I was trying to work out the roll-over effect of eight take-off and landing traumas in one day ...
Flying home from the Caribbean would, I told myself, be a breeze. A tiny funfair-ride plane from Nevis to Antigua, then eight hours to Heathrow, lost in Jay McInerney's new novel, slumbering through the movie (probably Ms Anderson in Barb Wire), rousing oneself only to order wicked midnight Kahluas for my neighbour, probably a former beauty queen turned torch- song chanteuse, currently in need of some career guidance. Ah yes, the perfect end to a holiday...

Didn't happen. What really happened is not for faint hearts. Barely had the Antigua single-prop touched down (as I was reading an article about how take-offs and landings can traumatise your heart and nervous system) than the lady at the transit desk said, "This ticket's not for London. You flyin' to Barbados". I gaped. It was true. Behind my back, the tour operators had re-routed my flight home to take in a few more take-offs and landings. I seethed ineffectually at the check-in people. I strapped myself in, but refused to look at the girl doing the Emergency Exit callisthenics. God, I was mad.

At Barbados, there was a two-hour wait, you couldn't smoke, the bar snacks stopped at microwaved hotdogs, the bookstore sold Mister Beautiful magazine but not the Independent. Days, it seemed, later, we filed on to the plane to London. As I waited for the dream chanteuse to appear, the captain's voice crackled over our heads, bringing bad news. A small hydraulic fault meant the aircraft was unsafe to fly the Atlantic. We would therefore be flying to Trinidad to pick up another plane in three hours' time. Babies began to squall. Some of the weaker sex were in tears (and the women weren't much better). I dug out the article on stress, to work out the roll-over effect of eight take-off and landing traumas in one day. By Trinidad we were all starving, but a harassed man in a peaked cap gave us vouchers enabling us to queue for an hour for BSE sandwiches and Fanta.

Round midnight we boarded the flight to London. The film was Father of the Bride II. The yelling baby was in full flood. There was no prospect of reading. I was knackered, mosquito-punctured, sunstruck, hungry, fag- deprived, keen only to get home. Beside me a pleasant Trinidadian woman d'un certain age sat down. She was off to Luxembourg, she said, to attend a meeting of adherents of a Japanese religious sect devoted to world purity. "Have you considered," she asked, "that to make the body healthy, it is first necessary to purify the soul? Let me explain..." The Airbus, with its stress-laden cargo, inched towards London.

Craig Raine once wrote an essay about the embarrassment of getting the details wrong when you're reviewing someone's work. He himself, he confessed, had once confidently discussed Haydn's imaginative scoring for an instrument that (it turned out) was only invented years after the composer's death; but he added a dozen other amusing examples of critical foot-shootings. It seems to have happened again among the reviews of Seamus ("More famous than Amis") Heaney's new collection of poems, The Spirit Level.

In Sunday's Observer, Colm Toibin wrote tenderly about Heaney's fascination with ritual and the elemental world. He was, said Toibin, "happier in a world of haw lanterns and hedge schools, tollund men and old wirelesses" (ahhh, bless him) and adduced, as an example, one poem, "The Rain-Stick", which, he said, "deals with the image of the water-diviner and offers Heaney wonderful rhetorical possibilities: 'In a cactus stalk/Downpour, sluice-rush, spillage and backwash/Come flowing through' ."

Yes indeed, it is a wonderful poem. But it's not about a water-diviner. It's about a rain-stick, one of those long cylindrical pipes filled with seeds, a bit of faux-tribal folk art, mass-produced for sale (pounds 15 or so) in the gift shops of Croydon and Blackheath. Can it be that Mr Toibin has never seen one? Honestly - poor Mr Heaney tries to engage with the modern-day crafts market, and is gently but firmly returned to the boglands. What will they say when he starts writing about lava lamps and video walls? "He deals with the image of the amniotic swimmer..."

The Teamsters' Union - what does it say to you? The one-time mafia of organised American labour? A thousand tough-guy truckers advancing on a nervous American congressman? Jimmy "Boss" Hoffa encased in the concrete foundations of Shea Stadium? Or does it summon up the image of a book collector of trembling sensibility leafing through a first edition of Ulysses?

An extraordinary story comes from New York about one Dennis Silverman, former president of the Union Square chapter, Local 810, who was kicked out of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in 1993 for misappropriation of union funds. Among the things bought with his ill-gotten union bucks was a 300-bottle cellar of fine wines, a Lincoln stretch limo, $2,000- worth of tickets to a Whoopi Goldberg concert and gifts to his family totalling $500,000. But the jewel of his acquisitions was a collection of Joyce first editions, including two extremely rare copies of the 1922 masterpiece, signed by the author to Margaret Anderson, editor of the Little Review, where the book's first published episodes appeared.

How did such a blue-collar philistine come by such a treasure? It seems he became interested in rare books when the Teamsters tried to radicalise staff at Brentano's bookshop on Fifth Avenue. On impulse, Silverman bought what the New York Times calls "an early edition" of Shakespeare's Collected Plays and was hooked. He asked a dealer called Glenn Horovitz to suggest what he should collect to get into the big league of books-as-investment. Either Faulkner or Joyce, the dealer replied. He plumped for Joyce. "He waded through all of Joyce's work," Horovitz told reporters, "but I think he found it as tough going as most people". Nevertheless, he knew what he was doing. On Tuesday, his collection was exhibited at Glenn Horovitz's shop. Conservative estimates of its worth start at $2.4m. Can you imagine, say, Arthur Scargill pursuing such a hobby?

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