Being pretty well penniless as usual, lunchtimes in the pub were almost non-existent, and a 3/- Luncheon Voucher just covered a cheap sandwich and some sort of orange drink from the little shop over the road.
But what to do with the down-time after the quick disposal of said comestibles (about three minutes)?
Well, as Damon Runyon would say, 'A story goes with it'! And it did!
A few years before, my dad had given me a copy of a paperback version of some of Damon Runyon's short stories, like this one: -
He was particularly amused by one story, 'A piece of pie', and it being very funny, the seeds for more were sown!
So, with 57 minutes of a lunch hour left, Scrobs decided to find out if there were any more books by the same man. It became a bit of an obsession, and talking in the present tense (like the stories), became a little boring for chums! It takes about fifteen minutes to walk to Charing Cross Road from Old Queen Street, and I used to stride out up Whitehall across Trafalgar Square and pore over the shelves of every second-hand book shop I could find, and there are quite a few!
One day, I was in one of the older shops, and asked the owner if he had any copies of any of the books, and he called down to his chum in the basement, who called back immediately. 'Got 'Runyon from first to last', he said. 'Ten bob'? So another three lunches went south and money changed hands. I remember him smiling and calling out as I left 'Harry the Horse to you'! Luckily I had some 'wit' left and came back 'Nicely Nicely', and we both had a huge smile on our faces, although his was, of course, much older!
A few weeks later, when I'd saved a few bob, I started the search again. This time I started at Foyles Bookshop, which is probably the best known bookshop in the world. Back then they had floors and floors of second-hand books, and all in various heaps, on hundreds of shelves, and stacked on the floor everywhere. It was an Aladdin's cave of the written word.
It took me several weeks of searching for the other main book, 'Runyon on Broadway': -
...and I'd got nowhere in any of the heaps, shelves, dusty corners etc., and was getting more than somewhat despondent, especially as I'd spent weeks searching for this book, with no result!
So, in final resignation, a weary Scrobs approached a friendly assistant, and asked, 'Do you have a second-hand copy of Runyon on Broadway', please'?
The assistant immediately looked up and around, and pointed to a shelf, 'No, but there's a new one in the violet cover over there'!
Scrobs experienced several emotions at once - dismay, relief, fear of the price of a new book and fury at not knowing that it was back in print so I had to buy it! It was far too much money back then (£2.10 - we'd just gone decimal), but what an absolute treasure to own! It's still in pride of place on a shelf of real books at home, having been read and re-read several times, and it still has the original dust cover. I think I'll eventually leave it to someone in my will as it's so precious!