in urban head injuries was an inevitable consequence.
As with many original ideas, the bookcase mania began to die when it was subverted and altered. Some people began to carry books in their bookcases. It appeared an innocuous sub-trend at first, but it gradually became political. Young men would carry Nietszche or Jung as an intellectual offensive. Nationalists delighted in a cross-section of contemporary Scottish literary talent. Feminists found a new use for Germaine Greer or Andrea Dworkin. Slowly attention shifted from the bookcases themselves to their contents, and thus into age-old conceits and debates. An occasional pedestrian began to display their books on a shoulder, or even in hand. Bookcases became a secondary consideration, and indeed an inefficient way of transporting the few key volumes you required about town. In time, virtually nobody carried bookcases at all.
But visit anybody who was young in Edinburgh during that year, and the odds are good that they will have a favoured bookcase in a corner. And just maybe, on an airy summer evening, they occasionally carry it round the block. For nostalgia's sake, and a return to simpler times.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gavin Inglis is a computer guy and teacher based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He has variously been a handyman, busker, public relations executive, punk DJ and system administrator.
His previous publications range from Pinball Player magazine to Grunt & Groan: the New Fiction Anthology of Work and Sex. Gavin's gothic novel for grumpy teenagers, Mirror Widow, won the Instant Books competition at the 2002 Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Hypertext fiction by Gavin can be read at Bareword. He is a member of the performance group Writers Bloc.