Click through to the best bookshop ever

I HAVE just been browsing in the best bookshop in the world, without leaving my study.

Aidan Semmens

I HAVE just been browsing in the best bookshop in the world, without leaving my study.

OK, I can't actually finger the volumes or smell that uniquely lovely scent of old paper, leather and dust. But it's still the world's finest shop, not just now but ever.

How do I know this? Well, let me give you a couple of examples.

Back in 1892 my great-grandfather, Isaac Hourwich, had a book published, not here but in America. A detailed study of the economics of Russian peasant life, it was hardly bestseller material, never likely to go through more than one limited edition.

You certainly couldn't have expected to find a copy in 1992 unless you were very, very lucky indeed.

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Yet I have one in my hand, in pristine reading condition, printed to order after I bought it online.

Then there's my copy of Pitirim Sorokin's eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution.

Again it's an American publication, never issued here, and this time it's a 1950 first edition. I could have waited until 2050 without ever setting eyes on it but for the internet.

As it is, I looked it up on Friday, bought it on Saturday and had it on my desk on Wednesday, all the way from a secondhand store in Michigan. And all for less than the price of last night's takeaway.

This is how buying stuff on the net should work, and when it does I love it. Sadly, it doesn't always turn out quite so well.

I've just bought a bed for the spare room. That is, I've had it about a week. I chose it - and paid for it - more than three months ago.

I've bought and sold houses in less time than that. There are people married now who hadn't met each other back then.

The guests whose visit it was bought for have been back home in New York for several weeks. In the meantime I've made about as many irritated phone calls to the suppliers as I've had hot dinners.

It started with an online “instant payment” that took 11 days to clear. Then they had to source the bed from the manufacturers; same for the under-bed; and get a mattress of the right size. Then they had to co-ordinate delivery of all these items.

Not that it was advertised as separate items at all. It was simply a 3ft guest bed with a 2ft 6in pull-out folding bed that stored underneath. Exactly what we required. As was the promise of delivery “within two weeks”.

It was just a day short of seven weeks before we took delivery. The bed was fine and so was the mattress.

When I tried to slide the under-bed under, it wouldn't fit in the room. It was the wrong size.

So began the second round of phone calls, which now involved the sellers, the manufacturers and two different haulage firms. All, of course, blamed each other, cursed each other and ultimately in some cases called each other liars.

Finally, last week, on the third or fourth time I'd stayed in awaiting a delivery, I took possession of the under-bed I'd ordered. It fits the space and it's fine.

But the delivery team had no instructions to take away the one that been wrongly delivered and had been cluttering up my living-room for weeks. So they didn't.

Another phone call. More blame-pointing and name-calling. I agreed to stay in one more time for the unwanted bed to be collected.

Except that it wasn't. Unwillingly lifting the receiver I dialled the number I now know so well.

“Is that Mr Semmens? Someone should have told you. It would cost us more to collect the item than it's worth. You can dispose of it.”

Well, thanks, I will. I won't be paying to have a perfectly good bed dumped in the Foxhall landfill, though.

I'm sure someone on the Ipswich Freecycle list will be glad of it.

For them it'll be just another example of how useful the internet is when people in the real world get their act together.

MY piece last week about Mahler and Wagner seems to have struck a few chords.

Duncan wrote: “Regardless of the history of a piece, it is its musical quality that makes it universally appealing.”

Or not, in the case of Wagner.

Elizabeth wasn't quite so sure. She said: “A work's quality should be slightly more important than its history. It is helpful and interesting, however, to know the reasoning behind the work.”

It's that little word “slightly” that gets me.

Crispin wrote me a whole essay, summing up: “It's probably possible to learn to enjoy almost any artistic style, so long as it isn't too explicitly or closely associated with things that really go against your principles.

“Maybe this is a bit like learning foreign languages and can help us access ideas that we wouldn't otherwise have had.”

Now that's an idea I'm glad to have access to.

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