Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Books and all that jazz (part one)

To pass the time on Bank Holiday Monday, I thought I'd have a nice walk through the Goldington bit of Camden to Holborn to see - just on the off-chance - if the cycle repair shop wherein my bike do have been dwelling since last Thursday was open. The signs on the way were moderately promising. For every shuttered establishment there was an open cafe next door, suggesting that if people didn't have urgent financial matters to attend to they could at least get someone else to knock them up a lunch.

I was particularly disappointed that Judd Books was closed, as they usually have some quite good-looking stuff in their bargain bin. Recently it had a couple of The Spokesman essay collections for a pound each. One of those contains a hard copy of Lord Steyn's excellent commentary on the Guantanamo holiday facilities.

The bargain bin is my favourite place to stop at a bookshop, on the feeble premise that it'll stop me seeing something more desirable yet correspondingly dearer inside and 'save me a few quid'. In fact, this practice probably applies to a number of other areas of my life, but we'll skip that digression. To return to bargain bins, Primrose Hill Books has one in the shape of a great little set of shelves on wheels. It looks like it was liberated from a school library. Every time I go there I find something apposite, usually contributing to my burgeoning collection of Latin poets in translation. Last time it was Catullus, and there was some Petronius the time before that. I acknowledge that I am collecting mainly the dirty dog Latins.

Also, memorably, after my pal C and I had been on the next street looking at the plaque on Sylvia Plath's old house ("Not the death house, that's round the corner...") there was a bargain copy of Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, which was so apposite as to make one give more importance to the cosmic implications of synchronicity (with a nod to WB Yeats, also a former tenant of the death house in Fitzroy Road, and other North London/Golden Dawn/ley line botherers).

Back to the Bank Holiday Monday. I was scant metres from the Judd Books disappointment when I happened upon Skoob Books in Marchmont Street. Gloriously open and full to the rafters with books. I managed twenty minutes in the reference section before dragging myself past the sci-fi and the shelves full of orange-jacketed Penguin Classics to have the briefest of browses in the fiction. Fortunately, I was distracted en route by a shiny copy of The Best of Jazz, a new cash-in edition of a couple of books by the late and immense Humphrey Lyttelton. It was only £5.00, and what do you know? There was a crumpled fiver in my wallet. Excellent news.

Stepping up to the till, the man behind the counter made noises to suggest that he'd either wanted to buy it or had something important to say about it. In fact, he actually just asked who I thought could replace him. Either he was involving me in trying to run the shop, I thought, or he was referring to the recent news that Radio 4's planners have decided to make some more 'I'm sorry, I haven't a clue', with a new host to "replace" Humph. I considered for a moment before responding that Stephen Fry nears ubiquity and would probably spoil it a bit, and that Jeremy Hardy's reported suggestion of Jarvis Cocker taking part was quite a splendid one. (Although I also agree with Barry Cryer who suggests that a female presenter might be a better move. Not Pam Ayres, though, pretty please...) We agreed happily on the Jarvis point, then passed a few idle moments in Humph-related banter (an unusually cheery bookshop attendant!)

The Indie article linked to above quotes this great example of the dry Lyttelton delivery. At the end of one faux-turgid round on ISIHAC he remarked: "Nietzsche said that life was a choice between suffering and boredom. He never said anything about having to put up with both at the same time." Which is my new motto.

Emerging with a little smile of discovery from Skoob, I wandered up the road to discover Bikefix was indeed enjoying a fry-up in another part of London entirely. I cared not! Sauntering back home with a satisfied Bank Holiday air and a book, I finally settled in with a bowl of ice cream, Humph and newly-alphabetised-for- research-purposes records to advance my knowledge of all things jazzular...

Books: The Best of Jazz (five chapters in).
Music: Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke (To be continued in part two...)