Ada Lamb, PhD, has been in Toppings bookshop for several hours this morning, occupying her favourite sofa in the narrow corridor between Biography & True Stories, and Self-Help & Enterprise. The proofs of her bestseller-to-be, Dr Ada’s Guide to Leaving Academia (Vol. 9) are strewn across the two-seater, a teapot of the finest bone china is on the table beside her, and she is so absorbed in her work that she does not notice the people stepping carefully over her elegantly booted feet to get past. She has looked up only once that morning, when a member of staff approached her with a packet of gingernut biscuits and the suggestion that she might care to move herself to the armchair around the corner – an offer gracefully declined when further enquiry established that the biscuits were reserved for the staffroom and that the armchair was located in Humour & Jokes.
It’s very busy now, and the only free space is the cushion next to Dr Ada. A young man strides past her towards Critical Theory, pausing as he does so to drop something on the cushion next to Ada. At the same time, an elderly woman approaches from Popular Science. ‘Excuse me,’ she says. ‘Is that seat taken?’ But before Dr Ada can speak the young man is back, picking up from the cushion what turns out to be a keyring with a Land Rover key dangling from it. ‘So sorry!’ he says to the elderly woman. ‘That’s how I always reserve a seat, sorry.’ He drops the key back on the cushion and saunters away, hands in pockets.
Dr Ada is still brushing a few gingernut crumbs off her black velveteen jacket when she steps out of Toppings and into the brisk spring wind outside. The elderly woman places an order for coffee and settles into the warm cushion, and young man frowns as he picks himself off the floor and pretends to be reading a book on Derrida. Outside, Dr Ada saunters down Grayfriars Garden, pressing the key’s button to see which of the 4-wheel drives will beep as she goes.