Wednesday, 28 January 2009
The Society Pages
The bookshop at the Wapping Project is about as tiny as a bookshop can be. I would prefer not to swing a cat in it, though a very young kitten might be tempting. It is, in fact, a small garden greenhouse with crates full of books down one side and a tiny table and computer at the far end. A cast iron stove heats it. Ten people on cushions on the floor plus a reader constitutes a very full house indeed. It was, under the circumstances, a capacity house.
Lydia, who runs the bookshop, is an ex-undergraduate of mine who now writes pieces for Harper's and the FT. On an earlier visit to London I had picked up one of the free papers and, leafing through, recognised a photo of her as an example of vox-pop, individual-touch, cutting-edge, street-wise fashion. Before that she had been working on a magazine where I had published a few poems, a combined arts paper called .Cent. Besides Lydia in the room were Bigna Pfenninger, the editor of The Drawbridge, for which I have written a couple of articles, of which this is one, with one to come (on Ego). It does issues by theme (here are previous themes), and these are by people like John Berger and Jose Saramago and Geoff Dyer and Dubravka Ugresic and Isabel Allende... ... enough advertising.) With Bigna was with a friend from Context, the Dalkey Archive Press magazine. I am hopeless at names and even if I caught it properly the first time I have lost it now, apart from an email address that doesn't look like the name I must have heard. In any case you have Lydia, Bigna and X, three young, intelligent, efficient, beautiful, women all running things. It will be probably be the world next and good luck to them. I suspect the world would run just fine.
This is beginning to sound like a social column, so a little more in the same vein. Walking into The Wapping Project I realised I had been there before, for a meeting at the time the new head of BBC Radio Three had been appointed (I can't remember why I should have been invited), though it took Jules Wright, Director of the Wapping Project to remind me that that was almost eight years ago. She too had been there of course. So, now you know about Jules Wright too. She was very hospitable and was also sitting on a cushion inside the greenhouse. As was another ex-student, Jack Underwood, who is now building a reputation as a poet, and will be included in a forthcoming younger British poets anthology.
I lose track now. Ah yes, the social column. Your correspondent was wearing black trousers, a dark brown shirt with a black cardigan on top and a dark brown cord jacket. Black shoes. You should have seen me, reader! You could have dropped me in a very big cup of coffee and never missed me. It was all very nice. Lydia said to read just as long as I felt like, so I talked and read for about forty minutes, after which followed questions and much conversation and a very nice duck dinner. (I seem to order duck every time I find myself in a nice restaurant.) Sweet course being a little late, Jules advised me to grab it, plate and spoon and all, and eat it in Lydia's car on the way, so she could return the the crockery the next morning. It was an entertaining ride, bumping over traffic calmers in the old Mini, the ice cream sliding to and fro in the narrow dish, while the voice of John Cleese dispensed directions from the satnav. (Turn left. No, left. Left, you fool! Never mind!)
I made the 10.30. At Chelmsford a large businessman, breathing heavily, came and sat opposite me and did the Times Quick crossword, slowly. He had a moustache and looked vintage 1970s. I had been reading Tibor Déry's Niki: The Story of a Dog for which I am to write an introduction in the New York Review of Books re-issue, but decided to put that away for a while and take out David Peace's The Damned United, a book that friend M had lent me a few days before. It's a work of fiction about Brian Clough's short time as boss of Leeds United, written from Clough's point of view.
The businessman spotted me reading it and said: Very good book, that. So we got talking. He was originally from the North East, somewhere between Newcastle and Sunderland, a Sunderland supporter and a semi-professional footballer in his youth. So football was the subject: Leeds United, Derby Country, Norwich City, Don Revie, and Brian Clough. Sunderland beating Leeds in the 1973 Cup Final. And time passed and I went back to my book, and eventually, once past Ipswich, the train emptied out and cooled down. And yes, it is a good book. Home about 1am.