The Coronavirus Diaries, 2nd September 2022 Hidden Bullet Points

Celia and I went to the Small is Beautiful exhibition today in South Ken. The ads for it looked good, but it was even better than we’d hoped, housed in a space which seemed to unfold as we made our way round. An exhibition can be made or spoiled by how it is laid out. This one felt like a journey of discovery and exploration. Engaging, stimulating, exciting and in the true sense of the word, wonderful.

It closes on Sunday so you haven’t got much time to see it in London, but then it’s off to New York. Might be a good excuse for a hop across the pond. There were people of all ages. Young children were both mesmerised and audibly thrilled by the whole thing. We went in the morning. We were actually the first people through the door and we spent nearly two hours there. Time flew by. Some of the pieces amused, some provoked, amazed the skill of all the artists amazed. My favourites were Simon Laveuve whose pieces I loved, and Slinkachu whose pieces I recognised, though I don’t recall from where. Anyway, check out the links.

A couple of days ago I had acupuncture for my shoulder and neck pain. I went back to Luke who I last saw four years ago. It has only just dawned me that this is now chronic pain as I have had it for months. The session has definitely helped, and I feel more positive that this is not something I am going to have to live with for ever. I go back fr more needles in ten days. Watch this space.

I’ve always been a reader, but at the moment I am never happier then when I have my nose in a book. A trip to the Barbican library netted booty: four novels to enjoy. The Barbican library is the best lending library I know. Unlike so many, it hasn’t been disemboweled and turned into a café with a few books around and a lot of computers. I think there are even still librarians working there, as opposed to library assistants. In the various lockdowns while our local libraries closed, the Barbican did all it could to make sure us borrowers could keep borrowing. We reserved our books online, then collected them from the library’s back door. It worked perfectly and gave our walks to the City real purpose.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 8th July 2020

For nearly a week Celia has been in a state of suppressed, and sometimes not so suppressed excitement at the prospect of a haircut this coming Friday. So she is having to be very grown up at the moment as the appointment hangs in the balance. This morning her husband Charlie was told to go to A&E at St Thomas’ after Celia had called 111 on his behalf at breakfast time. He was allowed to come home, but there is talk of a follow up appointment at Guy’s hospital for investigations. So I imagine that tomorrow Celia will be on tenterhooks hoping that appointment will not be on Friday while at the same time hoping it is if the need is urgent. She’ll be torn.

Last night I had an email from City of London libraries to say they will reopen under certain conditions shortly. There were reassurances about books borrowed before lockdown, and advice to renew loans online if we didn’t feel ready to enter a library building. I have one book borrowed from CoL, another from the London Borough of Southwark. I live in Southwark. I have walked by some of Southwark’s libraries over the last few months, and, crucially, over the last couple of weeks. I have looked at notices, hoping for information about plans to reopen. Nothing. Nor have I received any email message. Fired up by the message from CoL, today I had a look at the LBS site. There was a notice about libraries closing due to Covid 19, nothing about reopening. Continue reading


My shelves are groaning. Something has to be done. Culling books is so hard. Each one feels like a friend, how to tell them they aren’t needed anymore, how to cast them into the outer darkness that is the charity shop (even though that’s where a fair few of them were before I brought them home)?
A friend is taking some volumes of French poetry I feel I can live without, as well as a copy of Louis Aragon’s Le Paysan de Paris, a book I used to love. I read the opening pages, and I still love it, I just don’t think I’ll read it again.
There are so many wonderful books I haven’t read, if I could just identify the ones on my shelves I shall reread and let the rest go it would be an immense help. As it is, I feel a responsibility to make sure they all end up in good homes. Continue reading

A Good Literary Haul for September

I am halfway through the book group novel for next week. Or it may be the week after. Anyway. It's The Queen of The Tambourine by Jane Gardam. I love Jane Gardam's writing and I have read loads by her, including, I thought, this novel which I thought I had on my bookshelves. I didn't, so I bought a second hand copy which fortunately arrived minutes before I left the. Smoke for das Boot yesterday.

I started it today, and from page one realised I had not read it before. I began by being amused by the Hyacinth Bouquetish character of Eliza. Then that palled, but before I could think I might give up the novel stepped up a gear. Unobtrusively. Jane Gardam is the most understated of writers. Don't expect big scenes; crash bang wallop chapters; shock horror revelations. It's the detail that matters in her books; the tiny shifts in behaviour, attitudes and thinking. Nothing and everything happens. She is not for the skim reader.

I'm loving it. And it was a tough gif after The Tidal Zone which introduced me to Sarah Moss. I think she has written about five novels so far. So I have been a bit slow on the uptake. I blame the library service. If you know me and my hobby horses, this will not come as a surprise.

Time was I'd go to our local library, small but with an admirable stock of books. I'd prowl the shelves and come home with a haul of novels by people of whom I had never heard. My horizons were widened. Then someone in some library service somewhere decreed that libraries should stock best selling novels by best selling authors and any book not borrowed n a six month period should be cast into outer darkness. So suddenly we found ourselves with libraries that stocked the same books as our supermarkets. Writers who I had discovered before the six month rule disappeared from the shelves. I am grateful that my reading was widened by earlier more enlightened library administrators, but it's a bugger these days. Continue reading

A Walk and Two Libraries

The rain is being thrown against the windows tonight, but this morning was glorious, and a windy day meant even the heaviest washing on the line dried thoroughly.

Celia and I set off from the Elysian fields of sunny Walworth to visit the not so deep south where Denmark Hill meets Herne Hill. There are roads leading off the main road that we only ever seem to see from the bus. Time for some initial explorations. En route we passed the site of a newly demolished house. It reminded us of bombsites. This fireplace was presumably blocked up and the grate left undisturbed for decades until the house was pulled down. It looks like the sticks that had been placed in it for a fire that was never lit were also immured. My guess is it will end up in an antique shop somewhere and fetch a tidy sum.



It would be ironic if the purchaser were one of those incomers who have just realised that south east London’s grittiness suddenly flavour of the month.



I needed the loo, so we diverted to the newest local library. My preoccupation with my bladder may explain why I didn’t photograph the exterior. There are some historic items in the foyer, including this one celebrating the number of local men who signed up to fight in the First world war. It was hours later before I thought to wonder if my great uncles were among them.



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Three Cultural Events in One Week and Fatima for PM

If I had a halo this week it would have a cultural hue. Three evenings out with Celia enjoying the printed word and its practitioners.

Monday saw us at a very couth venue in west London. They do things differently in Notting Hill these days. It’s a far cry from the place I knew in the 1980s, and Celia had digs there she described as grotty when training to be a teacher. Digs close by the venue.

It was an ex Baptist church, now replete with bar and disco ball. We went to listen to five authors and didn’t realise we should have got there early to nab places at a round table and buy a bottle of wine. We sat at the back on seats that were less comfortable than they looked.

But it was worth it. One of the five writers was Helen Macdonald who wrote H is for Hawk. She is an entertaining and unpretentious speaker. I bought her book for Aunt a while ago. Aunt’s AMD is making progress slow, but she was delighted to find that much of the book is set not far from her home. When I bought my own copy after the talk and Helen Macdonald signed it, I asked where she lived as the slides she shared showed a landscape that looked very familiar. It turns out she lives in the village where Mother had her flat in the very sheltered housing scheme. That would explain it.

I shall look out for her at the pub. It’s the one Aunt liked so much and wants to visit again.

Aunt is not feeling great. She is having difficulty swallowing and losing more weight. She will probably have a stent inserted on Tuesday. Tonight she was talking as though she expected to have only weeks to live. I trust she is wrong. Work stops me going to see her at the moment, but it sounds as though I had better get busy making nourishing soups.

On Wednesday Celia were back in familair post codes, taking the bus to Canada Water and another statement library in Southwark, this time by Piers Gough. It has quite eclipsed Will Alsop’s Peckham creation, and is a great space. We were there for a Quick Reads event with Sophie Hannah and Fanny Brice. Coincidentally, Sophie Hannah goes to the same pub mentioned above.

Celia’s husband asked her what Quick Reads were about. She explained they are aimed at people who do not necessarily think of themselves as readers, maybe they are struggling with literacy. He didn’t seem to think we were quite the target audience. Perhaps she forgot to mention the charity is sponsored by Galaxy, and as well as receiving two free books, we could also expect a large bar of chocolate. He found out later as Celia generously shared her chocolate with him. I guess that’s what a good marriage is about. Continue reading

Let Our Libraries Live!

My world has been rocked. I am upset. I have been upset since this morning when it happened. Or rather when I found out that it had happened. Against the odds, I have stayed upset despite a lovely lunch, despite using my new turbo brush that actually picks up the cat fur so I can see what colour the carpet really is without an orange layer covering it, despite phone calls and chats with friends and family. I can’t put the clock back to after breakfast time and remake my plans so that I would stay in happy ignorance. I suspect that sooner or later I would have found out anyway.
This is what happened. I wanted to return my library books and decided to go to a library a bit further from my home but still in easy walking distance. I was there a few weeks back and noticed that they had some interesting novels. It was where I managed to get hold of a copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods which I finished while I was away. More of that later maybe.
So I wrapped up warmly against the cold, and stepped out into the street and through the back ways with my books in my bag. The library was warm and quiet. I listened approvingly to a library assistant asking some children to keep their voices down. My usual library has changed from a place of hushed quiet to one where mobile phone calls are made and taken casually around the shelves, and the browsing borrower has to navigate past people with laptops making the most of the free wifi.

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