Letters As Pandas

Monday 25th April 2016. Working on the second draft of the MA essay. It’s 3000 words over the limit, so most of the work is working out which bits to cut. Some are obvious – simply any sections that I feel less confident about. Others fall into the category of ‘Fascinating And Original Insights That I Feel The World Will Benefit From, But Which Aren’t Relevant To The Current Matter At Hand’.


Reading Hollinghurst’s Swimming-Pool Library, I find a line in which a character refers to Brideshead Revisited as ‘that deplorable novel’. All the more amusing, given that the AH’s later works The Line of Beauty and The Stranger’s Child are often compared to Brideshead.  Today, Sebastian Flyte and his teddy bear seem more invulnerable than ever: there’s a new stage production of Brideshead doing the media rounds.


Tuesday 26th April 2016. To Senate House Library, for one of the many Shakespeare exhibitions for the 400th anniversary of his death. This is one is called Shakespeare: Metamorphosis. It presents a history of the Bard in print, via a ‘Seven Ages of Man’ theme. The last age, the decrepit ‘sans teeth, sans eyes’ one, is used for the digital era, now that every play is easily accessible online. Thus the great man is now ‘sans binding, sans pages’. Some irony, though, as I’m writing this up from the exhibition leaflet.

Among the exhibits is a copy of Golding’s sixteenth-century translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, an edition similar to the one that inspired Shakespeare. The title page says: ‘Tr. Arthur Golding Gentleman. A work very pleasant and delectable.‘ I’m also intrigued by some pristine copies of a 1940s series aimed at schoolchildren, The Satchel Shakespeare. Each play was published as a slim, dark green paperback, light yet somehow sturdy enough to survive a child’s satchel.

As is increasingly the case with historical exhibitions, displays of personal letters tend to be a highlight. Given that the medium of letters is more of an endangered species than the medium of books, even a copy of the First Folio can seem less exotic than letters from a few decades ago.  One only has to point to the success of the Letters of Note books and the Letters Live events to show the changing role of letters; from commonplace pursuit to otherworldly public spectacle. If curators are the zoo keepers of culture, letters are the new pandas.

Consequently, my favourite item in this Shakespeare show is a 1957 correspondence between the University of London’s JH Pafford, and the German scholar Richard Flutter. At the time, Pafford was editing the Arden Shakespeare edition of The Winter’s Tale. Flutter had just published a letter in which he argued that Shakespeare only wrote a fraction of the play. Pafford duly wrote to Flutter asking him to explain this theory in more detail, though he adds that he’s already firmly convinced the play is fully Shakespeare’s. In the reply, also on display, Flutter replies, quite reasonably: ‘Why do you want me to mix a cocktail for you when you are firmly determined not to drink it?


Saturday 30th April 2016. The essay seems to be taking forever. I’m finally on the third draft, working most days in Birkbeck Library, in Torrington Square. Today I don’t finish till half past ten at night. As I walk out, thinking this is late enough, I notice that dozens of students are still hard at it. The library doesn’t close until quarter to midnight.


Sunday 1st May 2016. Weather getting warmer at last. Speak to Mum on the phone in the morning. Then off to the library again. Fourth draft of the essay.


Bank Holiday Monday, 2nd May 2016. Essay deadline at noon, so I’m up early to revise the fifth draft in pen. By the time I finish, it’s getting on for eleven. I still have to type up the corrections. So I hit the PCs in Birkbeck Library and frantically type away, barely taking a breath. I upload the finished version to the college website just in time, with about a minute to spare. It’s like a scene from a bad thriller.

All done now. The essay is by far the one I’ve worked the hardest on, at least to date. I only hope the effort comes across. Still, I’m at least confident that it’s full of uncommon and useful insights – the silver lining of a mind stuck in Lateral Mode.

There’s a phrase used to describe Peter Cook which I feel sums up the sentiment: ‘at a slight angle to the universe’. To be worried about being the wrong kind of ‘different’ in some respects, yet hoping to be the right kind of ‘different’ in others, such as in one’s writing. That’s the hope, anyway.


Evening: to the Odeon Leicester Square, in one of the smaller screens reserved for the less recent films. I see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, nearly five months after it opens. I’m making good on my (slightly silly) promise, made as a reaction to the aggressive, ubiquitous marketing of the film last December. I resolved to only go and see it when it had been reduced to one screen in central London. Which is now the case.

Tonight’s screening is still fairly well-attended, with a mixture of ordinary-looking people and tourists, and of all ages too. No rabid geeks seeing it for the umpteenth time – at least not visibly.

Then again, Star Wars fans come in all forms. A while ago I listened to an edition of A Point of View on BBC Radio 4. Helen Macdonald, the author of H is for Hawk, who is the same generation as me, talked about going back to see The Force Awakens six times. And this was back in February.

Ms Macdonald explained that for her, the new film represented a reassessment of her late 70s childhood, filtered through more up-to-date concerns, like a moving away from older stereotypes of race and gender. She also suggested that it acknowledged the rise of fan fiction, the genre where admirers of a fictional world remodel it for themselves and write their own amateur stories – often improving on it. They are like the heroine Rey in the film – ‘scavengers’ of the old, seizing on the elements which still work, and giving them new purpose. I’d say that Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock does the same. What might look like indulgent nostalgia at first, becomes an expression of human continuity.

Actually, the original Star Wars was itself a kind of 1970s fan fiction, what with George Lucas drawing on the campy Flash Gordon serials of his own youth, and bringing in Joseph Campbell’s theories of an even older continuity – classical mythology. Harry Potter has similar aspects: the orphan hero, the boarding school, touches of E Nesbit and CS Lewis – but with the less troubling and politically incorrect bits updated. A sense of exploring within a tradition, though, rather than mere box ticking.

The first half hour of the new Star Wars has some stunning imagery, particularly the isolated use of blood stains on a white Stormtrooper’s helmet – the first sign that the bad guys might be complicated humans too. Adam Driver steals the show: a walking, ready-made metaphor for all kinds of masculinity. From the way little boys can be inexplicably drawn to violence (I think of the Saki tale, ‘The Toys of Peace’), to the sons who join Islamic State, to the long-haired villains in manga comics.

I’m still not wholly converted to the cause, though: for all the reports of the director, Mr Abrams, making the film look more physical and haptic than the wafer-thin prequels, there’s still some pedestrian CGI monsters with tentacles halfway through. I miss the fabulous rubbery tentacles of the 1977 Trash Compactor Monster. Perhaps that’s where the line is drawn these days. The making of rubber tentacles has become a lost art. As with ‘craft beer’, perhaps there needs to be a revival in ‘craft tentacles’.


Wednesday 4th May 2016. Evening: to the Dalston Rio with Shanthi S and Rosie. We see the biopic of Miles Davis, Miles Ahead. Don Cheadle growls his way quite convincingly through the life of the volatile trumpeter. The film constantly flashes back and forth in time, often quite randomly. So the audience is grateful for Mr Cheadle’s vivid changes in appearance: neat short hair and shirt sleeves for the classic phase in the 50s and 60s, then afro and loud shirts for the sadder, reclusive Davis of the late 70s. Ewan McGregor turns up as a Rolling Stone reporter, looking like he’s auditioning for the next Kurt Cobain biopic.

It’s the later showing, at 9.20pm, and we down a few drinks at the Arcola Theatre bar first. Drinks and lateness turn out to be perfect companions for Miles Ahead, just as they were for Victoria the other week. Both films are steeped in an atmosphere of booze, late nights and city bars. The main difference with Miles Ahead, though, is that it’s a period piece. So there’s a huge amount of smoking inside the bars, too. Ashtrays sit on the tops of pianos in darkened clubs, each one duly cradling a lit cigarette. The smoke snakes its way up and around the scene, as much part of the visuals as the actors. It’s an unthinkable sight for a city bar now. It’s How We Used To Smoke.

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Department of Applied Peroxide

Saturday 30th May 2015.

To the countryside near Bishop’s Stortford, for a family gathering. The weather is still not summery enough, and despite a marquee in the garden, I lurk indoors in the kitchen. The FA Cup plays on a TV, for the indulgence of a lone football fan at the party. Later, on the Northern Line tube home, I see a trio of small boys decked out in what I take to be some sort of gaudy scout uniform. Either that or it’s a Harry Potter fancy dress party outfit: jumpers and scarves in striped bright yellow and blue. It is only later that I realise these are the away colours for Arsenal.

All dress is fancy dress, if the onlooker doesn’t get the memo.

* * *

Sunday 31st May 2015.

With Ella H for the afternoon. Tea and welsh rarebit at the travel-sized branch of Fortnums in St Pancras (a perfect hangover cure). Then across through the newly cleaned up area north of King’s Cross. We pass a glossy new building on the left, whose empty ground floor uses spooky neon displays and oddly-posed mannequins to announce its commercial availability. People are standing around and taking photos of the mannequins, unsure if this is an art installation or a glorified ‘To Let’ sign. It seems to be both.

Then to the House of Illustration gallery, for Mac Conner: A New York Life. The gallery is barely a year old, and has to be sought out behind the new St Martin’s college, rather than dropped into out of impulse. Last time I was here it was for Quentin Blake’s work for children. Mac Conner’s oeuvre in the 1950s was very much intended for adults: gouache paintings made to strict commission, by the Mad Men of the era. Those sharp-suited barons of public taste. There’s the inevitable adverts that have now acquired a tinge of comic hindsight, extolling the glamour of smoking and atomic energy. But many images are scenes from fiction, intended to accompany pulp-ish short stories and serialisations of novels. All the men in these dramatic, Hitchcockian scenes are square-jawed cads and rogues, while all the women are imaginary sisters of Audrey Hepburn or Doris Day. Their expressions are troubled, but their clothes are immaculate. Mac Conner himself is shown on a video, interviewed last year. He is still drawing at the age of 101.

We end up in the ornate Gilbert Scott bar, with its distinctive portico on Euston Road, and attack slightly too many glasses of rosé.

* * *

Monday 1st June 2015.

Evening: a drinks gathering at the Euston Flyer for fellow student (now turned student union worker) Miriam, and other friends – Charley, Jo, Sarah H, all not seen in months. It all gets very silly and giggly. The Flyer is opposite the British Library, a touch anonymous but not too touristy. And unusually for a pub near a London station, it has plenty of seats.

* * *

Tuesday 2nd June 2015.

Life among rented rooms. My neighbour David R-P knocks on my door in the morning. En route to the shower, he has locked himself out of his room, due to the fickle whims of Yale locks. Now he is stranded in the limbo of the shared hallway, equipped only with his pyjamas and towel. In films – most recently Birdman – this predicament is ripe for farce. But in real life it just means a combination of sheepishness and phone calls. The upshot is that I spend a pleasant couple of hours inviting David in for coffee, letting him use my internet and phone, and waiting for help to arrive. A spare key is located by the landlady, and all is well before lunchtime. I record this to disprove two common assumptions about London: that neighbours never help each other, and that landlords do not care about their tenants’ welfare.

* * *

In the evening: to Senate House for a special Birkbeck lecture by Marina Warner. It’s this year’s William Matthews lecture, funded by a bequest from the eponymous professor’s estate. I discover that Professor Matthews not only started out as a Birkbeck student (getting his BA, MA and PHD there in the 20s and 30s), but he also edited collections of diaries, including the definitive edition of Samuel Pepys.

Marina W’s talk centres on the UK’s ‘provincial’ tendency to shy away from world fiction in translation – ashamedly so, compared to other European countries. She talks about having recently judged the Booker International Prize, the winner being Hungary’s László Krasznahorkai, and champions his work in this talk. She also cites a quote by Joe Sacco that I like: ‘fiction allows a writer to connect the dots, while journalists often place the dots down without connecting them.’ (from an interview in the New Yorker, 14 November 2013).

David R-P unexpectedly turns up at the event’s wine reception afterwards: he and his companion, Nicoletta Wylde, are fellow fans of Ms Warner. An academic-looking man comes over to chat, curious about our appearance. DRP’s hair is bottle blond like mine, albeit much longer, while Nicoletta’s hair is a vivid Gothic Blue. ‘What is all this?’ he says, gesturing at us. ‘Department of Applied Peroxide’, I reply.

I chat to a few of my Birkbeck tutors, including Roger Luckhurst, about how Senate House turns up in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Day of the Triffids, and the Christian Bale Batman films. Even the ventilation ducts have an Art Deco labyrinth design, not unlike the striking logo for Christopher Nolan’s film company, Syncopy.

After this, David and Nicoletta accompany me over to Gordon Square, so I can pick up my latest essay result before we look for somewhere to eat. Fittingly, the essay is for my piece on Angela Carter, a favourite subject of Marina Warner. The mark is 75: a good First. Points off for not fully explaining who Ronald Firbank was, apparently (poor old Firbank…).

We repair to Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes around the corner for pizza and prosecco. (Would Virginia Woolf have approved? She did like cricket…) There’s a section of American diner-style booths, cordoned off in a separate glass section, so all the pool-playing and bowling can’t be heard. It’s pleasingly empty, too.

* * *

Wednesday 3rd June 2015.

A current cliché in online discourse is the phrase ‘to be fair’. It is so common that it has its own acronym: ‘tbf’. I find myself wincing at it, in the same way I wince at ‘famously’.

A joke suggests itself: ‘I have lightened my hair. To be fair.’

* * *

Evening: To Gordon Square yet again, this time for the English Department’s ‘end of studies’ party in the Keynes Library. I chat to a mixture of familiar and new faces, and we carry on the chat into the Birkbeck bar proper, over in Torrington Square. It’s becoming a week of heavy socialising, not to say over-indulgence. Unusual for me, but after so much putting aside of fun things into order to meet deadlines, I’m letting myself off the leash a little.

* * *

 Thursday 4th June 2015.

I get the dissertation back, the one on 21st century literary camp. The mark is 70: a First, if only just. I’m pleased and grateful. I have to admit that dissertations are a new form of assessment for me, and the subject matter IS notoriously slippery – possibly even controversial. I had the temerity to invent a new term for it: ‘campism’ – to denote a deliberate use of camp in order to produce a subversive effect. So I was somewhat stepping into untested waters. Or, given it was about camp, untested John Waters.

Am also pleased with the comments, given that they’re the last word from the whole four-year course: ‘A confident and sophisticated piece of work… insightful, careful, nuanced critical textual analysis… compelling, excellent work, and a fitting conclusion to your degree’.

And that’s all the final year provisional marks back. I now have to wait till mid-July to have them finalised, by various mysterious ‘external boards’. I like to think they meet in darkened crypts with flaming torches. Only then do I get the degree.


I go to see A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, at the ICA. It’s a moody, slow, black and white tale of an Iranian skateboarding vampire. She uses her Islamic chador like bat wings. The film is stylistically original, but very demanding in its slowness. I prefer Only Lovers Left Alive in the Arty Vampire Film stakes (vampire puns do seem hard to avoid).

* * *

Friday 5th June 2015.

One more film this week: Listen Up Philip, at the Phoenix in East Finchley. A screen in the cinema café now displays a photo of Benedict Cumberbatch, along with his statement on becoming a patron, championing the cause of independent cinemas and so on.

Listen Up Philip isn’t a very likeable film, with its self-obsessed novelist character (Jason Schwartzman) moving out of the New York flat he shares with Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men again). He goes off to ‘find himself’ by staying at a summer house owned by another self-obsessed novelist, if a more fun one (Jonathan Pryce). There’s a god-like voice-over narrator, which I think is meant to make the film feel like a novel in itself. But in fact, it just doesn’t work – it pushes the audience away from any proper connection with the story. Ms Moss’s lesser character is more interesting and sympathetic, to the point where I wanted to see two hours about her instead. To carry on the novel simile, the film feels like an early draft that has accidentally been printed up, Franzen-like, as a proper edition.

Curiously, both A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and Listen Up Philip have long scenes involving the comforting appeal of cats. Perhaps the internet is to blame.

Both are also set in surreally indistinct time periods: some sort of pre-digital past, where people only listen to music on vinyl. It’s as if one has to go to the cinema now to remind oneself of a world where people didn’t worship pocket devices. We go to watch a big screen, in order to escape all the little ones.

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Rise Of The Floating Yodas

Saturday 6th September 2014.

I spend a day in town with Mum, meeting her off the 1031 train at Liverpool Street. We manage to pack in two exhibitions and one major art installation, along with lunch (stir fried tofu for two on the terrace of the British Library’s restaurant, with hardly anyone else about). First up is the Quentin Blake show at the House of Illustration, one of the buildings in the new Granary Square development, north of King’s Cross station. Like the station itself, the development is an impressive mix of Victorian buildings tidied up and put to new use, alongside scatterings of new architecture: the astroturf steps by the canal, and the matrix of pavement fountains, with their multi-coloured lights.

We investigate the viewing platform set up opposite the square. The usual aluminium panels denoting which building is which are covered in angry comments, scrawled in black ink. Everything in sight is attacked: ‘ugly!’, ‘terrible idea!’, ‘waste of space!’, ‘waste of money!’ The anonymous writer even accuses the sign of getting its facts wrong: ‘NO! That’s on the LEFT, not the RIGHT!’ I check the skyline. The sign is perfectly correct.

I can’t help thinking this is a real-life effect of the vogue to leave angry comments under every piece of information on the internet, and as a matter of course, too. The implied message really being ‘I exist and I am lonely and I want to matter.’ Or put more simply, ‘I troll therefore I am’.

Mum, however, does like Granary Square. She daringly adds her own comment to the graffiti – though she’s careful to do so in pencil: ‘Nonsense! Think positive! Be a Polyanna, not an Eeyore!’

[On Friday the 12th I revisit the viewing platform. The sign is now wiped clean of any graffiti, and is back to normal. This is the equivalent of that most ubiquitous statement on the Guardian site: ‘This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our community standards. Replies may also be deleted.’]

* * *

The Quentin Blake show includes a whole room dedicated to Michael Rosen’s Sad Book. Other Blake works on display are his pictures for Voltaire’s Candide, for David Walliams’s Boy In The Dress, and for his own wordless book, Clown. A film reveals that Mr Blake does his drawing standing up, like an architect, and that he uses a light box, not just to trace but because it ‘feels friendly’. Illustration, he says, is about choosing a single moment in a text, then living in it. ‘You own that moment for as long as you like.’

In the gallery shop, Mum impulse-buys Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton, a mad and funny picture book about a naughty dog. Though it’s aimed at the very young, the lesson of self-discipline is all-connecting. I end up getting a copy for myself. Somewhat ironically, the book is hard to resist.

* * *

I show Mum the new Hatchards at St Pancras, fast becoming one of my favourite places to browse. It’s an example of how best to lay out a small bookshop: a little bit of everything, with as much as possible displayed face out, and lots of tempting tables. The new Beano annual (for 2015) is given prominence, and with good reason. The cover shows Dennis the Menace and Gnasher in St Pancras, running to catch the Eurostar.

At the National Portrait Gallery, we take in this year’s BP Portrait contest. Teeming with people. In contrast to the Kings Cross viewing platform, the thoughts of visitors are this time solicited, in the shape of a touchscreen. You tap on the painting you think should have won. I have no idea if the results are collated somewhere, but it gives the sense of feeling like one’s opinion matters, and that’s the true spirit of the age. My favourite painting is by Clara Drummond, ‘Portrait in Blue and Gold’. A second prize would go to ‘Eddie In The Morning’, by Geoffrey Beasley, which Mum is also keen on.

We wander through a corner of Trafalgar Square. At least three things are going on at once. In the main space is the stage for a rally by The People’s March for the NHS (sample slogan: ‘NHS – Everyone’s Concern, Nobody’s Business). In the corner is a busking set by Jake Heading, a pleasant, bespectacled young singer who’s drawn quite a crowd. And a few yards away from him are the usual living statues. Recently there’s been a spate of trompe l’oeil performers in the touristy parts of the city, particularly Floating Yodas. These are people dressed as the little green Muppet-y creature from the Star Wars films, whose costume hides a seat attached to a sturdy pole, so it looks like they are levitating. As we pass, one of the Yodas takes off his rubber mask to mop his streaming brow. ‘Sweatier than it looks, living statue work is’.

* * *

We end the day at the Tower Of London, there to see the red porcelain poppies planted all around the grassy moat. A staggering sea of red. One poppy for each life lost in WW1, arranged so it looks like they’re pouring out of one of the Tower’s windows. The poppies circle the whole Tower, and hundreds of other people are here to get a good look at them too. It may be a simple symbol, but it’s a powerful and unforgettable one.

* * *

Sunday 7th September 2014.

To the St James Theatre Studio in Victoria for a new one-man play: Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope. Written and performed by Mark Farrelly, it’s an interesting indication of where QC’s reputation might be today, fifteen years after his death. Certainly the 80s Sting hit ‘An Englishman In New York’ is heavily relied upon as a qualification. Not only is the song played in the show, but it’s alluded to three times in the limited space of the flyer. I always thought the association was unfair, given Crisp’s dislike of pop music full stop. But I should admit that I’ve never cared for the song itself, its melody and production being too bland for my liking. My apologies to Mr Sting.

Mr Farrelly is rather muscular in comparison with the two main actors who’ve played QC in the past, John Hurt (on film) and Bette Bourne (on stage). He makes me think how a young Laurence Olivier might have approached the role, because his version of Quentin seems as much critical as it is affectionate. It hints at unaddressed layers beneath the surface, perhaps even that Crisp was something of an unreliable narrator. The show is much more of a dramatisation than an impersonation. In fact, the sense of Quentin Crisp playing a part himself is accentuated halfway through, when Mr Farrelly changes clothes and wigs in full view of the audience, going from 1960s London Quentin (retelling the events of The Naked Civil Servant), to 1990s New York Celebrity Quentin (delivering his Messages Of Hope lectures, hence the title: Naked Hope).

There’s also a moment where a member of the audience is asked to get on stage and help him read his question cards, which I’m sure is something the real Crisp never did. At first this seems pure pantomime, just something fun to break up the format of a one-man show. Yet the lingering effect is to remind the audience of the way Crisp would go through the motions, always giving the same answers to questions, as if reading from a script. So Farrelly suggests there might be something not quite so inspirational about that. I disagree. I’m biased, but I think words in themselves can be a sufficient approach to the world, even if they’ve been polished and prepared and repeated so much that they might appear insincere. A good aphorism, like a good story, can retain its own self-contained freshness and sincerity, because it represents pure meaning.

* * *

Tuesday 9th September 2014.

I’m at Senate House Library, reading The Day Of The Triffids by John Wyndham. At one point I realise with delight that Senate House itself plays a major part in the novel. It becomes the base camp for the London survivors, being one of the tallest landmarks in the city at the time it was written, circa 1950. I also discover that there’s a Book Bench celebrating the connection outside. It depicts triffids on Tower Bridge. The bench is tucked away amid the foliage by the front of the building, lurking there, as if ready to sting.

* * *

Wednesday 10th September 2014.

The opening line of The Day Of The Triffids is one of the greatest in literature:

‘When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like a Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.’

But after that, some lines irritate with their deep 1950s-ness. The hero’s love interest is called Josella Playton, which makes her sound like a lingerie brand. Even the 1980s BBC TV adaptation inserted a scene where she says ‘I’ve always hated the name Josella. Just call me Jo.’

One line of the novel is:

‘His companion was a good-looking, well-built girl with an occasional superficial petulance’.

What exactly does Wyndham mean by ‘well-built’? Curvy? Athletic? Double-glazed? Upholstered? Cantilevered? Or just… waterproof?

* * *

Thursday 11th September 2014.

To Highbury to visit Shanthi S. She gives me a birthday present: The Animals, a fat collection of Isherwood’s letters. Then we walk to the Dalston Rio for Two Days, One Night, a French language film starring Marion Cotillard. The BBFC certification card at the start surely crosses the line from content warning into plot spoiler: ‘Contains one scene of attempted suicide’. So all the cinemagoers are waiting for that. That aside, it’s a very straightforward Ken Loach-esque tale of a factory worker tracking down all her co-workers during one weekend, in order to convince them to vote against her redundancy on the following Monday. The dilemma is that a vote to keep her is also a vote to lose their own bonuses. I felt it was the sort of film that might become socially important as time goes on, but found it a little too straightforward to be properly engaging.

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Joining The Ministry Of Truth

Saw this cartoon (thanks to Minerva Miller):

Good joke, though obviously it doesn’t bear much examination – the little girl is able to read the books ON the device. A library card is not much use as an object until you go to the library.

As before, I think it’s so wrong to view these things as competing with each other, or like mp3s versus vinyl. Better to think that when it comes to ways of accessing books, the more the merrier.

To this end, as well as being an avid Kindle user, I’ve just acquired my seventh London library card. It’s for the University of London’s Senate House, which caters for all the UOL colleges, Birkbeck included. Birkbeck’s own library is well-stocked, but I’ve already found that its limited copies of textbooks tend to get snapped up by the other students on my course if I’m not fast enough, even the reference copies. One option is to buy them, of course, but many of these doorstoppers cost upwards of £25 a time. Even if you resell them to other students when you’ve finished with them (via Amazon Marketplace, say) you still have to find the money upfront. And besides, it feels wasteful.

So I’m milking every possible library option. I’m currently a member of:

Haringey Libraries (public lending)
Islington Libraries (public lending)
Camden Libraries (public lending)
The British Library (public reference)
The London Library (private subscription, via their grant system)
Birkbeck Library (academic)
Senate House Library (academic)

Plus I’m getting a free SCONUL Access card, which lets me use a further 23 academic libraries in London.

So if I still can’t get hold of a book now, I know it won’t be for want of trying.

Getting a Senate House card has also been an ambition for years as a lover of beautiful buildings and libraries, ever since I was first shown it in the early 90s. This was while walking around Bloomsbury with Keith Girdler, the singer with Blueboy. He pointed out the way the building suddenly leered out at you with its gorgeous, Art Deco Orwellian majesty (literally Orwellian too – Senate House inspired the Ministry of Truth in 1984). He also told me it was a university library, so we couldn’t go inside.

Keith died of cancer a few years ago, not much older than me. I’d like to show him my new library card and say: thanks. Got there eventually, Keith.

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