The British Library

Dear Son,

I haven’t told you about my visit to London I am unable to go out today so now seems as good a time as any to tell you about my first day in London. I had an exciting train journey. I had pre-booked and so had a forward facing window seat with a table with my ticket number on it. The train carriage was rather full and as usual I settled down to watching my fellow passengers and listening to their conversations. People watching I find endlessly fascinating. The exciting part, came when a Nigerian lady and her friend, together with monstrous luggage, demanded to sit in the seats on the other side of the carriage directly opposite me. The people sitting there, a family ( Who incidentally were not English lest you accuse me of racism) with a small boy and a girl were convinced that they had booked those seats and the father produced the tickets to verify this. There were raised voices, as the lady waved her booking form and asserted her right to the seats, whilst the family refused to move. She huffed and pouted. Then she grumbled loudly. I was impressed with the family who remained polite and courteous throughout. Eventually, a very stern lady in a uniform appeared and the Nigerian lady made a loud complaint about not getting her seat. The train manager, informed the woman that not only was her booking form not a ticket, but that the date of travel on the booking form was not the same as the the day she was travelling. Consequently, she concluded, that as the woman was travelling without a valid ticket, she would have to fine her. I did not believe that this lady could be more vociferous, but she proved me wrong and with much arm waving and loud debate they left the carriage, which immediately fell silent. In spite of her loudness, there was something appealing in her flamboyance and passionate belief in her own rightness, despite all evidence to the contrary.  In comparison, the rest of the journey was rather dull and we pulled into St Pancras without further incident and on time.  After searching for a bit I found the left luggage office and left my bags. In the foyer of St Pancras there is a blue piano chained up to prevent theft, likewise a piano stool. They are for members of the public to amuse themselves on.  A young man was playing Beethoven with great fluency and passion. His standard was professional and his interpretation was lyrical. I was completely entranced and watched him for a while whilst ensuring I was unobserved as I did not want to break his concentration. When I eventually ventured outside it was blissfully warm and sunny. I soon found the entrance to The British Library.

It seemed a shame to leave the bright sunshine and go inside, but I had to find some food and the cafe seemed a good bet. In the coffee bar, most people were on their tablets, phones or laptops. A few people gossiped and it wasn’t long before a couple of elderly ladies approached me, to share my table. I spent a happy half hour finding out about their lives. In the centre of the library, is a tower of books, extending up through all the floors and surrounded by glass. The volumes were huge and imposing, however the effect is striking and spectacular. I sat in the cafe for some time getting my bearings.

In one side room was an exhibition on Magna Carta and in another was the collection of the treasures of the British library and it was the latter I had come to see.

I have to say, I was in bliss as I wandered round examining a Bach manuscript (J.S rather than any of the others). They had a copy of the Thomas Tallis Spem in Allium the forty part motet (Currently famous from 50 Shades of Grey). Mr Tallis is probably spinning in his grave about that still if it introduces a new audience to beautiful music I for one will not complain. I read a page of Alice in Wonderland in Charles Dodgson’s handwriting with his illustrations. There was the page of a manuscript of Jane Austen’s History of the English People. There was a page of Jane Eyre with all of Charlotte Bronte’s crossings out. A page of Great Expectations, quite a few pages of Trollope, but being only familiar with the Barsetshire Chronicles  the others were a mystery.

Moving on there were cases of illuminated manuscripts as much works of art as works of literature. Indeed they were exquisite in their details. Some of the virtual texts, could be examined in detail and the attention to every small part is unbelievable, especially when you consider that these were written in an age when monks used candles. There was a Gutenberg bible ( my computer doesn’t do umlauts sorry). Even more precious, was a copy of Wycliffe’s New Testament, a book that cast him his life. A first folio of Shakespeare and numerous other works from eastern literary traditions.

Mindful of the need to accomplish ten thousand steps a day I eventually dragged myself away and went to explore the rest of the library. In order to visit the rooms containing the books, one needs to have a reader’s card and as I did not possess such a thing, I could only explore the common areas. Still, I discovered a small exhibition on how damaged books are cleaned and rebound. I found the process fascinating and, as I was the only person in the exhibition, I lingered a good while, smelling the leather used to bind the books and examining the tools that are used. The sheer amount of work and attention to detail that goes into restoring  and rebinding a book was amazing. Making this visit was one of the highlights of my trip to London. I was unable to take photos of the various manuscripts and consequently there are no photos to keep you entertained in this narrative.

I hope you didn’t find my account too boring.

All my love

Your mother

A Literary Postcard From Nottingham

Dear Son,

I thought I would send you a postcard from Nottingham. Like all postcards it is open unlike a letter which is sealed.

I was nearly late this morning. Thanks to a splitting headache that has troubled me for several days. The needle like pain behind my eyes that made my head swim as I tried to sit up. Accordingly I drank a mug of tea took two painkillers and went back to sleep.

This was how I awoke at ten am when I needed to be in Nottingham for eleven. I rushed around and jogged to the bus stop just to see the bus pulling away. In a unique moment  I must have pulled a face because the bus stopped just so that I could get on. How brilliant was that?

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It was ten to eleven before the bus reached town. I avoided the crowded Friar Lane and headed down Hounds Gate. Five to eleven and I had arrived outside the church of St Peter just outside Marks and Spencers. The Sikh community have a stall offering free cartons and cans of drinks in memory of the fifth Guru who promoted freedom of religious belief even dying for his faith. I was thankful to pick up a drink as I was very thirsty another serendipitous event. I manage to grab a cup of tea inside and settle into a pew at the front for the coffee concert  one of a series of free concerts held at St Peter’s church. Even though it is free, I am happy to give a donation as I don’t want to exploit them, because there is no up front charge, I can try new music and things I would not otherwise come to listen to.

Today the Newstead singers are presenting a series of pieces sung in Latin mostly acapella. However the last three works have an accompaniment on the organ Peter Siepmann plays the organ and manages the music at the church. He looks just as dapper as usual and plays beautifully. The Music travels forward in time from Byrd through to John Rutter. Byrd’s Ave Verum is particularly lovely the harmonies are so haunting. All the voices weave in and out of each other with different melodies yet create a harmonious whole. It is truly breathtaking. For the other pieces there are some old favourites. Frank’s Panis angelicus was familiar from school days. Faure’s cantique pour John Racine is one of my favourite pieces and the concluding piece John Rutter’s Gaelic blessing we have sung in choir so it was lovely to hear it being sung again.

I had no idea of what I was going to do after the concert, but reflecting that there were a great many corners of this city that I had never explored I decided to see what new things I could find. I made my way down Peck Lane that runs from opposite St Peter to opposite the Exchange Walk.

Peck Lane

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I went through the Exchange shopping centre looking in all the extremely expensive shops. Thankfully not tempted as the clothes looked cheap and nasty. It must be the style this year to wear sack-like dresses and brightly coloured sun dresses. Even the men’s suits appeared slightly creased and badly fitting.

The Flying Horse Opposite Exchange Walk on the hill

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Next to The Works on Long Row a small alleyway led to an independent bookshop Five Leaves.

Nottingham has a series of flower displays described as a Floral trail

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A smallish fiction section a largish political section and a decent philosophy section a gay, lesbian and transgender section but no trashy novels. This is a bookshop with intellectual pretensions. They had the small paperbacks that I have been collection so I bought 3. I found the novel One Night Markovitch by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen an Israeli writer.

The catalyst for the novel is an Israeli plan to send young men to Europe. There, they marry single Jewish women, thus rescuing scores from the rising tide of antisemitism and taking them back to Israel, where they promptly divorce.

The only problem is that Yaacov, a man with such a forgettable face that he is regularly sent out to smuggle weapons, is paired with Bella, the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Yaacov senses that here is his moment, and unlike the other men, he refuses to divorce. His wife has other ideas, and they are forced to live together, torn up with unrequited love on the one hand, and brimming with loathing on the other.

According to the review, characters suffer and prosper in love, living, dying, hoping, despairing. Men and women smash together, scorching each other, sometimes fatally, with the intensity of their desires. This all seemed a bit emotional and extreme for me so I put it back on the shelf.

I decided to avoid John Lewis and made my way to a cafe inside Victoria Market. Many of the stalls have closed but some of the old faithful ones were still there. I love the bright colours and smells of the market and spent a happy hour wandering around (although the leather stall that sold bondage harnesses was a surprise).

I enjoyed my cheap cafe there were no pretentious couples just people talking about their intended visits to a music festival. A family with three generations sat beside me  throwing the packets of sugar across the table. Nowhere else would I have heard the phrase

“There are six chairs here you dickhead grandad”

Over my egg salad I read Katherine Mansfield’s novella comprising  Marriage a la mode and Miss Brill.

I started to write a ghost story that has been fermenting in my brain for a while. I was curious what other people were reading in the corner an elderly couple sat drinking tea he read the newspaper  spread open on the table in front of him whilst she was reading The Paying guests by Susan Walters. A compelling narrative of two stories a love story and a crime novel with a particularly dark intersection. I won’t ruin it for you.

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa, a large silent house now bereft of brothers, husband and even servants, life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers. For with the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the ‘clerk class’, the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. And as passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

The new E L James book Grey basically 50 shades of Grey told from Christian’s perspective was in evidence. However since I felt that the original was not only badly written I was unhappy with the themes of domination and submission. The sex night have been wonderful but I didn’t find much love or tenderness within the pages. Perhaps I am just a chocolates, roses and flowers person. More probably a scrabble, good book and cup of tea person.

Of course the biggest novel this year will be the new or rather the old Harper Lee sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. Called Go Set a Watchman it follows the story of scout and atticus Finch when Scout has grown up. As it hasn’t come out yet I will just have to wait.

One of the surprising reads has been Anthony Doerr’s novel All the light we cannot see about a blind french girl Marie who flees with her father from Paris to escape the German occupation staying on the Brittany coast with an agoraphobic uncle. An orphan boy in Germany Werner spends his time in building and mending radios this makes him very useful in searching out resistance radio operators and as you can imagine their worlds collide. It is a novel about kindness and goodness knows there are few enough of those.

The one novel I want to get is a debut novel by Laura Barnett called The Versions of Us. It is about the liminal place where one path is taken and the consequences that ensue are completely different from if another path had been taken.

Here is the Waterstones Synopsis

“What if you had said yes …? Eva and Jim are nineteen, and students at Cambridge, when their paths first cross in 1958. Jim is walking along a lane when a woman approaching him on a bicycle swerves to avoid a dog. What happens next will determine the rest of their lives. We follow three different versions of their future – together, and apart – as their love story takes on different incarnations and twists and turns to the conclusion in the present day. The Versions of Us is an outstanding debut novel about the choices we make and the different paths that our lives might follow. What if one small decision could change the rest of your life?”

It is again a positive book. I took from it that whilst it is enticing to think that we all have a soulmate. In these different versions of lives where people spiral out of their allotted grooves, they still attain happiness within their different versions, differently happy. You may find your great love at twenty and it all goes wrong, or you may take until you are fifty.

This chimes with something I have been thinking of for a while. How we can cause another person harm without even being aware of it. We go out one day feeling under the weather. We have battled on to go to work and we feel a certain self righteousness. However we infect someone and they become unwell. A trivial occurrence  you could say, but suppose the illness is German Measles and the person you infect is pregnant. Now the consequences could be far reaching and yet you would be unaware of the damage you had unwittingly caused.

Are sins of commission more serious than sins of omission. If you neglect to do something is that less wrong than actually doing something wrong. In the anglican service there is a part, the confession where the congregation states that

“we have left undone those things that we should have done”. Although these days the language is less antiquated. Anyway I decide to explore the alleyways of the centre of the city. I enclose photographs of the various shopping arcades I visited and places I roamed. I ended up as always in the gravitational pull of Waterstones. The only force strong enough to release me from the gravitational field of Waterstones is a Blackwells or a Foyles.

I naturally bought another book and once I arrived home I read  Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Old Nurse’s Story.  I started to translate a German Children’s book “Wo ist die Brille”

Tomorrow is Father’s day I plan to make your father a lovely meal and bake some shortbread that I will top with fresh strawberries and cream. I will do my best to make sure he has a lovely day.

Your mother