It took me a while to find this shop. Located in Park Street, it’s rather at the back of the all the main shops and streets of the town that’s not quite ready for the Olympics.
I stepped in – had I stumbled into Aladdin’s Cave? As soon as you walk into Books Afloat the main theme of the shop hits you like a crashing wave – everything screams the sea – you practically trip on a model ship (for sale) that guards the door, as well as the other boating memorabilia that invades you gaze, as well as the stacks and stacks of books. This shop is more like a treasure trove – hanging off every available wall space, including the ceiling, a whole paraphernalia of different objects, plates, figures, flags – and everything is for sale.
I headed through the labyrinth of shelves to the ‘Hobbies and Crafts’ section, and although it seemed to have every single hobby and craft under the sun, it didn’t have anything about bookbinding. The bookman in the shop was tucked into a cubby-hole type desk, framed by china hanging off hooks. It always amazes me when you ask a bookshop keeper for a certain book, and they seem to know automatically if they have it or not.
At the back of the shop there are more objects, but I didn’t look around here too much. There was good selection of old Penguins nestled among all the objects, brightening the room considerably.
Whole dinner sets were for sale, miniature boat figures abound. As you walk up the stairs you are surrounded by flags draped over the banister, heavy nautical-looking objects jostling for space with your feet on the stairs, and old wooden wheels. You get the distinct feeling, when climbing up the stairs, that you are actually stepping into a maritime museum. On the landing, a muddled display of even more flags, more model boats and more wheels just emphasise this feeling. That, and the various navy uniforms (for sale) hanging off the door handles.
Books are never far away. The room at the top of the stairs is stacked with books – nautically themed, all of them – and the model boats and other maritime objects are swimming in them. there’s an entire wall dedicated to Nelson and the British Navy.
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As I navigated my way through the narrow corridors, the sense of this place being a museum never left me. And in the front room, books are shoved to the corners to make way for painting of boats, a table weighted down with piles of dinner plates, and a whole get up of boaty objects with a steering wheel attached to it – as if you were to hold the steering wheel, you could sail the entire bookshop.
By this point I was getting incredibly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of – dare I say – junk that scattered crowded the rooms and positively drowned the books. A junkshop, a bookshop, a museum, Books Afloat is considerably muddled, all the objects and books jostling for attention, clamouring in vain to be brought. The shop itself was wonderfully unique and had a fantastic atmosphere, charming, and very entrancing. It’s definitely the kind of shop that a naval fanatic would absolutely adore. Everything, except maybe the fixtures and fittings, was for sale. An Aladdin’s Cave. Maybe the Olympics will see the shop welcome the attention it deserves. The books in this shop were most certainly afloat amongst it all.