My Hermione hell

Observations on Harry Potter

As the frenzy of publication subsides, some high points of Harry Potter excess linger in the mind. There was, for example, that Edinburgh masque, in which 70 children rode to the castle by horse-drawn carriage while parents lined the route under orders to "cheer J K Rowling on". Then, a minute after midnight, Rowling herself emerged in a cloud of purple-lit dry ice to read from the sixth chapter. Bar the leather armchair, it was pure Spinal Tap.

It is just possible that Rowling is amusing herself with this, making baroque publication-day demands in a parody of the rock star's backstage rider. But surely there are also signs here (her St Tropez-tanned poker-face; the portentous description of HP6 as her daughter's "ink-and-paper twin") that she is in the early stages of an Elvis-like megalomania.

That may sound churlish, but I have a grudge. At least all those fans chose to dress up as Harry Potter characters. Six years ago, on pain of instant dismissal, I was forced against my will to become a member of Rowling's travelling circus.

I was working in a wretched suburban branch of a well-known booksellers' chain (top-selling titles: Beckham's autobiography and, on the literary side, The Bible Code). Three weeks before Prisoner of Azkaban Day, the manager marshalled his staff of underemployed philosophy graduates to announce that we would be Dressing Up. "I, of course," he continued, caressing his paunch, "will be Harry. And Rachel will be Hermione. I'm thinking brooms, I'm thinking school uniforms, and I'm thinking live owls . . ."

The Potter industry was less bloated then, so mercifully there was no midnight opening: 9.18am saw me dressed in school tie and shirt, ankle socks and pleated miniskirt (art-directed by the manager), doling out hardbacks alongside a sweating 45-year-old man in small flannel shorts. An overexcited fan had already vomited on the maroon-and-gold carpet and 23 copies had been shoplifted from the front-of-store display. The owls, tethered over by the cookery section and tired of having their tail feathers pulled, were regurgitating a beige paste of putrefying rodent.

While hard-faced children clustered round the till, demanding to know about Nimbuses and Dementors, leering fathers addressed me as "you naughty schoolgirl" (which I'm sure isn't in the books). This was a bit much, even at my senior bookseller salary of £5.86 per hour.

This time, as I watched Potter fans worldwide indulging in an orgy of self-inflicted suffering worthy of the Desert Fathers - immobile for long hours in high temperatures, deprived of food and sleep - I knew that my own public mortification had stayed with me. Perhaps the Pope should endorse Potter after all.