I am standing, I should point out, in the library of Weasel Villas wondering where they all came from, the six thousand books that groan from my shelves and which I must soon move (in a couple of hundred wheelbarrow shunts), when we decamp for our new home. Six thousand of the things, a Gutenberg tide of paper, binding and 11-point type, all of it a living nightmare to the removals men, but as dear to me as life itself. A chap's library, I was just reflecting, means more to him than his wine cellar or his labradors (or Mrs W, come to that). To tamper with its contents would be tampering with one's whole spiritual...
And then I thought: Ignazio Silone. Why have I got on my shelves a copy of this man's Bread and Wine, in 1967 Panther paperback, its pages stained a nicotine yellow, its cover (showing a brawny, Fascist arm wielding a broken bottle) laughably oldfashioned, the reviews on the back tragically dated ("Genius" - Michael Foot, Evening Standard). I don't know why I bought it. I've never read it. The chances of my ever reading it are roughly the same as the chances of Signore Silone inviting me round for tea. Even if I wanted to read it, the type's too small and grey... And gingerly, as if dealing with an unexploded bomb, I did something unheard of in 20 years. Instead of putting it back on the shelf, I dropped it on the floor. Incredibly, there was no crash of thunder. I had reduced my library by one book and it was less like an amputation than a small liberation.
My eye fell on Hugh Trevor-Roper's The European Witch Craze of the 16th and 17th Centuries. Why had I been carrying that from one lair to another, all over south London, for years? Was it a vital possession, a molecule of my soul, a facet of what made up my...? Oh, the hell with it. And soon the carpet was covered with them. Silone, Trevor-Roper, Venture to the Interior by Laurens van der Post (perhaps the Prince of Wales should remain his only reader), An American Romance by Hans Koningsberger ("Read it for its sadness and its beauty" - New Statesman), On the Edge of the Primeval Forest by Albert Schweitzer, with its beguiling photograph of the volcanically-moustached sage, Him They Compelled by Stanley Middleton, with its hilarious cover showing a burly chap in a vest clutching a laughing brunette, The Industrial Revolution by Arnold Toynbee (turned out to be a completely different Toynbee)...
Now the study floor is a sea of discarded paperbacks. I cannot move for the early fiction of Gore Vidal all over the luxury Axminster. I am becalmed among the fusty residue of what I spent all my money on when I was 22. My library is in ruins. But not, strangely, my life.
Observers of the Internet phenomenon will have grasped by now that everyone has to have an address - one of those curious strings of letters seen on the bottom of the screen during television commercials. Naturally, it helps to have one which includes the name of your organisation, but in order to do that you have to get in quickly. McDonald's, for instance, found that some anoraked comedian had got there first and had to buy him off. But most organisations have been more fortunate, which is why we have "ibm.com" and "apple.com" and "mtv.com" and all the rest.
Some people are taking no chances, however. Several multinationals have decided that the only sensible approach is to register everything they might like in the future, however improbable. Thus the food giant Kraft has already registered "frozendinners.com" and "saladdressing.com", among others.
These pale into insignificance, however, beside the latest arrivals from Procter & Gamble. The soap powder giant is now the happy owner of some supremely tasteful addresses, including "pimples.com", "dandruff.com", "underarm.com" and "badbreath.com". If you are thinking of registering "piles.com", you should hurry.
Leeds Metropolitan University's Centre for Innovation and Creativity, that crucible of hilarity, has organised a special course on the power of humour. This is not new. Some years ago I recall a particularly stony-faced John Cleese droning on about a doctor in America who had discovered that laughter could literally heal the sick. The organiser of this conference, one Marilyn Fryer, has obviously swallowed the same line. "Humour is a skill that can support innovation," she notes. "It is very good at relieving stress and preventing burnout." What a pity no one told that to Tony Hancock.
The best thing about the conference, though, is the star speaker. Dr Joel Goodman, we are told, is a "US humour expert" who has "trained members of the FBI and the CIA". The CIA, eh? It's the way they tell 'em.
A couple of issues back, I mentioned, rather pathetically, that I'd lost my diary and was having to cope with planning my life via a 1996 diary, despite the time-slip of days and dates. Since then I've been flooded with 1995 journals from kind readers all over the country. Every post brings fresh specimens, in all shapes and sizes and degrees of specialisation, but all jolly welcome.
From Old Headington, Elizabeth Leyland sends me the stupendously useful Oxford University Pocket Diary, which runs on academic-year lines from September onwards, and features, for fed-up students, a useful map of the London Underground. So does the little black number purchased for 20p in Chichester market by a Mr or Ms T Mahony of Old Bosham.
The genial Rector of Wareham in Dorset kindly sent one of his parish diaries, complete with advertisements for the local high Class Family Butchers, a reproduction Murillo and some useful Evening Prayers ("Forgive me for being so immersed in my own work that I had no time to give anyone else a helping hand" - point taken, Canon).
A Mrs Green from London NW6 favoured a "Miniatures Diary" from the V & A. Mary Marsden from Stratford St Mary bunged me a tiny blue volume bearing the telephone numbers of every ferry and hovercraft service operating on the British coastline. Anja Ansel from Edinburgh apologised for the down-market green plastic thing that accompanied her letter, but there was no need: without her, I wouldn't have the pleasure of owning a Lothian and Borders Crime Prevention Diary, with its Hints for the Elderly and Seasonal Advice: under March, I learned that "Early Spring is a time when Bogus Workmen/ Officials tend to call on the more vulnerable in society".
A dashing senior executive at DHL, the posh couriers, sent a socking desk diary with a squishy cover, gold-leaf edging like a Bible, and lots of maps of unwelcoming terrains visited only (I assume) by couriers. Perhaps the oddest was from Mr Hardie of Southport, Lancashire, who sent me what I take to be his own diary, one he began to keep in March, reached some sort of climax (involving glass shelving in Buxton, if I read his handwriting right) in late April, then abandoned.
My warmest thanks to all who came to my help. What a beautiful audience, et cetera. And if Mr Hardie would care to bung me pounds 500 in used fivers, it may not be necessary for me to tell the world what exactly he was doing on May 9...Reuse content