Quintessentially English yet typically Scouse.
There’s a building on Liverpool’s Mount Pleasant, it’s full of books. Crammed from wall to wall, ceiling high full of books, an estimate places the amount of titles, from fictions to biographies via absolutely anything and everything, at around 40,000.
The interesting thing about this building is that it houses a 70-year-old man named Gerry in the living quarters above the old Georgian retail space below, he looks after the books, and for a long time the books have looked after him. Gerry Fitzpatrick is a Scouser of Irish descent whose meandering life now places him in his book shop which is much more than a business, much more than a job. It is a lifetime of passion for the written word and an insatiable appetite for meeting people from all walks of life.
“I was unaware of why I have this bookshop, but it eventually turns out that it is a medium to meet as many people as possible. I am just a temporary steward of the books for a short while. I just present them and make them available to the world and a little bit of cash falls out and that enables me to live, but I get to meet people.”
When you speak to Gerry it is easy to feel a slight inadequacy, it is as if he has consumed the knowledge of each and every title that has passed through his store. A short interview turned into a chat that spanned a full afternoon and the range of topics of which Gerry is genuinely knowledgeable leaves one pondering whether he has somehow managed to find a way to access his full brain capacity.
That is the passion behind the beautiful old shop front. A man who cares for each and every book, an interested soul who can’t help but read, no matter what the topic. At least that’s how it used to be for the man born and raised in the Baltic Triangle. Asking Gerry what books he enjoys reading now garner surprising results. “I don’t” he replies before adding, “I prefer to get my stories from the people that visit the store.”
There comes a point where you can read all about it, but you haven’t lived it. Hearing a story from another human about some strange land or exciting tale is what interests Gerry now. People from Prague to Ohio have stopped by with stories of their lives. Israel’s ambassador even paid a visit to escape the humdrum of the outside world, favouring the calm sanctuary of the book shop. The former seaman doesn’t approach someone unless they ask, he gives a polite hello and lets the person wonder.
After eyeing titles about Palestinian history, when the Arab-Israeli conflict was approaching its zenith, the political heavyweight walked up the cramped aisle and spoke to Gerry by the old fire where he situates his makeshift desk.
“These guys in black suits appeared at the door dressed in black suits, they were tooled up, headphones, mics, the lot! They had a car parked outside full of men and one guy riding shotgun with the window rolled down. His posse is outside in this armoured car and he’s in here looking at books,” said Gerry.
He continued: “The ambassador had been to address the Jewish society at one of the universities and it turns out he has a fondness for Liverpool, he and his wife are Evertonians. ‘Do you mind if I smoke?’ he said to me. I said go ahead and we both took out a cigarette, he said ‘Today’s World Anti Smoking Day’ then he lit up and smirked ‘It’s nice to be normal isn’t it?’ It was nice, we shared a moment.”
The ambassador came back two years later and sat by the fire with Gerry for a while, on his way out he turned and said “I’ve quit smoking by the way.”
Gerry acquired the shop almost 40 years ago but the history of the building goes on long before it’s owner began writing his own history. The shop building is the only surviving Georgian, purpose built retail premises incorporating living accommodation in Liverpool, erected circa 1785. It was registered under a Miss Sarah Beard in 1795, a dealer in tea and coffee. Quite fitting as we sat drinking our coffee where she would have done all those years ago.
Gerry’s tales aren’t all from books. He’s got his own stories having ‘read the world’ as a part of the merchant navy traversing the oceans to West Africa and back, bringing Fyffes bananas to the British Isles. As a 16-year-old boy Gerry was thrust into the seaman life, also travelling to America and touring the Caribbean on ocean liners and industrial ships.
“You’re in a cabin with a 65-year-old guy who’d done everything and been everywhere. You’re with another guy who is 45 and done a lot too,” Gerry fondly recounts.
Gerry attributes his vast knowledge to his travels, he said: “The only thing I can say about knowing things is that you just get very good at living. Something rubs off on you all the time.”
At this point, Gerry’s friend and shop assistant, Michael chipped in and agreed, he said: “He’s right, you don’t just read books, you read many things. You read the world.”
“I left a council estate and when you return from your travels your world-view changes completely,” Gerry concluded.
The charming, silver-haired man, emblazoned with his mother’s old silk scarf is like a walking encyclopedia. Any topic you mention, prepare to learn something new on it, something you didn’t even know you didn’t know. In truth there’s no need to buy a book here, as Gerry and Michael will almost certainly educate you if you visit. That’s not to say you shouldn’t buy a book. Each book in the vast ocean of literature in this shop is present as a result of the circle of life. One has to wonder when looking at the rare and random titles, where Gerry acquires this fascinating plethora.
“The movement of life. Births, deaths and marriages. Things get dislodged because of these things, books included. So when someone donates a book, or sells it to you, you’re there at an important part of their life.”
So there you have it, Gerry is the temporary steward of the physical embodiment of life. He is a man who made a pilgrimage in Oscar Wilde’s footsteps. Not bad when you have only popped in to have a look at the selection on display.
Address: 105 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool L3 5TB
Words and photos by the very articulate and talented Leigh McManus.