Brass Rubbing

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Brass rubbings above the bookcase in my living room. On the right are Sir John and Lady Joan de la Pole

The line on the job application, paper in those days, asked “What are your hobbies?” I hesitated. The one piece of advice about job hunting I remembered from library school was “Never say your favorite hobby is reading.” Curious advice to give aspiring librarians, perhaps, but the idea was to avoid the impression you thought librarianship was just sitting around reading. You must project serious professionalism, information services not novel reading, people skills not shrinking violets hiding behind the covers of a book. But reading was in fact my hobby. Pretty much my only hobby. So I had to give Continue reading “Brass Rubbing”

Church and State, Skirt and Flag

For the benefit of new readers who did not follow me in my Dabbler days, this is the first in a series of favorite posts from the Dabbler Archives.  This piece first appeared in The Dabbler on August 31st 2011.

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I could not have chosen a more eventful time for my first visit to America than the summer of 1969. Americans were still reeling from the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the disastrous Democratic Convention the year before. Richard Nixon was President and the word “quagmire” was being used about the Vietnam War. There was an edge of danger in the air. I felt as though I had departed a world of smudgy grays and entered a vivid Technicolor movie. Los Angeles was all bright, searing light and straight lines dissolving into a yellowish smog. Everywhere enormous, garish plastic creatures loomed, the icons of consumer culture, making the city seem one vast Disneyland. Baking heat Continue reading “Church and State, Skirt and Flag”

On My Bookshelf – Slant Manifesto

Slant Manifesto

Subtitled Catholics and the Left this worn little paperback sits on my bookshelf like a relic of another age. It was a time when English Catholics looked to Marxist thought to inspire a full expression of their faith. Released in 1966 by the Catholic publishers Sheed and Ward, Slant Manifesto is a compilation of writings by the founders of Slant. Slant was a journal published from 1964 to 1970 by a group of Catholic Cambridge undergraduates and Dominican priests, many of whom went on to become leading intellectuals and theologians. In the introduction to the Manifesto Neil Middleton explains that the group “is engaged in the exploration of the idea that Christian commitment at the moment carries with it the obligation to be socialist.” A sample of the chapter headings is a rough Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – Slant Manifesto”

The Mobsters and the Baby Shoes

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Back in the early 1970s my sister Angela worked for a temp agency in the East London suburbs of Essex. Her first assignment was with a company named Downy Baby Shoes. She imagined an office where grandmotherly women sewed baby bootees while softly humming lullabies. A cosy place, perhaps decorated with Beatrix Potter prints. The reality was far different. On her first day she found a rather grungy office in an out of the way alley presided over by two Canadian men. The boss was a supremely ugly man Continue reading “The Mobsters and the Baby Shoes”

That Was The Year That Was

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Long ago and far away in the England of the 1960’s television political satire was born. I was fourteen years old, precociously interested in current events, and allowed to stay up late to watch That Was The Week That Was. TW3 as it was known first aired on Saturday November 24th 1962. The star was a young David Frost and I was soon helplessly in love, my first big crush. The show was revolutionary. The hitherto staid and cautious BBC Continue reading “That Was The Year That Was”

On My Bookshelf – Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons

My favorite childhood book was never on my own childhood bookshelf. I borrowed Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome from my local library and enjoyed it so much that in subsequent weeks I checked out all the other books in the series. I do own a copy now, though it is currently on loan to my grandsons. This year was our fourth spending a week together at Deep Creek Lake in Maryland. I’m hoping the lake experience will draw Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – Swallows and Amazons”

The Night I Met Mick Jagger

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LP cover. “Birds” was the contemporary slang for girls. 

Bubbling with the exited anticipation of teenagers, my friend and I rode the number 66 red double-decker bus into Romford. It was February 25th 1964 and we were headed to the Odeon Theatre to try to catch a glimpse of our latest crush. No, not Mick Jagger or any of the Rolling Stones, but Mike Sarne. Who, you may ask? Continue reading “The Night I Met Mick Jagger”

On My Bookshelf – The Domesday Book

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Quite why my eyes should rest on The Domesday Book out of all my history books this morning I can’t quite say. But perhaps it had something to do with the fact that yesterday I inadvertently ended up watching the Press Conference/Reality Show of our Dear Leader. Perhaps it was his casual reference to nuclear holocaust and joking threat to “shoot that (Russian) ship that’s 30 miles offshore right out of the water.” Perhaps it was the fact that The Domesday Book records a civilization at the moment of its demise. In the years after 1066 the Anglo-Saxons mounted a heroic resistance to their Norman conquerors but in Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – The Domesday Book”

Coping

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My Happy New Year greetings have been somewhat muted this year. It’s hard to envisage future happiness when the entire fabric of the space/time continuum is about to unravel. And that’s just the winter weather forecast. What is happening in the nation’s capital today is on quite another level of awfulness. Like a driver passing a traffic accident I don’t know whether to stare at the carnage or avert my eyes.

So I do what I always seem to do in moments of crisis. Retreat into history. I find Continue reading “Coping”