I WENT into what claimed to be a record store recently."Do you have the soundtrack to The Piano?" I asked. "No," replied the man with that peculiar satisfaction which British shop assistants get from disappointing their customers. As this was the fourth place I'd tried that day I decided to ask him why. "Cos there's no call for it. You're the third person I've had to tell that to this week," he insisted. "What's happening? Are they re-releasing the film?"
We live in an age when you might think there has never been so much choice. Bookshops proliferate and most department stores now do a sideline in CDs and videos but the disappointing fact is that most of these outlets simply retail the same limited range of whatever's being hyped at the moment. Go into Blockbuster or Waterstone's and try to find a book or film that came out three years ago - and which wasn't considered a hit at the time - and if you're lucky they may offer to order it.
Of course it is true there are still more books, CDs and videos available to us today than anyone will ever have the leisure-time to consume but that is not the point. In a truly intelligent society we will each of us follow our own path. After listening to The Piano I'd like to have seen Jane Campion's previous film An Angel At My Table (1990) about the troubled life of leading New Zealand poet, Janet Frame. That might have inspired me to read Frame's more recent work which gets an impressive write-up in the Cambridge Guide To Literature in English. Alas, when asked, Blockbuster was uanble to track down the film and Waterstone's couldn't find any of Janet Frame's books in print. No call for them you see.
We are used to the notion of a fixed syllabus in schools. Within the national curriculum it's a very good idea to have everyone reading the same books, even listening to the same music and watching the same films. But on leaving school we should, in my opinion, enter into a bigger world where all the treasures of European civilisation - and a few films and poems from Down Under - are on offer to us.
Let's have fewer bookshops - and record shops - stocking a wider range. Less is sometimes more.