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MAGAZINE SUMMER 2010 / ISSUE 8
WRITING IN TONGUES Stephen McCarty on Asian literature and its impact in the West
NEW WRITING by Edward Behrens, Soumya Bhattacharya and Rohan Kriwaczek
BOWLED OVER Mihir Bose on cricket books and his passion for libraries
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THE LONDON LIBRARY MAGAZINE / ISSUE 8
Stephen McCarty attempts a definition of Asian literature – an amorphous term that embraces several continents and a multitude of nationalities – and assesses the impact of the globalisation of the English language on Asian writers
CONTENTS 5 EDITORIAL LETTER 6 CONTRIBUTORS 9 OVER MY SHOULDER Novelist Patrick Ness on displacement activities, quiet time and his Library habits
A Fool Will Stay a Fool, a previously unpublished short story by Rohan Kriwaczek
10 READING LIST Historian and novelist Philippa Gregory selects the titles that have been useful while researching her new book
14 WRITING IN TONGUES Stephen McCarty on the invasion of Asian literature on Western literary sensibilities
16 CONFIDENCE A previously unpublished story by Edward Behrens
Yehuda Pen, The Clockmaker, 1924. Collection Vitebsk Regional Museum, Vitebsk.
18 SOMETHING OF NOTHING
In a conversation with Erica Wagner, Helen Simpson describes her preference for the short story over the novel, the challenges presented by her latest collection on climate change, and recounts her first trips to the Library
© Eamonn McCabe/Guardian News & Media Ltd 2007.
A new short story by Soumya Bhattacharya
19 NEW POETRY Poems by Sam Riviere, Clare Pollard and Philip Bentall
20 A FOOL WILL STAY A FOOL A short story by Rohan Kriwaczek
22 SHORT CUTS Helen Simpson on the versatility of the short story form
24 HIDDEN CORNERS
Mihir Bose on two of his abiding passions: cricket and libraries, and how he discovered some rare treasures in the London Library’s quirky but fine collection
Mihir Bose explores the Library’s diverse selection of cricket books
28 RESTAURANT LISTINGS 29 MEMBERS’ NEWS 31 DIARY
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FROM THE LIBRARIAN Once again, our summer issue of the magazine introduces some fiction and poetry into the mix, including contributions from new and emerging writers. The London Library has long nurtured the ambitions of writers from the earliest stages of their careers so it seems apt that we turn our attention to lesser-known names from time to time. We are delighted to announce that the Asia Literary Review is providing joint sponsorship with The Times newspaper of our celebrations to mark the completion of Phase 2 of our redevelopment project later this month. Though well established at its base in Hong Kong, the Asia Literary Review is as yet a relative newcomer to news-stands here. We welcome it with a feature article on Asian literature from its Editor-in-Chief, Stephen McCarty, who provides some insight into writers whose work can attract too little recognition in Britain. Members’ News on page 29 introduces our new Deputy Librarian, Jane Oldfield, and counts just some of the challenges of running a library on a building site.
Cover Image Atelier VII by Arturo Di Stefano, 2000. © the Artist, courtesy Purdy Hicks Gallery, London.
And finally, did you notice the letter from our Chairman that accompanies this magazine? Do please take up his offer of £50 off your next annual subscription for every new member you introduce who takes out full membership. In this way, you can help the Library recoup the income lost by HMRC’s recent decision to withdraw Gift Aid relief from our subscriptions at a cost to us of about £300,000 a year, and also help keep down the cost of your own membership.
DATE FOR YOUR DIARY: the Library’s AGM will take place on Thursday 4 November 2010.
Inez T.P.A. Lynn Librarian
Published on behalf of The London Library by Royal Academy Enterprises Ltd. Colour reproduction by adtec. Printed by Tradewinds London. Published 30 June 2010 © 2010 The London Library. The opinions in this particular publication do not necessarily reflect the views of The London Library. All reasonable attempts have been made to clear copyright before publication.
Editorial Publishers Jane Grylls and Kim Jenner Editor Mary Scott Design Joyce Mason Production Jessica Cash Researcher Emily Pierce
Editorial Committee David Breuer Harry Mount Peter Parker Erica Wagner
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Magazine feedback and editorial enquiries should be addressed to email@example.com
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Edward Behrens Edward Behrens was an editor for Channel 4’s twenty-fifth anniversary book, 25 x 4. He worked on Somerset House: A History, as well as Vanities, a history of powder compacts told through one collection. He is currently an editor on the art magazine Private View.
© Stephen McCarty
Philip Bentall was born in West Sussex. His past includes six years as a gamekeeper on the Sussex Downs. He is currently teaching courses in academic English while studying for an MA in Applied Linguistics. He is bilingual in Japanese. Philip has just finished his first novel.
Patrick Ness is the author of four novels and a short story collection. His ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy won the Costa Children’s Book Award and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, and was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. The final volume, Monsters of Men, was published last month.
© Debbie Smyth
Clare Pollard has published three collections of poetry, the most recent of which is Look, Clare! Look! (2005). Her first play, The Weather (2004), premiered at the Royal Court Theatre. Clare has co-edited an anthology for Bloodaxe, Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century (2009).
JOINED THE LIBRARY IN 1982
Mihir Bose is an award-winning journalist and author. He was the chief sports news correspondent for the Daily Telegraph for 12 years, and was until recently the BBC’s first sports editor. He has written 23 books including the first history of Bollywood. Mihir lives in west London.
© Alice Lee
Sam Riviere began to write poetry while at the Norwich School of Art and Design. His poems have appeared in various publications since 2005. He co-edits the anthology series Stop Sharpening Your Knives. He was the recipient of a 2009 Eric Gregory Award.
Helen Simpson JOINED THE LIBRARY IN 1986
JOINED THE LIBRARY IN 2003
Philippa Gregory is a historian and writer. Her novel, The Other Boleyn Girl (2002), was made into a TV drama and a major film. Six novels later, she is working on a book on the Plantaganets. Philippa also reviews for UK newspapers, and is a TV and radio broadcaster.
JOINED THE LIBRARY IN 2003
Soumya Bhattacharya’s internationally acclaimed memoir, You Must Like Cricket? (2006), was nominated for India's biggest book award. His novel, If I Could Tell You (2009), was a bestseller in India. Bhattacharya's writing has appeared in the Guardian and Granta. He is the editor of the Mumbai edition of Hindustan Times.
© Anthony Mason Associates James Stewart Photography
Stephen McCarty is Editor-in-Chief of the Asia Literary Review, based in Hong Kong. He was formerly Literary Editor of the South China Morning Post, and Associate Editor of Post Magazine. He has moderated at the Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival, among others.
© Derek Thomson
Helen Simpson is the author of Four Bare Legs in a Bed, Dear George, Hey Yeah Right Get a Life and Constitutional. In 1991 she was the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. In 1993 she was chosen as one of Granta's 20 Best of Young British Novelists. She lives in London.
Rohan Kriwaczek is a writer, composer, musician and Acting President of the Guild of Funerary Violinists. His second book, On the Many Deaths of Amanda Palmer, is to be published by Duckworth/Overlook next month.
Erica Wagner’s latest book is Seizure, a novel (Faber). Her other books are Ariel’s Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of Birthday Letters (Faber) and Gravity, a book of stories (Granta). She is the Literary Editor of The Times, and lives in London.
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JOINED THE LIBRARY IN 1993
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OVER MY SHOULDER Novelist Patrick Ness, whose young adult book Monsters of Men, the final volume in the multiple award-winning ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy, was published last month, reveals his favourite London Library quirks
How frequently do you use the Library? Once or twice a week. I live just outside London, so it’s a good excuse to come into town and do my displacement activities here rather than just at home on my own. What distracts you from your work? The internet has ruined my attention span just like it has everyone else under the age of 40 and, hey, is that a ball … ? How do you use the Library? Do you study books there or take them home? What is your routine when you visit the Library? I’m that certain type of member who uses the Library almost exclusively as a writing space. I’ve used the Library’s materials, of course but, for the most part, I tend to make sure my writing requires as little research as humanly possible. The Library for me is mainly a great place to have quiet time to write and, most importantly, meet up with other writers. Do you have any favourite parts of the Library that you tend to go to? I used to love being up by the owl, though that played havoc with the wireless connection, and then deep in the concrete bowels of the temporary Eliot reading room. Now, though, I’ve settled comfortably in the very pretty new laptop room to work, where there always seems to be a pigeon cooing soothingly just out of sight.
The author, 2009. © Debbie Smyth.
Do you generally use books on your particular subject from the Library, or do you explore other subject areas? Do you borrow books for pleasure as well as research? Books on a shelf are about as close as I come to any sort of feeling of universal wellbeing. Writers are either drunks or highly strung cat-ladies, or sometimes both. I’m more at the highly strung cat-lady end of the spectrum, and walking through a floor of bookshelves, regardless of subject matter, is one of life’s great cures for anxiety. What do you think is special about the Library? What does it mean to you? The comment book is reason enough to come on its own. I doubt there’s another one like it in the world. Imagine if the Académie française had a high-school blog. Extreme erudition applied to the
The comment book is reason enough to come on its own. Extreme erudition applied to the problem of the temperature of toilet
seats in the men’s loo.
problem of the temperature of toilet seats in the men’s loo. Wonderful stuff. Do you think there is a typical London Library person? Are you that person? No, thank goodness, much in the way that there’s no such thing as a typical teenager. Everyone here is atypical, often even anthropologically. Is there a Library neighbour you dread? Grunters, coughers? (No names!) I only really dread those neighbours who somehow think their magnum opus requires the workspace of three people. Every other irritating thing I’ve probably done myself and have no room to complain. Have you made friends or useful contacts through the Library? Yes, quite a few. It’s been an invaluable place to meet other writers in the process of writing, which is rarer than you think. And all different kinds, too: screenwriters, other novelists, historians, students working on dissertations. Lunch conversations still somehow tend to be about gossip and television, though. Has the London Library had any particular influence on your work? No, but then I do tend to write about alternate realities populated by odd creatures with strange habits and … Oh. THE LONDON LIBRARY MAGAZINE 9
© Anthony Mason Associates James Stewart Photography
Philippa Gregory, whose books include the bestselling The Other Boleyn Girl, chooses the titles she has found most inspiring while researching her book The Red Queen (due to be published this August)
My new novel, The Red Queen, is one of a series that I am writing about the Plantagenet family, the dynamic, ambitious and ultimately doomed line that preceded the Tudors. The ‘Red Queen’ of the title is Margaret Beaufort, mother of the first Tudor, Henry VII, whose determination, ambition and active conspiring put her son on the throne. The personal history of this woman is scanty – she has been neglected or reviled, as have so many powerful female historical characters. Memoir of Margaret, Countess of Richmond and Derby by C.H. Cooper (Cambridge 1874). Biog. Margaret. This is an overall view of Margaret’s life with good general historical background. It stands out for the lovely details of clothes, such as Margaret’s ten yards of crimson velvet for the coronation of Queen Anne; but it is fatally indecisive about Margaret’s date of birth, which matters so much to a novelist, offering the reader either 1441 or 1443, which does not sound like much but is pretty major when one considers that she was married at 15 or 12. Richard III: The Great Debate. More’s History of King Richard III, Walpole’s Historic Doubts, ed. P.M. Kendall (London 1965). H. England, Kings&c., Richard III. It is the great debate: was Richard III a hunchback monster or was he the last true York king? Thomas More takes the Tudor line, that a bloodstained tyrant (and cripple) was thrown down by the true heir. Walpole wondered … and thus started the only society formed to defend the reputation of an English king: the Richard III Society. The Usurpation of Richard III by Dominicus Mancinus, trans. C.A.J. Armstrong (2nd edn, Oxford 1969). H. England, Kings&c., Richard III. An eye-witness account of this event from an Italian visitor to London. If only he had stayed one month longer, perhaps we would know more about the fate of the Princes in 10 THE LONDON LIBRARY MAGAZINE
the Tower. However, it is Mancini who gives us the haunting picture of the boys playing at archery on the green and then disappearing into the Tower, never to be seen again. The Tudors: Personalities and Practical Politics in Sixteenth-Century England by Conyers Read (Oxford 1936). H. England. This thoughtful history shows Henry VII as a pretender to the throne but does him justice in considering how innovative he was when he achieved it. The Mysterious Mistress: The Life and Legend of Jane Shore by Margaret Crosland (Stroud 2006). Biog. Shore. A bit of a treasure: the only biography I have been able to find of the mistress of Edward IV. She was the heroine of a play by Nicholas Rowe and a character in Shakespeare’s history plays, and so is best known as a created character. This book describes the real person: a mercer’s daughter who was married off to William Shore, but whose marriage was annulled by the Pope, probably to oblige Edward IV, who seems to have loved her so much that he made her his only mistress and gave up womanising. Jane was not even her name; the playwrights named her Jane as they could not be troubled to discover her true name: Elizabeth. Elizabeth of York, Tudor Queen by Nancy Lenz Harvey (London 1973). H. England, Kings&c., Elizabeth [of York], c. of Henry VII.
This is an odd history book, in style rather like a novel, with lots of unreliable motivation and emotions but with some wonderful, suggestive details and colour. Bosworth Field and the Wars of the Roses by A.L. Rowse (London 1966). H. England. A classic: a thoughtful, considered examination of the period and the key battle from a hugely opinionated but beloved master. Richard III: England’s Black Legend by Desmond Seward (London 1983). H. England, Kings&c., Richard III. This detailed look at the times gives Richard credit for his spiritual and public interests, and shows his promise as a king. The Year of Three Kings, 1483 by Giles St Aubyn (London 1983). H. England, Kings&c., Richard III. A great title encapsulates this extraordinary year, which saw the death of Edward IV, the inheritance of his son Edward V, and the usurpation of his uncle Richard III. The Life and Times of Henry VII by Neville Williams (London 1973). H. England, Kings&c., Henry VII. This cites relatively rare and interesting material about Henry’s youth in exile and his consolidation of power, especially in his creation of a Tudor court. This founder of the most English line was born in Wales, raised in Britanny and based his court on European models.
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Photograph ÂŠ Paul Raftery
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WRITING IN TONGUES The shelves of your favourite bookshop may testify to a continuing Asian invasion – but not, perhaps, in a language of its own choosing. When is Asian literature not Asian literature? When it’s in English? Stephen McCarty, Editor-in-Chief of the Asia Literary Review, offers his views on the subject
sian literature, it appears to us at the Asia Literary Review in Hong Kong, came to a new peak of Western awareness in 2000, when Gao Xingjian received the Nobel Prize in Literature. In the decade since Gao hit his jackpot, what ‘trends’, if any, have we discerned in Asian literature? If there has been an invasion of Western literary sensibilities, has it been achieved by stealth? And is any attempt, from a Westernised perspective, to categorise Asian literature necessarily a patronising act of pomposity? After all, while English might be the language that unlocks a thousand deals for books published in it and sold at London or Frankfurt, indigenous cultures across Asia continue to enjoy booming literary scenes of their own design and may well be happy to remain ‘undiscovered’ by a mostly monolingual Western readership whose assistance is not required for their literature to survive. To try to make sense of this amorphous term ‘Asian literature’: what is it? Who is it? Does it even have to be written by Asians? Englishman David Mitchell’s novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010) is set in Nagasaki. Does that count? What connects an Alevi Kurdish poet and an East Timorese narrative non-fiction writer; or a Kashmiri novelist and a Japanese playwright; or contemporary Japanese authors such as Haruki Murakami and the new Malaysian star of letters, Tash Aw? Not much, probably, beyond the slip of a cartographer’s pen and invitations to the same south-east Asian literary festivals. Perhaps any discussion of Asian literature should in fact be a discussion of ‘literature’, with no awkward pigeonholing. Wena Poon, a 30-something prize-winning American novelist originally from Singapore, believes: ‘Whenever someone tries to say something broad about Asian literature they find themselves unhappily making a bunch of meaningless assumptions and categorisations about, in effect, several continents filled with people who often hate each other.’ Beijing-based novelist Lijia Zhang, author of Socialism is Great! (2008) believes that, until now, ‘the rest of Asia, apart from what was the British Empire, has had no literary voice. Miguel Syjuco was published only because of the Man Asian Literary Prize.’ (Syjuco, from the Philippines, won in 2008 with the novel Ilustrado, entered, under the terms of the competition then, as 14 THE LONDON LIBRARY MAGAZINE
an unpublished manuscript; more on that later.) Now there is another question that demands attention: what effect might the People’s Republic have on our reading habits? ‘China’s rising position in the world has made publishers and readers turn east,’ says Zhang. ‘There are plenty of works to satisfy such curiosity, works that reflect the sweeping changes as well as the conflict caused by those changes. Consider Wolf Totem  by Jiang Rong and Yu Hua’s book, Brothers .’ Zhang wonders if readers’ tastes in literature from and about Asia are shifting and finds an echo in the opinions of Xu Xi, Writer-in-Residence and leader of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing programme at the City University of Hong Kong, who appeared as an expert adviser at this year’s Philippines National Writers Workshop. ‘One thing I am seeing,’ says Xu Xi, ‘in the batch of manuscripts for the workshop, and in the work from younger Hong Kong writers for the anthology FiftyFifty , is a lesser engagement with what has traditionally been commercially successful, and more with what I would call the modern world in Asia. Literary prizes and publishing favour, for example, historical works like Ilustrado, Wolf Totem or The Piano Teacher , but what younger Asian writers seem to want to write has more to do with life as it is now, which is the instinct of literature through the ages anyway, in every culture.’ One imagines, then, that the ‘misery memoir’ genre exemplified by Wild Swans (1992) and Falling Leaves (1997) has run its course, although Xu Xi believes that’s not necessarily the case. ‘Wild Swans may be passé only because history has moved beyond the Cultural Revolution, but narratives of that era are still dominant,’ she says. ‘What’s different now is that there are so many more narratives, plus the fact that historical study is catching up and we don’t always take what the few witnesses of the past had to say at face value.’ The City University of Hong Kong’s MFA in Creative Writing will prove to be, Xu Xi believes, ‘a shift away from the known centres of the universe of English-language creative writing’. It is the only such programme in the world focused specifically on Asian writing, according to the degree’s website, although the medium of instruction is English. This again leaves us pondering the mastery exercised by English over reading and writing across
much of the world. Furthermore, convenient hook on which to those whose original output is hang the context of a book, a not in English have, since about marketing tag. Now you will the mid-2000s, been able to avail typically see one of two tags: themselves of the services of one about being banned in experts in a burgeoning China, the other, million-copy industry: translation. bestseller. Publishers need Su Tong, now represented something to say to readers by Hong Kong’s Peony Literary that will explain what’s going Agency, is the author of Raise the on in the book.’ Red Lantern (1990) and was the For the better part of winner of the 2009 Man Asian readers around the world, Literary Prize for his novel The understanding what’s going Boat to Redemption. Su writes in on generally means reading in Chinese, his native script. English. As Xu Xi puts it: ‘The Millions of readers in China are problem for Asian writers in unlikely to be wrong, but wider English has been this appreciation of Su now comes dichotomy between culture thanks to the talents of Howard and language (even though Goldblatt, doyen of translators English is often the primary from Chinese. Not that Su seems language for many such perturbed by any notions of writers and not necessarily a ‘impurity’ or fears that second language). However, something may be ‘lost in the globalisation of the English translation’ when his novels language in literature by Asians appear in an alien alphabet. has meant that younger writers And, with a much wider feel emboldened to tell their readership than of old to assess own stories, regardless of the Above, clockwise from top left: Covers of the Asia Literary Review, from spring 2010; winter 2009; summer 2009; and autumn 2009. his work, why should he? commercial marketplace.’ ‘A writer has a lot of fantasies, among them one about his Which means, in effect, that Australian short-story writer readers,’ says Su. ‘When he has readers in other countries in other Nam Le, who began life as one of Vietnam’s ‘boat people’, Koreanlanguages, this fantasy is wonderful and magical.’ Asked if he American novelist Chang-rae Lee, Vietnamese Midwestern feels a translated work remains his or becomes the translator’s, American novelist Bich Minh Nguyen, and Malaysian-Chinesehe replies: ‘A translated work is the product of a collaboration. Canadian novelist Madeleine Thien, all of whom might be You may lose something, but also gain something. When two considered Asian exiles, probably couldn’t give two hoots for languages interact there may be some chemical reaction – and any mother-tongue related identity crises when it comes to that perhaps is the mystery of literature.’ communicating through the written word. The world’s blossoming fascination with China has recently And where does that leave ‘Asian literature’? A clue might be seen Penguin set up shop in Beijing and Shanghai, publishing found in the selection criteria for the Man Asian Literary Prize, Chinese-themed books of all genres, in English. Beijing-based junior partner of the Man Booker. The fact that the honour, first Jo Lusby, Managing Director, Penguin China, and General bestowed on Jiang Rong for Wolf Totem in 2007, exists proves Manager, North Asia, believes that while ‘English-language that the (Western) organisers believe Asian fiction is deserving of readers are ready to read about other experiences and stories such an award. In its first three editions the prize carried a purse from other times and places’ in China, the default subject matter of US$10,000 and went to ‘the best Asian novel not yet published (personal, true stories of triumph over adversity) may remain in English’. This year the money has trebled and the competition unchanged for a considerable time. ‘There were many reasons is open ‘to all novels by Asian writers published in English’. The why the Cultural Revolution memoir endured for so long on official website continues: ‘The Man Asian Literary Prize will now publishing lists,’ she says. ‘Well-written stories from that era will be awarded to the best novel by an Asian writer, either written in continue to be published and read, because the 1960s and 1970s English or translated into English … With this new format, the in China are fascinating.’ And, as China gradually relaxes certain prize will be the first of its kind to recognise the best English ideological controls, what of the cachet that used to come with a works each year by Asian authors and aims to raise significantly ‘Banned in China’ sticker on a book’s front cover? ‘There is no international awareness and appreciation of Asian literature.’ cachet as such, but for publishers in the West it remains a English, it seems, is an Asian language. THE LONDON LIBRARY MAGAZINE 15
In the tradition of the London Library Magazine, this summer issue features a selection of unpublished writing, by both emerging and established writers
e peeled off his face; scraped away the work paint. His make-up had been thick, making something up over the wreckage of years, pasting over the cracks of his performance. It covered his face over to confidence, tided over any crisis. The act of painting, that of masking, was his ritual: an action acquired in his youth locking him into the atavistic movements of the stage: the icing on his performance before curtain up. He had not, unlike his younger colleagues, trained – he did not trust the rails into which training might lock his career; they were too confining. Charles, not unnaturally, considered his own talent expansive, not to be fooled into confinement. His learning, fitful, had taken place at a time when craft and skill had combined with tradition to reach what he considered its apogee. He had stood in the shadows watching the Greats, winging it when asked, himself, to perform; sometimes he felt he soared. The mirror, in front of which the indelicate scraping away of an artifice was performed, flickered between the stuttering light from bulbs. Its smoky colour, a glib reminder of a previous fashion now fumed into kitsch, obscured the protruding fact of his boldly haggard features. He had liked this glass; floor to ceiling, it lined his own bathroom. Stripped, he was strung with a vivid net of broken capillaries knotting his face closer to demise; he wore them boldly: he believed in them. On stage, Charles had won; had won them over – so he felt. His performance had blazed; he had employed the secrets only he, he could confidently say, knew, in order to reveal to the audience something real. He exposed the mere pyrotechnics of contemporary acting style, fiercely. It might have been – he dared not think about this – a trick. Backstage, away from the glare of his perceived success, the threat of discovery thickened like smoke; Charles tried to clear this, often with the purifying fuel from a hip flask. Such a top note flattered Charles into permitting himself moments of relaxation within his mind, connections to calm. Such calm was, rather than nurturing, desired. Outside, the corridor shuffled: it must be the technicians. These were not, to his mind, all that technically proficient. Hadn’t the follow spot failed to follow him tonight? What spots of commonness allowed such behaviour? Supported by tradition, such a form should not slip slant. He could not stand for it. There was much that Charles underwent for which, in the truer light of day, he ought not to have stood. Tonight he was sipping only water. He would pin his success on to something other; he would dismantle the character he had just acquired in performing rather than working at it. He would not bolster it into stiff immobility through permanent adoption. He would stay unfixed. He would need to be sharp when he went to greet his fans, themselves fanning the flames of his success. He hoped his newly watery state would not dampen their spirits. Falling to the spirit inside his flask might inflame any excitement outside, though he could not be confident things would move in the right direction. Borrowing attributes from his characters loaned him a sense of strength, the self-possession to get by; his problem, he knew, came when he felt the possession of that self slipping away from him. There had been no broker to fully delineate the terms of this mortgage – reaching the end of his script ran him out to homelessness. His character became worn, the tattered edges sometimes snagging on things smoother individuals, just as untrustworthy in their elusive, slippery way as this frayed figure, would avoid. They caught on the minutest of infringements; the scenario unwound. The split was the price he paid for assuming 16 THE LONDON LIBRARY MAGAZINE
others’ selves – it was a price paid with interest; the interest of others, an audience, some of them, even, his audience, watching closely from afar with the toxic pleasure disintegration accrues. It was not balance to which he enjoyed attending; he preferred the slants. There was a knock at the door. ‘We’ll need to be out in five, Charles.’ The voice was cheerful, young, going about its business. To whom it belonged Charles could not say. ‘No problem, darling,’ he richly replied. It was impossible to cut away from the thickness of his voice the fat of the period in which its accent was reared. He did not expect to be ready in five minutes. Nor did he expect that they would lock him in; he was safe in his dressing room. The sponge continued over his face; his hand shook. It might have been a pulse, a beat, of over-stretched stage excitement, the final coursing of confidence aroused by the rush of applause. It might be a flicker, a synaptic shudder, of old age, a movement that remained veiled even from the body that owned it, a stutter not owned up to. The make-up’s rainbows of grease glittered over the grey water used to dampen the sponge. Drops of water drizzled down his face, smudging patches, catching on the ledge of a wrinkle. This was not his favourite part of the job; he wanted it to be over. When his face came out from this hiding he was unsure how it would present itself, what blur of imprecision it would deploy. Throughout the process he practised the beaming smile he would wear, to wear away any criticism. In his youth he had not worried. He had been sure of his physical prowess, his beauty, unaware of its fragility; he had walked within comfort of himself. His hips had swung, his legs darting out, pulling away from one another, away from his body; they claimed more land than they were owed. His wrists had flicked with each step, beating out the rhythm of his silent soundtrack, marching out the tempi of his bright claim to superiority, he glinted in the sunlit world in which he walked. He had not, filled with lusty energy, relied upon his smile to win him praise. Sitting now, in the meanly appointed dressing room, his shaking hand poised above his cheek, his heavy eyelid hovering to closure, he chuckled to remember this shadow, this player. His face sinking to a form of aged femininity he chose not to recognise, he played like this no more. Swagger had been seduced away; ripeness had rotted; physicality shifted. It was an illusion, playing the game. Not the part on stage, that was his craft: that, he knew. The rest came about through belief. He knew that success’s support was invisible, untenable. He hoped he might be the one to catch it, thought he deserved success. Now in the shadows of his playful youth, he tried to do this, to make matter of airy nothings. His attempts were not unlike the games he played in the wings: eyes closed, world shut out, breathing. To focus on the breathing appeared to resuscitate his chances, invigorated luck, he hoped. Offstage, unseen, the breath changed: it became the breath of the world he wished to inhabit; it grew into the breath of the person he wished to become. The calm rhythm of breathing – in through the nose, out through the mouth, the internal column of air supporting the actor’s work – supplanted the syncopated mess of lived experience. He had founded his self on that strong column: in his youth it had borne him up. Today it was almost the same but had somehow slipped by a notch. Outside the theatre, at its back, was ranged a drab colonnade of ashen smokers, men, evenly lining an uneven ground, a territory of hope upon which they looked eagerly. They waited, watching. Theirs
letter box, sent out at least a week before the show, ready to flower on arrival in the red-velvet stalls of this quite marvellous little theatre. It had, as planned, come out with a radiant display. Its meeting of expectations confirmed to the pair how right they were in their knowledge of the performing arts, how good was their taste, how sweet their success. ‘Do you think he’ll be out soon?’ ‘Oh I do hope so, it’s a bit nippy now, isn’t it? And we might miss the table, we don’t want to do that.’ Moira would not mind missing the table. He stood, slowly. His legs shifting to find balance. Planted in the dressing room, his feet found the ground less steady than the stage. Without the rakish charm of a set, he found the flatness unstable. His streaked face wore its character well, strips of previous inhabitants hanging off its fabricated features. He breathed deeply in, searching for support from that internal column of air. There was a knock at the door. ‘Is everything all right?’ The owner of the unidentified voice sparingly opened the door. There, before him, stood Charles, his full exchange of selves apparent, the trade of playing visibly scraped both into and out of his tired flesh. ‘Fine, darling, everything is splendidly fine.’ ‘Let me lend you an arm.’ ‘Thank you.’ ‘Where’s your stick, Charles?’ ‘What stick, darling?’ ‘You know, the stick you came in with this morning, your stick.’ For a moment, Charles thought he was being spoken to as though he might really be a dog. It happened, recently, that his form was mistaken entirely. He had assumed it was the havoc of changing identity so often, a kind of vestigial chaos, that permitted others to witness in him shiftings from man to baby, why not to animal? Then he remembered. ‘Oh, darling, you mean my cane, my cane, darling – it must be here somewhere. It’s around. But never mind that now, I must get out to my fans.’ He wobbled against the arm that propped him. The young man manoeuvred him to the door and caught sight of that stick. He scooped it up and scooped Charles out. ‘Here you go, Charles.’ It was space to wriggle away. Charles managed the hint. ‘Thank you, dear.’ He loosed his arm and braced himself against the stick. He was ready. Watched, he worked his way down the corridor. The wobble loosened into swagger. Each step he took exchanged expectation for confidence. He breathed in the heady fumes, ready to be bellowed, of praise. Unsure of how bright this fire would burn, he had no doubt, however, it would be warming, even in this cool night. The corridor was narrow. Lined with the photographs of previous productions, all in black and white, it observed the strict hierarchies of self-inflated pride. Charles bruised up against the glass of the frames, hitting his own reflection, facing up to the precarious point upon which these frozen representations of artistic success hung. As he walked to the door, his shoulders settled, his legs relaxed; he grew into his height; he appeared, walking into his part, to have reassembled that atomised scent of success. Testing the spell, he turned to the kind young man at the end of the corridor. Upheld by his cane, the figure of venerable understanding, of lost years, stood, his face blooming pleasure. He was in the wings, waiting, holding off the charms he knew would come. He did not hide the vanity of his position; that his hopes were vain was invisible to him. In the confidence of obscurity he gathered his strength, summoned a self. Lingering, he pulled himself up to meet the mastering weight of his past; readied himself for exposure; he prepared. ‘Good night, Charles.’ ‘Night,’ he breathed out, ‘darling.’ THE LONDON LIBRARY MAGAZINE 17
had not been the privileged position of the audience inside. Their attentions, giving off an appearance of hopelessness in spite of their expectations, were held by the empty space before them. Those whom they waited for cleaved to, out of sight, the shadows. The men clung to the prospect of filling in this emptiness with their story, fervid. Their loose bodies hung. They waited for the electrifying contact of another, the exchange of felt worth for something material, firm; soon to be, like their cigarettes, gone. Before reaching this stage they had shrugged off their costumes of the day to take up the role appropriate for this, the working girl’s arena. Few of the ladies were about. In this town, the marketplace kept the supply restricted to ladies. It was a position for which, no matter how young, men need not apply. Though there had been one who hoped, through meticulous application, to slip through this restriction. It had not ended well: upon discovery he had suffered certain restrictions. In overcoats, navy for use, two women, programmes in hand, walked round the oddly jutting corners of the theatre. They were not at work. They approached the stage door. A single bulb hung over the metal door illuminating the ungentle encroachment of rust. The bulb was cased in glass, a wire cage holding it in place. One of the women put her hand to her hat to hold it against the wind. The other had no hat to protect: her scarf would have to double its effort. These were the fans, preparing to puff up the confidence of their star. Their minds raced, wonderfully. ‘Two minutes, Charles.’ The voice trailed down the corridor. He did not like this: it was too contemporary, too pressing. He felt hungry. The decision not to have taken a drink demanded his stomach be filled with something. He opened the drawers in his dressing table; the casually chipped plastic of the table offended his taste for the ratification of his grander sense of self when at work. Charles was at work the moment he arrived at the theatre: deference was demanded when his silhouette obscured the doorway. This formica-faced suite, the sickly ochre of plaque, appeared to lack reverence. Nestling at the back of a drawer was a chocolate muffin sealed in a cellophane wrapper. He pulled it apart and picked some crumbs off it. This would do. He savoured the taste of artificial cocoa. He had not liked sweets as a boy, this particular tooth had come only as the position of his others looked precarious. The sugar comforted him against a sense of descent. Its overwhelming solidity, its obliterating any sense of taste, seemed to firm up his spirit. It was a quick boost, a soon-to-be-extinguished flare of certainty. He became aware of uncertainty. He was unsure. He looked for his script; it was not apparent. He could not recall where he had left it; he could not recall his lines. He realised, crumbs falling upon his costume, that in performance he had tripped. A line had been forgotten, lost. He had held the stage so well, had played the character so well, no one would have noticed, he felt certain. The fact of omission, however, suspended pleasure; introduced a tremor in confidence he did not appreciate. The smell, warm, heavy, comforting, sickly, of old stages, of wood and work and sweat, was his security. He worked best here. To be submerged in this world to a point of anaesthesia, of not knowing, seemed, to Charles, disturbingly unsafe. Trust had betrayed him. ‘Oh, it was so good, so strong, I must say.’ Moira, holding on to her hat, was effervescent at the prospect of meeting her hero, her love. She had brought Betty because Betty knew about the stage. ‘The thing about it was, it was so confident, wasn’t it? You don’t get that any more, really. They just don’t have the training.’ For Betty, who herself had missed out on training of any sort, it was all in the training. Styles had changed; Moira and Betty had not. It had been a slow process discovering this pleasure. It had grown steadily throughout the summer when Moira had first noticed the leaflet in the theatre: she was a regular, always liked a little outing somewhere special, you know. Once this first connection was spotted she had nurtured it through phone calls, arrangements, conjectures, bookings, until it had come to a head with the arrival of the tickets through her
SOMETHING OF NOTHING Soumya Bhattacharya
akesh winced as the car lurched into a pothole. A tremor of annoyance radiated through the hand that he rested on the steering wheel. He had taken his eyes off the road again. Again, he had been looking at the mannequin in the Benetton shop window. It reminded him of Madam. For months he had wanted to go inside that shop. He would, for the first time, later today. Madam had asked him to collect a pair of jeans – her jeans! – that she had sent to be altered. He checked his reflection in the rear-view mirror. His face was swarthy, clean-shaven, not unattractive; its skin was stretched taut over a strong jaw. If he narrowed his eyes and knitted his brows, he managed a look of brooding machismo. When he looked at his own face, Rakesh fancied what he saw. His hair, oiled and gelled into a quiff early in the morning, was not maintaining the required degree of rigidity. Rakesh noticed this in the mirror, and swore. He raised and patted and mussed his hair till he was satisfied. As he righted his hair, his biceps – the impressive result of a lot of unremitting work – tensed. The short sleeve of his close-fitting T-shirt rode up. Rakesh smiled. He had first turned up at the Chaudhuris’ home ten months ago, after someone who knew someone he knew had tipped him off that Mr Samrat Chaudhuri was looking for a driver. ‘Arrey, the family is good,’ his acquaintance had told Rakesh. The smoke from the open fire over which dinner was being cooked on the pavement stung their eyes. On the filthy beach in front, the fishing nets lay in a jumble of confused cobwebs. ‘Look, Rakesh, you have no experience. To train, you’ll need a job such as the one they have to offer. School, office, home. Nothing else.’ He winked and patted Rakesh on the back. ‘See if you get lucky.’ Rakesh had rung the bell at the Chaudhuri’s Bandra flat one morning in the middle of a rainy spell. No one could recall the rain having let up in the past three days. Under a cloud-bloated sky, colour seemed to have leached from the city; trees and buildings had lost their definitions. It was hard to remember what everything looked like when it wasn’t raining. It was a Saturday. Mr Chaudhuri, his hairless legs protruding from his shorts and at odds with his flabby upper body, opened the door, a beer in his hand. Learning that he was the driver who had come looking for a job, he called out, ‘Malini, that fellow has come,’ and shuffled off down the hallway, leaving the door a little ajar. His voice was friendly. Rakesh was touched that Mr Chaudhuri had not shut the door in his face. Through the chink, he saw bits of blond wood cabinets, swirls of colours from paintings on the wall and, in a photograph, the face of a child with floppy hair. Mrs Malini Chaudhuri emerged from one of the bedrooms, calling out to the maid to put on the rice. She was shaking her hair dry. Standing there at the entrance to the apartment, Rakesh saw how beads of water scattered and flew from her hair and, somehow managing to gleam even in that nothing light, landed at her feet. His trousers, dripping, were rolled up to his knees. He held his umbrella in his left hand, fearful that it would muck up the marble floor if he put it down. He glanced, guilty, at the spreading puddle at his feet. It was settled in a few minutes. Rakesh admitted that he had had no real experience (at the Bombay port, he drove imported cars that had arrived from the gangway to a shed a couple of hundred metres away), and agreed to a salary of 4,000 rupees. He promised to be careful with the car and always be polite. He started the following day. Mr Chaudhuri was the creative head of an advertising firm. He spoke to Rakesh mostly in abstracted grunts and single words that
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indicated the destination he wanted to be driven to (‘Worli’, ‘Parel’, ‘Juhu’), as though the effort of speaking in complete sentences was too monumental an undertaking. All the way to and from his office in Colaba at Bombay’s southernmost tip, he read or worked on his laptop, or else he listened to music on his iPod – something that Rakesh had first mistaken for a fancy mobile phone. ‘Sir, your phone,’ he had called out, running after Mr Chaudhuri one day when he had left his iPod behind in the car, his arm outstretched as if he were holding out a votive offering, no more than the merest tips of his thumb and index fingers on the gadget. Mr Chaudhuri had taken it from him and smiled – a smile made up in equal parts of thanks, amusement and almost imperceptible pity. As he got to know him, Rakesh began to grow fond of the little boy, making sure that he was never late to drive him to school, and always vigilant in traffic when he was squirming around on the back seat with his mother. He carried his heavy school bag for him, and enjoyed having him hang on to his finger when they crossed the busy road in front of the school gate. He took care of the boy’s pet poodle when the family went on holiday. He offered him a single rose, a red ribbon round its dethorned stem, on his birthday. And Mrs Chaudhuri? He dared not explain or attempt to articulate – even to himself, especially to himself – how he saw her. Mrs Chaudhuri was the one who made all the decisions that Rakesh saw as important; she it was who steered the course of his – and her family’s – day. She had come to trust him, asking him often these days about how they should do things – ‘Shall we go to the petrol pump now or on our way back?’; ‘Do you think we might be better off going via Tulsi Pipe Road?’ – and, more and more, adhering to his advice. There were nights – lying on his thin mattress on the floor of his eight-foot-by-ten-foot room, very drunk on pay day, the edges of things blurring, the small stove at the foot of his bed spinning, and he, it seemed, in orbit around it – that Rakesh had visions of Mrs Chaudhuri as she might have been in the bathroom, before she had attired herself and come to meet him on that first day, shaking the water from her hair. Rakesh could never tell whether he had willed these visions into existence, or whether they had appeared to him unbidden as he lay drunk. He held them to himself and banished them, both with equal ferocity. He felt as guilty as he did envious; as ashamed of himself as bold. The following morning, his head clear after he had rinsed himself beneath the thick rope of water from the communal tap at the corner of the road, he had no clear recollection of the visions of the night before. There remained only an unidentifiable sense of queasy unease. Four months after he was hired, drivers at the office told him that he was getting ripped off, that they would find him a better-paying job, now that he had learnt to drive well, and insisted that he ask for a raise. Sleepless, Rakesh thought of it for two nights. The increased money was a great temptation. For starters, he could buy the pair of jeans that he had been eyeing at a pavement stall on Linking Road. But what if the Chaudhuris refused? What if they thought he was too greedy and ungrateful, and said they wanted to get rid of him? Would he find another job? Was it as certain as the drivers in the office said it was? Or were they simply having him on? Finally, having seen one of the drivers wearing a pair of jeans nearly identical to the ones he wished to have, he realised that he would never be able to buy a pair like that if he didn’t have more money. He wouldn’t be able to get hair gel, which he now wanted. In the four months at the Chaudhuris’, he had begun to observe things he hadn’t before; he had begun to covet them too. He wanted new
In the heat of an afternoon undisturbed by even the suggestion of a breeze, Rakesh manoeuvred the car into the lane alongside the Benetton showroom. He had on his favourite pair of jeans – mossy blue-green with a serpent stitched in orange coiling its way up from his knee to his thigh. His floral-patterned shirt was not tucked in – just as he had seen Shah Rukh Khan wearing his shirt in the movie, Don – but in the brief walk from the car to the store, the shirt had begun to exhibit spreading patches of damp under his arms and on his chest. Rakesh wiped his face with a handkerchief, and then shoved his hand beneath his shirt and dabbed at his perspiring chest and armpits. Curious, anxious, afraid and confident, he stepped into the store, the chilly environs of which no summer could touch. He had the piece of paper that he would have to hand over at the counter to get back Madam’s pair of jeans. He kept it in his hand in case someone asked him why he was here. But no one did. People did not look at him. The ground floor housed the women’s section and Rakesh saw – as though it was too much, all this for the first time, all of this at one go – women emerging from the changing room, pirouetting in dresses that had no proper sleeves, in dresses that were not much bigger than his handkerchief. He had involuntarily squeezed the paper in his hand into a tight ball. Smoothing it out again, he
climbed the curving stairway to the first floor, the men’s department. Standing there, in the pressed, folded, hung glut of shirts, T-shirts, jackets, trousers and jeans, Rakesh’s head began to swim. There was a pleasant and unfamiliar smell around him; he couldn’t tell where the up-tempo music was coming from. He reached out and picked up a white T-shirt. ‘Sir?’ the attendant was immediately beside him. ‘Can I try this on?’ Rakesh asked in Hindi. The attendant shrugged, did not smile, and pointed towards the changing room. Rakesh slipped on the T-shirt, raised its collar, lowered it, and examined himself from several angles in the fulllength mirror. Peeling it off, he looked at the price tag: 2,500 rupees, more than one-third of what he earned in a month. He hurried downstairs, handed over the paper at the counter, cradled the wrapped package containing Madam’s jeans as one would an infant, and walked out. Linking Road was empty, the pavement stalls dulled into torpor by the heat. Rakesh swung the car around, spinning the steering wheel with unwarranted force. From the lane in which he had parked, he bulleted on to the main road and turned left towards his employers’ home. Through the windshield blazing with the afternoon light, he saw the cat – mottled grey-brown and not very large – begin its scamper-slink across the road. A cat crossing your path was a bad omen. All drivers waited for the cat to cross, and then waited some more for the residue of that feline-induced bad luck to pass before driving on. Rakesh revved his engine. He wouldn’t let the cat get away. The cat’s tail tensed, but it didn’t look up. It scurried, but was exactly in Rakesh’s path as he closed in on it. With a yard between them, Rakesh hit the brake. The cat darted across, still not looking up. A car was honking behind him. ‘Next time, the next time you cross my path, chutiya, see what I do,’ Rakesh mumbled. Unhurriedly, he drove on.
NEW POETRY The Faber New Poets programme, organised by Faber and Faber and funded by Arts Council England, aims to support and promote new poets. Sam Riviere is one of this year’s awarded poets.
Paris Sam Riviere In the middle of that storm-run summer you met a blind girl in a bookstore. Her fingers smoothed the patterns on the spines, as you reached out and touched her unkempt curls. In a nearby park, her kisses were precise as pinches. When you placed a hand on her hip, or rib, or ankle, her eyes flickered, forgetful as the fountains, and each quick motion was your measure. For a whole week you dreamed through falling bells and passing birds of a tall building overlooking churches, so high your stomach lurched and the ground reached up with its dumb wish. Just once she stayed. Outside, cars sighed and shades of rain contained the room where her restless gaze reread the ceiling, each saccade stopped short and repeated, catching on what, you’d never understand.
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clothes, and a tiny mobile phone that would fit into his palm. He needed T-shirts that at least looked like the ones Mr Chaudhuri wore. One evening, as he was giving her back the car keys at the end of the day’s work, Rakesh asked Mrs Chaudhuri if his salary could be raised to 6,000 rupees. ‘Of course, of course,’ she said, without a blink. The little boy hugged her knees. ‘We were thinking of it in any case. You have come along well. We’ll do it right away.’ As he walked home that evening, he paused to look at the big stores on Linking Road: Lacoste, Tommy Hilfiger, Esprit, Mango. He dared not walk in. They sold the same clothes as the pavement stalls did nearby. But these stores seemed to enclose and epitomise a world utterly removed from the one represented by the stalls. How could the same thing, well almost the same thing, such as, say, a T-shirt, command such different prices and respect? He wanted to see what those items were like, to run his fingers under the collar of one of those T-shirts, caress the instep of one of those pairs of shoes. Rakesh was thrilled that his salary had been raised by exactly as much as he’d wanted. At the same time, he felt angry and bitter because the amount meant nothing to the Chaudhuris. It was 50 per cent of what till a moment ago had been his month’s pay, and to them it was a trifle; it was worth not even a moment’s consideration before they said yes. ‘Yaar, the rich have their own problems,’ one of the drivers at the office told Rakesh when he narrated to him how the Chaudhuris hadn’t thought twice before raising his salary. ‘We have nothing. We have nothing to lose.’ Rakesh did not resent the Chaudhuris’ affluence, their sudden trips to the five-star hotels near the airport or to the city’s downtown. He did not mind Madam’s frequent forays to those stores (especially the Benetton one), and her emergence from them, laden with huge, bursting paper bags, progressing towards the car like a stately ship towards its harbour, her purchases like billowing sails, her face still distracted from the present moment by the concentration she had brought to bear on buying all that stuff in the store. The Chaudhuris were good people, Rakesh believed. He was grateful to them. They had given him a job when no one else would have. They had given him a raise as soon as he had asked for one. They were unfailingly civil. They had bought him medicines on the occasion that he had fallen ill, and paid for his visit to the doctor. And yet, sometimes, when Madam and Sir bickered in low, taut voices that carried over to him in the hermetically sealed, airconditioned, upholstered pod of the car, he wanted to turn around and scream: ‘Don’t you know how lucky you are?’
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Lines Written on the Norfolk Broads Clare Pollard We drifted through warm currents. Our hull chugged past windmills – sails as useless as fishbones – as Mallards raped, as Egyptian Geese shrugged, and flocks of plastic bottles caught in reeds. And then a glimpse of Kingfisher, it zagged – sky-backed, sun-bellied, rainbowed – out of green. Illumination in the margin inked with lapis lazuli. Tiny machine! And in that blurred half-second how I missed the bird already – already the pang! My mouth hadn’t the speed to shape the word ‘Kingfisher’, before it squeaked like the hinge of a door shutting; pierced the water’s chest. We churn on, through a world too slow, too fast.
Cosmo Davenport-Hines, who was the youngest life member of the London Library, died on 9 June 2008, aged 21. The Cosmo Davenport-Hines Prize for Poetry was set up last year at King’s College London in his memory. Philip Bentall’s poem is this year’s winner.
Where cows are met Philip Bentall Downland. A chalky emulsion Of trodden plantain and jutting flint Makes up its ridgeway track. Overhead, skylarks’ faint Invisible chirrup follows In a dry verge hiss of wind Wire-strummed. An hour could be a year, No one is seen. Then, where the ground levels and falls away, Cows are met – Sleepy heads dip and dark eyes peer, As if the last passer-by Wore skins and carried a flint-headed axe. Time steams And swirls off their mud-splattered hinds Nostrils flare and sniff Legs bend and brace. Then the skittish backward lurch The startled-eyed retreat The avalanche of fears And the field explodes with hooves As if mallets of stone age fists Were set hammering in barrows under chalk.
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A FOOL WILL STAY A FOOL Rohan Kriwaczek
osef was stunned, though the businessman in him ensured he didn’t show it. He turned the pocket-watch over in his hand and opened the back. ‘Compensateur et parachute – Breguet no.2654.’ Unbelievable! Just three numbers off. It was obviously stolen, no question, and normally he wouldn’t even consider buying stolen goods. But he had to have this watch. It was fate; God’s will. He opened the inner case to examine the mechanism, making a show of adjusting his magnifier, and peering most intently. It was clear why it didn’t work; a simple case of a loose spring: it had been over-wound. The rest of the mechanism looked in near perfect condition. It was wonderful craftsmanship; a very fine piece of work. But most of all, it was just what he needed, what he’d almost given up hope of ever finding. And it had been brought to him! To his workshop! And at what would no doubt be a bargain price! Silently he said a short prayer to thank the Lord for granting him this moment, then looked up at the young man across the counter. He was fairly tall, lanky, with short, cropped hair and rather large ears. There was something slightly stupid about his face, possibly a little thuggish. He wore a black hoody with a skull printed in white on the front. He obviously had no idea what he had in his possession. ‘So mate, what do you reckon?’ Josef closed the watch and placed it on the counter. ‘Well, the mechanism is completely jammed; one of the screws may have come loose. But I suspect worse. I won’t know until I take it apart, but … Have you taken it to anyone else?’ ‘No.’ ‘Well, it looks like someone has made a hash of trying to repair it, and there may even be a couple of wheels missing. As I say, I won’t know for sure until I examine it properly.’ ‘So, how much do you reckon?’ The young man was shifting his weight from one leg to the other. ‘What do you say I give you two hundred for it?’ ‘Come on, mate, that’s gold, and it’s pretty old. It’s gotta be worth more than that.’ ‘If it were working, sure. But as it is? Can I sell a broken watch? I may have to make new parts for it, by hand, and that is time-consuming work, very fiddly, and my eyes are not what they were. Maybe for me it is not worth it. Now if you leave it with me, then I could take a proper look, then I could tell you for sure. But as it is … ?’ This was a gamble, but he had a hunch the young man would want a quick and easy sale. He twisted the tip of his beard in a masquerade of deep consideration. ‘Ok, and God knows I’m a fool, say, two hundred and fifty? And I’m doing you a favour.’ ‘All right, it’s a deal. Cash, mind?’ ‘But of course.’ He reached down behind the counter for a metal box, which he opened with a key and counted out five £50 notes. Then he took out his ledger and pulled a pen from his jacket pocket. ‘Two hundred and fifty pounds.’ He spoke the words out loud as he wrote. ‘Breguet gold-cased pocket watch. Broken. And your name is?’ ‘Call me Jonny.’ ‘And your address?’ ‘I’m not giving you my fucking address, mate. Make something up …’ He took the money from the counter and walked to the door, then turned back to Josef and pointed at him, raising his eyebrows in a mildly threatening manner. ‘Seeing ya …’ Well, £250 for an 1811 Bregeut quarter pump repeater, and in near perfect condition. It’s got to be worth at least ten grand, a real museum
never knowingly seen before, the parts that had been missing since he was a boy. Many times over the years he had planned to make replacements himself, studying the published drawings, even making a few dummies in cheap brass, but something had always prevented him from completing the task. In the end he had decided he needed original parts, made in the Breguet workshop, parts like these. Three times his many clocks announced the hour before the final piece was dropped into the tin and the gold case lay empty on his workbench. By the time he got home his wife’s snores were rattling china in the kitchen, and so he chose to sleep on the sofa, at the opposite end of the house. That night he dreamt that he had died, and his whole life had flashed before him. He woke up, strangely jarred, to the sound of women gossiping in the hallway. Then the front door closed behind them, and silence, except for the gentle ticking of a number of clocks about the house. His wife insisted that the bells were all switched off. They disturbed her peace. In truth, Josef suspected that she didn’t really like clocks. To her they were just a means of measuring time; a digital watch would do just as well, and far more quietly. He lay there, on the sofa, for a surprising amount of time, listening to the ticking, thinking about his dream, about the pocketwatch, about the stiffness in his neck from lying crooked all night. He arrived back at the workshop just after eleven. As he looked in the tin there was a touch of regret at what he had done, but it soon passed as he turned his thoughts to the other watch, his family watch; a watch that would soon tick again for the first time in over 50 years. This was much more fiddly work. It was always easier to take things apart than put them back together. Slowly, carefully, he set about the task: first removing the verge and the main ratchet ensemble; fitting the new ratchet wheel; replacing the cracked cylinder escapement, the click-spring and the missing second wheel; then painstakingly reassembling the various parts to make the mechanism whole once again. Lastly he realigned and pinned the fusee in preparation for fitting the spring, the final piece, the heart that would bring it life. He picked it up with his crooked tweezers and held it under the magnifier. Along the side he could read the name, ‘Breguet’. And then it struck him: this was an important moment, a culmination, and not something to be undertaken lightly. He dropped the spring in the tin and leant back in his chair, deep in thought, remembering his dream. Had not his whole life been defined by the breaking of this watch? His choice of profession; all the people he had met; his wife, his children. And yet every time he had thought to fix it, something had stopped him. But now, now it was real, a two-minute job and it would all be over. The watch would be ticking once again, chiming every quarter, as his father had known it. Maybe he would wait a little; maybe he wasn’t yet quite ready for that. And really, it was time he headed home. He placed the spring carefully in a small brown envelope and slipped it into his waistcoat pocket. The following Shabbos Josef arrived home as usual; idly chatted to his wife as she prepared the food, as usual; said the many blessings, ate and drank, all as usual. Then, after dinner, as they settled down in the front room to read he unexpectedly broke the silence. ‘I have a gift for you.’ He took from his pocket a blue velvet presentation box and handed it to her. She opened it to find a small gold brooch, with golden leaves around the edge and, at its centre, behind glass, a small blue spiral watch spring. As he explained to her what it was, its importance, why he hadn’t fitted it, and how he had got his cousin, a jeweller, to mount it in crystal and gold, she nodded dutifully, all the while thinking that she had nothing it would go with, and in any case it wasn’t very pretty. She would have preferred a cameo, like her mother used to wear. She had dropped the hint enough times. But nonetheless she was touched. It obviously meant something to him. And he had clearly gone to some trouble. So she kissed him gently on the cheek, and he blushed, just a little. THE LONDON LIBRARY MAGAZINE 21
piece. But that wasn’t the point. He went into the back office, opened the safe, and removed a small black leather pouch. Once back at the counter he took from it a gold pocket watch, his family pocket watch passed down through at least six generations. He placed it next to his new acquisition. They were identical. He turned them over, opened them up and examined the mechanisms under the magnifier. Yes, a perfect match, numbers 2654 and 2651, the exact same model, made at the same time in the same workshop. He leant back in his chair, stroking his beard. He finally had it, in his hands; he had given up hope years ago, stopped even looking. But here it was. A gift. He had told the story a thousand times; why he became a watchmaker: ‘You see my father; he was this great engineer, a boy genius, no less. And so it happened that, at the age of ten, when left alone one evening, he took the family pocket watch and dismantled it, piece by piece, to see how it worked, you understand. When he was discovered there was nothing but a pile of cogs and springs and wheels. Now after the customary beating he insisted he could put it back together. And that he did. If anything it kept time better than before. So I, at the age of ten, I wanted to be like my father, so one evening, when I was left alone, I took the pocket watch and my father’s tools, and I took it apart, completely apart, but all I could see was a pile of cogs and springs and wheels that made no sense at all. And then nobody could put it back together, not even my father, not even the finest craftsman in London. And so I became a watchmaker. Perhaps I am still seeking my father’s approval, God forgive him.’ But now, now he had the parts, original parts, the cogs and screws that had been lost, the ruby cylinder escapement, all in perfect working condition. It had to be God’s will. At that moment the workshop came alive with a cacophony of chimes announcing three o’clock. The Shabbos was calling. He gathered up the two watches and placed them both carefully in the safe. Just as he was locking up a lone cuckoo clock announced its own inaccuracy. Hmm … so it was still running slow. One day, he thought, one day they would all come alive at the very same moment. And one day the Moshiach will come and the sick will all be healed … Ah, but a fool will stay a fool. And he smiled to himself. That evening he told his wife with great enthusiasm all about the watch, how it must be a gift from God, and she nodded dutifully, whilst preparing the cholent, and wondering which scarf she should wear to schul. Clocks and watches. It was all he ever talked about. For 30 years she’d heard nothing but clocks and watches. And, indeed, it was all he could think about: throughout the Sabbath meal; listening to his wife go on at length about Mrs Levine’s new conservatory; as he sat in the synagogue; even talking to Rabbi Feldman about his cousin’s business: in his mind all he saw was the gold pocket watch, and he rehearsed over and over what he was to do to make it whole again. Never had he been so impatient for the Shabbos to end. As soon as the Havdalah candle was extinguished he put on his coat, made an excuse to his wife, who smiled but barely noticed, and returned, at last, to his workshop. As he turned on the lights the many clocks, cluttering on every surface and wall space, chimed into life, as if to greet him. It was nine o’clock. He probably had a couple of hours left in his old eyes. He retrieved the two watches and placed them on his workbench. It was a shame in a way; such a beautiful piece, and in near perfect condition. But it had to be. It was meant to be. Just then the cuckoo clock whirred as the little bird ventured forth. Three more minutes in only twenty-four hours. That was more than just a simple adjustment to the nut. He would probably have to shorten the suspension arm by another two millimetres. But that was not for now. He pulled the magnifier into place and began the meticulous task of dismantling the watch, piece by piece, carefully checking each part for wear before dropping it into an old tobacco tin. He had no need to take the usual notes regarding order and placement; he knew the workings of this model intimately, even the parts he had
SHORT CUTS In a conversation with Erica Wagner, Helen Simpson emphasises the power and intimacy of the short story, and describes her response, as a member and writer, to the London Library
Helen Simpson’s first collection of short stories, Four Bare Legs in a Bed and Other Stories (1990), won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award and a Somerset Maugham Award; three years later she was chosen as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, despite not being a novelist: it’s her devotion to the short story form that marks her out. A collection entitled Dear George was published in 1995; and Hey Yeah Right Get a Life, a collection of loosely linked stories about modern women and motherhood appeared in 2000 and won the Hawthornden Prize. She was awarded the E.M.Forster Award in 2002 by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Helen wrote the libretto for the jazz opera, Good Friday, 1663, screened on Channel 4 television, and the lyrics for Kate and Mike Westbrook’s jazz suite Bar Utopia. Her latest collections of short stories are Constitutional (2005) and In-Flight Entertainment, published last month by Jonathan Cape. She lives in London and writes with a fountain pen.
giving prizes. Give us our money’s worth! There is a basic confusion here, though, surely. Just as short need not mean small or slight, so long need not mean big or profound. A short-story writer is not merely a lazy would-be novelist who’s run out of puff. A.E. Coppard, under pressure from his publisher to turn from short stories to writing a novel, was under no such illusion, describing how he ‘cringed from the awful job of hacking out mere episodes into epic stature, draping the holes in them with bogus mysticism, factitious psychology, and the backchat of a paperhanger’. I’m sure you can think of various prize-winning novels that fit this description perfectly, and which might have been better from an artistic point of view had they been condensed into short stories. EW: What makes short stories special? HS: In the short story a writer can do something powerful but with a light touch. It’s direct and intimate and it doesn’t waste time. The challenge is, maximum power for minimum length. Erica Wagner: As a fiction writer, are you ever tempted by the Also, it’s technically demanding and tests the writer’s mastery longer form? of form; every story has its own shape, and finding that shape Helen Simpson: I’ve never written a novel or even part of one, is a major part of the challenge and pleasure of writing it. I’m afraid, though I did once write a novella – Flesh and Grass, a EW: What tipped you toward writing about climate change in vegetarian stomach-churner – which was published in 1990 In-Flight Entertainment? Has writing about it led you to alter along with Ruth Rendell’s The Strawberry Tree under the general your own life in any way? title Unguarded Hours. Until now I haven’t really felt the need to HS: It’s always fun when you’re writing to zoom in on what’s range beyond the short story form, such is its currently uncomfortable – on what causes a versatility. One thing the novel can do that silence to fall – and one such touchy subject the short story can’t, however, is to show now is, whether we ought to cut back on air character changing in time. For me, that travel for the sake of the future. This would be the main temptation offered by the suggestion never fails to annoy. Anyway, I longer form. wanted to see if I could make interesting EW: I ask the previous question because, well, fiction from climate change. It’s an undeniably you ‘have’ to ask that, don’t you? We live in important subject – it’s the elephant on the a ‘novel’ culture, much more so than in the horizon – but it’s also undeniably difficult, United States, where a volume of short stories boring (for the non-scientists among us) and can, for example, win the Pulitzer Prize for horrifying to contemplate. I’d heard someone Fiction. Here stories are excluded from the at the BBC lamenting how unsuccessful their main prizes: why do you think the British invitations to ‘creatives’ had been in eliciting appear to be more resistant to short stories? any good fiction on the subject, and I thought, HS: You’re right, I hadn’t really thought about yes, that would be really difficult to do, make it, but at some point the Brits must have climate change interesting. Well, I like a Helen Simpson’s new collection of short decided that size matters when it comes to challenge. I went at it from different angles, stories, In-Flight Entertainment (2010). 22 THE LONDON LIBRARY MAGAZINE
treating it as a love story, a dramatic monologue, a satirical comedy, a sales pitch and a dystopian diary. They’re all here in this collection. I ought to make it clear that I’m not interested in writing polemic. As a reader I resent fiction that has designs on me, and as a writer I feel it’s my duty to resist writing about what I think I ought to write about. The rule is, write only about what stimulates your imagination. Oddly, this did. I sensed rich comic pickings. We travel because it’s fun, however much we moan about it. We can’t really take a morally righteous tone about air travel being good for us, or essential. There is nothing intrinsically virtuous about getting on a plane. Has it altered my own habits, writing on this subject? Yes. Once you do the research and know more, it does tend to moderate your behaviour. I didn’t give up meat when I’d written my vegetarian novella but, ever since, I have eaten less of it and tried to make sure it’s from humanely reared sources. Similarly, having done all the reading for In-Flight Entertainment, I haven’t stopped flying altogether but I do now take the train rather than the plane wherever possible. This change of habit was unexpectedly rewarded in April this year – I was in Amsterdam for a short story festival when the Icelandic volcano grounded Europe, but I managed to get home without too much trouble as (feeling mildly eccentric at the time) I had in advance asked the festival organisers if I could travel by train rather than plane. EW: How did you become a member of the London Library? HS: On the day I joined the London Library, I see that I scribbled in my notebook of that time, ‘What I need – a bolt-hole.’ (I had just left the security of a staff job on a magazine for the supposed freedom of freelancing, and was hoping to concentrate on fiction.) The entry continues, ‘I’m not sure I can write stories in this Reading Room, with its stealthy library noises, creaks and smothered sneezes. But I did notice a few tables scattered in dusty corners in biography etc when I was shown round, so I’ll explore.’ A couple of pages on, having investigated further, I note, ‘Quiet chair – Top, Foreign Lit, in window; Biog A–L, small card table at window; Religion (octavo) – wooden table at window (nr lift).’ EW: How do you like to use the Library? What's so special about it, to you? HS: I had been using the British Library before I joined the London Library, going on there in the evenings after work to finish my thesis on Restoration farce. (This was some 20 years ago, when it was still housed in the British Museum.) Anyway, I wanted more freedom, a break from academic study, and to be able to borrow
A short-story writer is not merely a lazy would-be novelist who’s run out of puff
books too. My notebook approvingly records, ‘Carlyle founded the LL, dissatisfied with the B.M. – 1840, urged his listeners to help found the Library – “A collection of good books contains all the nobleness and wisdom of the world before us. Every heroic and victorious soul has left his stamp upon it. A collection of good books is the best of all Universities; for the University only teaches us how to read the book: you must go to the book itself for what it is.”’ It’s this spirit I like about the London Library, this and its benign atmosphere. I have used it over the years as (yes) a bolt-hole, an occasional place to write, and also for borrowing books. The last time was last week, when I was supposed to produce an article about Colette but couldn't find my copy of Judith Thurman’s indispensable biography, Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette. I rang the London Library and within seconds one of its three copies had been put aside for me to collect. Having just checked inside the cover, I find this copy (one of three, remember) has been date-stamped thirty-five times since its arrival in 2000. EW: Tell me a story about the London Library. HS: The Reading Room’s spacious armchairs have always been dangerously inviting. Twenty years ago, they used to fill up in the early afternoon with an assortment of regulars, mostly elderly gents who treated the Library as another of their clubs. It would seem to me, indeed, after my sandwich on a bench in St James’s Square, that these old boys had elected it as their top favourite After-Lunch Club, ideal for a post-prandial snooze. Quite often the Library calm was enlivened in the early afternoon by a concert of whistles and snoring. More than once I witnessed a librarian leave his desk when the noise reached a crescendo and gingerly approach its source, using a ruler to prod the slumberer into snorting wakefulness. I used to laugh at this in rather a superior way until one afternoon, in the irresistible drowsiness of pregnancy, I found myself drawn to the deepest armchair; the next thing I knew was a whispered ‘Wakey wakey!’ in my ear and a Cheshirecat grin from my neighbour, the stoutest of the stout fellows into whose ranks, unconscious or not, I had just been enlisted. EW: Have you ever found a book there that’s helped you in some unexpected way? What I love about the Library is its serendipitous nature. I wonder if something you've discovered there has set you off in a different direction than the one you thought you were going in … HS: You’re right about the serendipity factor. Like every new member of the Library, I was incredulous at the random surrealism of the classifications listed on certain shelf columns. ‘Sugar Suicide Sundials’, I recorded in my notebook early on, and the manual on sundials was one of the first books I borrowed. This led me on to a peculiar little volume about mottoes and those who have adopted them – Non Recuso Laborem – I do not refuse labour (Dover College, Kent); Non Ignobiliter Ancillari – To serve not ignobly as a handmaid (Dental Training Establishment, RAF); Non Moritur Cuius Fama Vivit – He dies not whose fame lives (Congreve of Walton). I copied these into my library notes. They have all come in useful at various times since then, as it happens. THE LONDON LIBRARY MAGAZINE 23
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BOWLEDOVER Mihir Bose considers the magical surprises to be found in libraries, and describes his discoveries in the London Library’s small but distinctive cricket collection
ibraries have always fascinated me. Part of the fascination lies in the fact that, when I was growing up in Bombay, as I shall always call the city, the library that I, and all my friends, really wanted to belong to was out of reach. We were made to wait before we were allowed in as members. It was not a case of walking in and borrowing a book; you had to earn the right to do so. Unlike this country, India is not a land dotted with local libraries where every locality has a library to which all residents can belong. There were, of course, libraries like the mighty Asiatic, appropriately not far from the Reserve Bank of India, but this was for scholars, not snotty nosed schoolboys like me. Then there were travelling libraries like the one that brought books to our home for my mother to read, but these were in Bengali, the language of my ancestors but foreign to me. The library I wanted to belong to was the British Council library. This had the books I craved: the biographies and autobiographies of the English cricketers and footballers I wished to emulate. But such was the demand for this library that nobody could become a member until they had reached the age of 16. Fortunately for me, as I waited for that birthday, I discovered, just opposite my home, the office of the British Deputy High Commissioner, which had a library. True, it was not a lending library, and had no books on cricket I could borrow, but I could read reports of cricket matches in British newspapers. To add to the pleasure,
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none of my schoolfriends knew of the library. This made me feel that going to a library was like a journey to the source of a river; that this is where it all began, and this is where you began to understand the meaning of life. I have always felt the same way about the London Library, having been a member for nearly 30 years. But recently, what has heightened the pleasure is the discovery that this mighty river of books has a fascinating tributary, one that is not very well known but is full of magical surprises, twists and turns, waiting to be explored. This tributary is the Library’s collection of cricket books. The discovery is all the sweeter because, in all my years of being a member, sport, let alone cricket, has not been a subject I have associated with the London Library. How wrong I was. It possesses a fine selection and, while the collection is somewhat eccentric, it is also unique. It was while researching this article that I discovered a book that I never knew existed, and that has always been the hallmark of a great library. The eccentricity lies in the fact that there is not one particular place where all cricket books are gathered; a single cricket-related book may be found in Art, for example, while the lives of key players are, of course, in Biography. The first port of call for cricket lovers, though, is in Science and Miscellaneous, just after the section on cremation. The cricket fan may joke that placing cricket after cremation is appropriate. After all, is not the Ashes series between England and Australia the oldest international contest and the pinnacle of
Fred Leist’s ‘The Wicket-keeper’, c.1905, from Cricket Cartoons and Caricatures (1989) by George Plumptre.
the game? But it does suggest to me that there is a certain Library disdain for the game, as if it is not quite sure what to do with literary writing on a sport. I am all the more inclined to take this view because of cricket being housed in Science and Miscellaneous. It reflects a historical divide in English society between arts and sports. We in this country may like our arts to be delicate, and our humour to be ironic rather than slapstick; other nations may fall about when the banana-skin skit is played, but we prefer the many layered Monty Python dead-parrot sketch, still the epitome of classic English humour. But when it comes to sport most British fans inevitably distrust the artist and prefer the artisan.
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Above Cricket (1891) by W.G. Grace. Right ‘Hammond plays a forcing back stroke’, from Cricket (1936) by D.R. Jardine.
Britain has always had a huge gulf separating sports and the arts. In America men of letters made no apologies for writing about sport. Many of that country’s best writers started off as sports writers. True, Neville Cardus, the doyen of our cricket writers, was also music critic of the Manchester Guardian. But while he used musical analogies to describe cricketers, he never invoked cricketers to describe a Mozart or Beethoven concert. The collection here is a rich mixture of books that any decent cricket library should have. So there are Cardus’s many volumes, books by evocative writers like Alan Ross and R.C. Robertson-Glasgow, P.G. Wodehouse’s Wodehouse at the Wicket, edited by Murray Hedgcock (1997), and some, like Clem Seecharan’s Muscular Learning: Cricket and Education in the Making of the British West Indies to the End of the 19th Century (2006), which
should appeal to many beyond cricket. The several volumes of RobertsonGlasgow include Crusoe on Cricket: The Cricket Writings of R.C. Robertson-Glasgow (1966) and The Brighter Side of Cricket (1950). Robertson-Glasgow got his nickname when playing for Somerset against Essex. The Essex batsman Charlie McGahey, asked by his captain how he had got out, replied:‘I was bowled by an old **** I thought was dead 2,000 years ago, called Robinson Crusoe.’ These books are nicely supplemented by a couple of works by Alan Ross, arguably the finest poet and essayist ever to be a cricket correspondent of a national newspaper (he was also a long-serving editor of the London Magazine, of which the Library has a complete run). Ross who, like me, was born in Calcutta, wrote on many subjects, and his collected journalism published in Green Fading Into Blue: Writings on Cricket and Other
Sports (1999) is well worth a dip, as is his biography Ranji: Prince of Cricketers (1983). As you would expect, no cricket collection can miss out W.G. Grace, the man who invented the modern game. One of these, ‘WG’: Cricketing Reminiscences and Personal Recollections (1891), is not surprisingly stored in the Library’s safe. Another famous cricketer, Donald Bradman, is represented with his classic Farewell to Cricket (1950). Perhaps the most unusual book featuring Bradman is the 1950 edition, to which he contributed a foreword, of Allahakbarries C.C. (1890; revised 1899). This is a book on the eponymous amateur cricket team founded by J.M. Barrie, which was active from 1890 to 1913 and included several literary figures, among them Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, G.K. Chesterton, A.A. Milne and P.G. Wodehouse. For good measure the Library also has David Rayvern Allen’s Peter Pan and Cricket (1988), which discusses Barrie’s love for the game. For those interested in cricket classics there is James Pycroft’s 1854 book The Cricket Field, or, The History and the Science of Cricket, which has a description of cricket on ice and a match involving the one-armed and one-legged pensioners of Greenwich and Chelsea. It is right to move from Pycroft to J. Nyren, whose 1833 book The Young Cricketer’s Tutor warns that ‘A man who is essentially stupid will not make a fine cricketer.’ However, in keeping with the Library’s somewhat eccentric cricket collection style, the 150-odd titles in Science and ‘Bats – Old style and the new’, from Cricket (1891) by W.G. Grace.
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Miscellaneous do not include a single volume of Wisden’s Cricketer’s Almanack. If there is one book I would take to a desert island it would be a Wisden. As a child, even more than wanting to become a member of the British Council library, I wanted to buy a copy of Wisden. My sense of fulfilment when I finally managed to do that – it was almost my first act when I got to London – cannot be described. Those yellow covered books that chronicle the season just gone present this most unique of games in a manner no other sport can match. The Library has Wisdens, but finding them requires a hike up to the 7th floor of the Back Stacks. The collection of yellow masters is far from complete. There are volumes from 1864 to 1878, not in yellow but in facsimile editions. Then a single volume for 1914 and, as if to mark the momentous nature of the start of the First World War, the next Wisden is the 1962 edition. The Library has a Wisden for every year since 1962, and maybe the librarian is telling us that, just as the year 1914 has great significance for the world, so has the date 1962 for cricket. It marked a historic moment in the English game. A
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“A man who is essentially stupid will not make a fine cricketer”
year later English cricket finally abolished the distinction between Gentlemen and Players. This was hitherto such a sharp distinction that gentlemen, who supposedly played for the love of the game, had their own dressing rooms and often their own entrance on to the field. The players may have been more gifted as cricketers but, because they accepted money to play, they could never captain a side. Even when in 1952 England made Len Hutton their first professional captain, he did not captain his native Yorkshire team, which carried on with the amateur tradition until the 1960s. The London Library is nothing if not capable of surprises, and it is the rare or fragile material collection that has one of the most remarkable cricket books I have ever seen. The book is Sporting Memories:
My Life as Gloucestershire County Cricketer, Rugby and Hockey Player and Member of Indian Police Service (1924) by Major W. Troup. This man played cricket with W.G. Grace, hockey in Bombay’s prestigious Aga Khan Tournament and helped police the Raj. His book displays clearly the racism that underpinned the Raj. He has hardly a good word to say about the Indians whom, in the Raj style, he refers to as natives. The only good Indians, in his view, are the Maharajahs, some of whom he served. But in this view Troup was merely reflecting the prejudices of his age. The worth of the book is in the riveting picture it paints of sport and society. The Library may not have found the right place for the Wisdens and it certainly needs to have a complete set. But in housing Troup’s book in the rare collection, along with books by Grace, the Library has got it absolutely right. This serves to emphasise that, while the Library’s cricket collection is small, it is both rare and distinctive, in keeping with the nature of the London Library. www.mihirbose.com twitter.com/mihirbose
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MEMBERS’ NEWS INTRODUCING JANE OLDFIELD, OUR NEW DEPUTY LIBRARIAN There are not many jobs in librarianship where an ability to read architects’ plans features in the list of required skills, but Librarian and Deputy Librarian of The London Library are currently among them. Fortunately the Librarian grew up in an architect’s practice as it happened also to be her family home, and our new Deputy Librarian, Jane Oldfield, has spent much of her career in specialist architecture and construction libraries in central and local government and the private sector. She comes to us after 13 years at the Royal Institute of British Architects, where she was first Information Services Librarian and then Deputy Director of the British Architectural Library. ‘My first visit to the London Library, on a library studies tour while a student at Loughborough University, made quite an impression on me and I decided then I would join one day. Several years later, a serendipitous discussion with a colleague in the then Department of Education and Science, led me to study art history at Birkbeck, majoring on the architecture options, followed by an
MA at the Courtauld Institute. During this period I joined the London Library and made extensive use of the old Art Room and the history section for my dissertation, plus the fiction section for light relief. As I was also working part time, I did not have much opportunity for browsing, so visits were targeted forays into particular sections hoping I would not get lost on the way or too mesmerised by the shelf labels, which were like nothing I had ever encountered. The staff became familiar, friendly, helpful faces. Now, on the other side of the counter so to speak, the breadth of the collection enthrals me. In my first week trying to orientate myself I encountered a section on werewolves in Science and Miscellaneous. Where else but the London Library? As rambling (with maps, hopefully not speech) is a hobby, the opportunity to wander around a constantly changing building with the architect’s plans testing out the new signage has been an enjoyable challenge. And the big bonus – those helpful staff previously encountered are still here, but no longer anonymous, and I have plenty of material to read on the train. Not just in the realm of architecture, but more history, biography, landscape design, travel, the classics, plenty of fiction and that book on werewolves.’ Jane Oldfield, Deputy Librarian
Let knowledge grow from more to more. In Memoriam – ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON London Library President 1885–1892
A UNIQUE LITERARY LEGACY From its founding in 1841, members have made bequests, both small and large, to the London Library. This spirit of giving continues to be vital to the Library’s development in the twenty-first century. A legacy is a powerful way to acknowledge the scholarship, the literary refuge and the pleasure that the Library has offered to so many, and an effective means of ensuring that this intellectual oasis continues to serve the needs of generations of readers and writers to come. For further details, please consult the PDF leaflet from the Support Us tab of the Library’s website, or call the Development Office on (020) 7766 4704 to discuss how your gift can enhance our current collections and future plans. www.londonlibrary.co.uk
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DEVELOPMENT PROJECT PHASE 2: ‘… LIKE PLAYING CHESS IN 3D’ One day earlier this year when I was updating a notice in the Members’ Room about the latest book moves, a member commented that he didn’t know how the staff kept track of all the changing routes through the building and constant shunting of books from one location to another. ‘It must,’ he said, ‘be like playing chess in 3D.’ With this stage of the Development Project all but completed, here is a flavour of the Phase 2 game in numbers …
different project information notices posted in-house and on the website to keep members up-to-date with building and book-move changes
months with no lift
stairs to climb on each return journey from the Issue Hall to T.S. Eliot House Basement to retrieve material for members while there was no lift and no access through the 2nd-floor lobby
stairs to climb on a return journey from the Issue Hall to the 6th floor to retrieve material
items requested from temporary outstorage at Wickford, delivered and processed for next-day collection
28,007 books retrieved by staff and set aside for members in the Issue Hall to satisfy hold requests placed online, by email or phone
Saturday assistants who found that access routes into and around the Library and access to various parts of the collections were different every day they came to work for a year
km of books moved to make way for building work or to fill new shelving locations afterwards
… and we’re still making the new stack end-boards and shelf labels to go with them! Helen O’Neill, Head of Reader Services
ANOTHER VITAL DONATION TO THE CAPITAL CAMPAIGN The Library is delighted to announce that it is the recipient of a £1 million donation from The Underwood Trust. This generous contribution to the Library’s Development Appeal has supported the transformation of the Art Room into the beautiful facility all members are now able to use and enjoy. The Library is continuing to seek support from individuals, trusts and foundations for the Development Project, and donations such as this one allow us to maintain crucial momentum as we prepare for subsequent phases. We are immensely grateful to The Underwood Trust and look forward to being able to highlight other significant Development Appeal contributions in future issues of the magazine.
Diary Date: 2010 AGM The 169th Annual General Meeting of The London Library will take place on Thursday, 4 November 2010 in
JOIN THE LIBRARY ON FACEBOOK Members who use Facebook are encouraged to sign up to the Library’s new fan page, where information, images and interesting tidbits are posted for the enjoyment of members and those who are interested in all things London Library.
the Reading Room at 6 p.m. Drinks will be served in the Issue Hall from 5.30 p.m. Do come along to meet the trustees and staff.
The page has already attracted more than 520 fans – we look forward to seeing you online!
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THIS SEASON’S LITERARY EVENTS FESTIVALS JULY Ledbury Poetry Festival (2–11 July, poetry-festival.com), Herefordshire. Buxton Festival (7–25 July, buxtonfestival.co.uk), the Peak District. Ways With Words festival of words and ideas (9–19 July, wayswithwords.co.uk), Dartington Hall, Devon.
and film makers including Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Louise Bourgeois and Rebecca Horn. Every Thursday, The Surreal House stays open until 10pm for performances, artist films and events. Gain a unique insight into the theory of Surrealism and the unconscious mind in a series of talks and discussions, and enjoy surreal drinks at the bar (exhibition and film tickets, barbican.org.uk).
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's Poetry Festival (14 July–1 August, shakespeare. org.uk), Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. Port Eliot Festival (23–25 July, porteliot festival.com), St Germans, Cornwall. AUGUST Edinburgh International Book Festival (14–30 August, edbookfest.co.uk). SEPTEMBER Wordplay Shetland (4–5 September, shetlandarts.org/events/wordplay). Small Wonder (23–26 September, charleston.org.uk/smallwonder), Charleston, East Sussex, the festival dedicated exclusively to the short story.
Villa Dall’Ava, St Cloud, Paris, designed by OMA architects, 1991. © Peter Aaron/Esto © OMA/DACS 2010, at the Barbican exhibition The Surreal House.
Join the Wellcome Collection for a special 2-part Skin:posium on 16–17 July to explore nakedness in all its guises, which accompanies the exhibition Skin (10 June– 26 September). The price includes literary readings and talks, drinks on Friday evening, and lunch, tea and coffee on
Hampstead and Highgate Festival (24 September–3 October, hamandhigh fest.co.uk), London.
RECENT LITERARY AWARDS
Wigtown Book Festival (24 September– 3 October, wigtownbookfestival.com), Galloway.
Congratulations to the Library members who were nominated for or have won literary awards recently
Marlborough LitFest (24–26 September, marlboroughlitfest.org), Wiltshire. The Appledore Book Festival (25 September– 3 October, appledorebookfestival.co.uk), North Devon. EVENTS JULY The exhibition The Surreal House, at the Barbican Art Gallery (ongoing to 12 September) features artists, architects
William Fiennes, The Music Room, shortlisted for the 2009 Duff Cooper Prize Tristram Hunt, The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels, winner of the 2010 Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography; shortlisted for the 2009 Duff Cooper Prize Aamer Hussein, Another Gulmohar Tree, shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Eurasia Region, Best Book)
Saturday (tickets £20/£30 from 020 7611 2222; wellcomecollection.org). To hear Michael Palin* regaling fellow diners with George Harrison’s antics and discussing the creation of A Fish Called Wanda, along with his new book Halfway to Hollywood, Diaries 1980–1988, come to the atmospheric top British restaurant St Pancras Grand on 19 July, where Foyles (foyles.co.uk) will host a literary 3-course supper (tickets £40 from Amanda Gowing, tel. 0207 870 9900, email firstname.lastname@example.org; for menu, stpancrasgrand.com). Or why not sneak away from the office or the Library for an hour at lunch time on Friday, 30 July, to join Simon Callow* at Foyles, 113–119 Charing Cross Road, who will read from and discuss his new autobiography My Life in Pieces (1pm, free, email email@example.com to reserve a place). SEPTEMBER The Byron Society invites you to join them on a visit to Brighton Pavilion on 18 September, with a private guided tour of the Pavilion, lunch at the Ship Inn and a tour of the Theatre Royal, all haunts of Byron (thebyronsociety.com). * current Library member David Kynaston, Family Britain, shortlisted for the 2009 Duff Cooper Prize Dominic Lieven, Russia Against Napoleon, shortlisted for the 2009 Duff Cooper Prize Ian McEwan, Solar, winner of the 2010 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction Patrick Ness, The Ask and the Answer, shortlisted for the 2010 Carnegie Medal Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger, longlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction The magazine would welcome any information from members who have won or been nominated for prizes, to be included in future issues. Please send details to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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