Nothing Is Perfect

Quentin had been working with me for two years and took to the business with amazing rapidity . I should have known that, because he and I have much in common. He did as little as he could get away with at school, but, at the same time, he learned to play more than one instrument, created a band of his own in no time and later on he gave gigs, that is one-night-stands, for several years. We had bought a van for picking up books and Quentin borrowed it when he needed it for a gig. Quentin and Lynne married when they were 19 and 18 years old and they were the heart of the band. Lynne was the singer. They have been together ever since and they have one son. I have never done anything I didn’t want to do if I could help it and Quentin is the same. By the same token when I really want to do something I learn very fast just like Quentin.

Bob was a different sort of person altogether. However we both loved our children and wanted to do the best for them. But his ideas and mine were usually very different. Fundamentally, if something was very important to me, and Bob didn’t agree, I would put my foot down and get my own way. The well-being of my children comes before everything else including my husband.

My shop was my fourth baby. I had brought it into the world through my own efforts and risks. I was not going to let anyone stop it from being successful. Bob was at first delighted to see how well things were going. Quentin and I often went out to fairs or to buy books while Bob looked after the shop. He did very useful things that I did not want to do. He arranged the books in order so that they could be found easily, he did the book-keeping, something I loathed and he generally kept the shop in better order than I would have done and that made me happy. But instead of him leaving the rest to me, he interfered in a most thoughtless and unthinking manner which put the success of the shop in jeopardy.

One day Quentin and I came back one afternoon after two days away. As we walked into the shop I saw a pile of undesirable books stacked by the side of the counter. We looked at each other and groaned. Bob was just coming upstairs and said “What do you think of these books?” While I was trying to think of a suitable reply Quentin said “Why don’t you leave the buying to Mum. She knows what she is doing.” Quentin was spot on. Bob was not one to fly into a temper, he collapsed into a state of disappointment. What could anyone do with that? It was like taking candy from a baby as the proverb goes. I felt so sorry for him and I despised him so much all in one. I had no alternative but to speak sharply to him. It was the only thing that worked. He didn’t want to be in my bad books. I don’t like to use such tactics but the well-being of the family had to come first.

At another time I was offered an excellent library. I needed £7,000 to buy it. We did not have anything like that much in the bank. However, I had a bank manager who was very impressed at how well the business was going. I was pretty sure he would lend me the money. Bob said “No”. I took no notice and borrowed it. It was the best purchase I ever made. Some six months later when we were rather short of books again Bob said to me “Wouldn’t it be good if you could find another lot like those you bought before.” Once again I was dumbstruck. One of my favourite proverbs has always been “You can’t have your cake and eat it.”

Shortly after, I was away on a book trip and into the shop came the Master of Trinity, a delightful man who nearly became prime minister. He asked if Mrs Pain would come to look at some books he wanted to sell. Quentin was there and he went. He made an offer that was accepted and when I got back he showed me the books with pride. “You got it just right!” I said. The Master came in the next day to tell me what a delight it was to make a deal with my son. Quentin knows how to talk to anybody in any situation. He has that very useful quality of being sensitive to other people and their responses.

Despite these difficulties by the end of our first year in the shop we had saved enough money to put down a deposit on a house. I really wanted to stay in our house in Storeys Way, because it was on the market. But it was too much for us at that point. Instead we moved into Waterbeach, a pleasant village five miles away and there we stayed for thirty four years. Bob died there four years ago.