The traveller slapped the package down on the table in front of me and said "I hear you're interested in new ideas. You should see this." I was actually a lot more interested in finishing my beer.
"It's called a book" he continued. "The idea is that it replaces those old bundles of parchments and scrolls. You can pack much more into a book, it doesn't blow away in the wind and it doesn't roll off the table."
I carefully put down my glass and unwrapped the package and took out this book. It weighed a couple of pounds, was about a foot across and an inch and a half thick. What I took to be the top and bottom surfaces were made of stiff leather and so was one of the edges. I looked at it. It did nothing in return.
"You have to open it. Put it on the table and fold back the front. That's how you get inside."
I put it down and folded back the front flap but the traveller looked annoyed.
"You've opened it the wrong way. That's the back."
I pointed out that I, like most people, was right handed. That means my natural movement is to pull with my right hand from left to right. If that is the wrong way to access this book then I thought there was room for improvement.
"Okay then ... pedant" said the traveller, "open it from the other side and you will be at the beginning".
So I opened the other end. It still didn't feel right but it was apparently the correct way to do it because the traveller smiled and pointed to the gold embossed cherub who came into view on the inner surface.
"See", he said, "It's got cherubs. It's approved by the Proper Church. You can't market anything these days unless it follows the PC standard."
It had cherubs. It had lovely gold embossed cherubs, beautifully coloured designs around the edges and there were lots of curly patterns too. Now my disadvantage here is that I can't read. I can recognise a good cherub when I see one but I can't read. Not much call for reading in these parts.
"Well, yes" the traveller admitted. "Not being able to read is a bit of a problem. Actually the book is written in Latin, for compatibility, and you and I speak English ... most of the time ... but this is rather a specialised market we're talking about here."
So I asked him how popular he thought these books would be.
"It's an agreed standard with black writing ... and gold cherubs ... on white paper. The Chinese did it first ... but they have dragons not cherubs. The Germans are backing the standard, although their letters are more fussy and complicated. Now we've adopted it. Caxton's in London are backing it so that's three major territories. You'll soon be able to read the bible in your own home."
Now my major problem with all this book stuff is finding time to do something new, never mind buying the book and learning how to use it. Life is too full already what with work and eating and sleeping. Don't people just want to go to church and hear the priest reciting the bible rather than have to do it themselves, what with all that searching through chapters?
"No, no. We'll soon get used to finding the information through the book rather than just sitting back and letting someone else tell us. Otherwise we just become a nation of pew potatoes. Mark my words ... books will catch on eventually. I reckon before long there will be a book in every village in the land."
I decided to leave him to it. My beer was finished and he showed no sign of buying me another so I wandered towards the door, practicing a casual look of withering scepticism over my shoulder.
"But it's got cherubs" he said ... cut off by the closing door. I made a mental note to go to confession tomorrow. All this new fangled hardware is perilous for the immortal soul.
[Cherub illustrations from British Library Flickr Photostream]