Many citizens of Scotland’s capital woke up on Saturday 12 May, looked out onto the dreary wet streets and returned to bed, or at least their living room for coffee. Not so for the book lovers of Edinburgh - who helped to raise volumes as well as buy them, and all in the cause of fighting global poverty.
From 6.30am a queue formed outside the Parish Church of St Andrew and St George on George Street in anticipation of the 10am opening of a famous annual Book Sale. By 9.45am the queue snaked past a couple of bus stops right down to St Andrew’s square.
It was like a queue for the January sales, expect silent and far more civilised – one man completed the morning crossword underneath his umbrella.
At 10am the Rev Roderick Campbell, minister at St Andrew and St George’s opened the door and the crowd flooded in. Those in the know headed straight to their particular subject interest. Newcomers who tried to duck under the external barriers to the paperback section were politely asked to find the back of the queue.
The sale is a landmark in the annual British fund- and consciousness-raising event, Christian Aid Week. Christian Aid is one of the world's leading relief, advocacy and development organisations. Backed by the churches, it works with those of all creeds and none to strengthen the poor and combat the root causes (as well as the symptoms) of poverty.
Many of those at the Edinbugh book sale know they are contributing to a good cause. But they are also their out of love of the printed word, old and new. Thanks to pre-publicity in the local press, the section with rare and antique books raised almost £3,000 in the first 45 minutes of opening.
One of the most beautiful books to be sold was an edition of Aesop’s fables with 25 hand painted colour plates. A signed watercolour The Winding Road by William McTaggart that had featured on the front page of the catalogue went for £3,000.
The book sale is Christian Aid Week’s single largest fundraiser and thanks to Convenor Mary Davidson and a huge team of volunteers each of the past five sales has raised more than £100,000.
But there was plenty for those who had rather less to spend – whole swathes of paperbacks to rummage through. Indeed, the variety of books available pleased one of this year’s two Patrons – Scottish author James Robertson.
"I know volunteers pick out some of the most rare and expensive books", he said, "but there’ll be others priced at £2 and hidden in a box that someone will come across and say, ‘Ah, brilliant, I’ve been looking for that for ages'."
Alan Grant, creator of Judge Dredd and this year’s other Patron also loved the variety. In fact, he confessed that what he really dreamed of was for everyone else to go away so that he could browse all day!
"Despite the advance of electronic media there is nothing like the feel of a good book in your hands," he said.
You can donate to Christian Aid Week 2007 online via this link. This year's education materials feature inspiring stories of how poor communities in El Salvador, Senegal and Afghanistan are growing a future in spite of seemingly impossible odds. With a bit more help they can make an even bigger impact.