SANDPIPER'S RICK - a remaindered world


I once set foot in Trafalgar Books on the road from St.Peter’s to the station. The stock was unsorted but promising. The smell in the basement was however a powerful disincentive. Noel Brooks’ shop provided  a similar spectacle of clutter but the man knew where everything was, and in his capacity as a retired academic, could advise on substance and was unerring in hitting the top prices.

Another aspect of the book trade Brighton provided was the Remainder market. Dull furtive shops opened and closed on short leases dedicated to celebrity books on watercolour and tatting, film stars and waterfalls.  In Sandpiper Books however, the stock changed regularly and regularly offered academically respectable publications, over-stocks and one off publications brought over to the UK for Trade Fairs. The main attraction was however the Manager of the shop Rick Hopper, droll, opinionated, street savvy and very, very funny slouched over the till by the door, a fag floating between mouth and fingers. “Put that cigarettes out, young man” said one customer. “Piss off” says Rick,”it’s my Shop!”

I spent huge amounts of my salary with Rick, and any guest lecturers commissioned for the MA evening lectures usually had blown their fee at Rick’s before arriving at Grand Parade. He was eager  even assertive in making sure you bought the right publication. “What the fuck you want that for?...Put it back.”
“But Rick….”
“Put it back… it’s crap!” he would insist getting other customers within ear shot to scrutinise potential purchases more closely.
Close scrutiny of what Rick had to offer made me wise to the limited academic horizons of my colleagues at Grand Parade. One lecturer recommended  to his students a series of books which (not coincidentally)  were all in the front window of Sandpiper. What a photographer could want with Volume 9 of Monist Interpetations of History and Capital beat me. And, as I was to discover, him too.

The stock was shelved in wood fittings designed by his partner Fleur, who would always receive  a barrage of complaints whenever books fell off the raked shelving. “Fuck those sodding shelves,… where’s Fleur?”

Rick would always phone when a consignment of Da Capo books was about to arrive, and I proudly got to them first. Rick often gave me a good discount but it was mysteriously clandestine about the deal. I never sought a discount but always got one. I discovered later that his boss, Robert, disapproved of such customer policies.

As in Page and Holleyman, there was a dedicated space for what was selling best, and an adjunct where less conventional material could be found. Rick’s feature was the Bat Cave, a back room where everything was a pound. It was cheap because publications found there were unsellable to all but the totally obsessive. If you needed to invent an unlikely publication, it could be found in the Bat Cave, from esoteric aspects of salmon fishing in central Europe , early abuses of State Intelligence in China, and contour variants in excavated Circassion Burial Urns.

Rick came from the hedonistic circles of rock and drugs in the Sixties, and often claimed his abuse of the needle would get to him in the end. He claimed to have interviewed Helen Mirren for lead singer in a group with which he was involved, and gave first hand accounts of Jimi Hendrix, as a reflection of the Marine Culture of US Forces.

He took a period of time away from the shop in Portugal and relied on me emailing him accounts of Southampton’s football matches. He came back and recommended his replacement intended to discipline the flaky youths who had worked in the shop. Hamilton took over, a consummate professional too.

A year later the phone rang, and it was Rick saying goodbye. He seemed to imply he had had enough of illness and inertia. Whether this was just despair or wilful I was not sure, but within days, I heard he was dead. He always insisted on the most elegant Baroque music over the loudspeakers in the shop. His assistants used his absences to air noises which, according to David Plumtree, sounded like coughing up a Hair Ball.

I was always well received on arrival, not least when Rick drew me aside when he was about to collar a book thief, and I was to be part of a hastily arranged pincer movement.

“I’ll come from round the back, and if he panics, you block him while I jump on his back.” Fortunately the thief panicked and left a concealed bag of stolen books under the central fixture rather than risk escaping with his spoils.

Glad to have known Rick.