Today, remembrance services in Europe mark the 70th anniversary of “D-Day”, June 6th 1944.

D-Day was quite an undertaking. It marked a decisive moment in the Second World War, the history of Europe, the world.

There was – and remains – no doubt in the minds of the people taking part that they were engaged in something important.

I bought this book second hand some years ago:

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Among its pages, this note and inscription:

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Such finds are one of the reasons I enjoy and love “real” books.

The language used by Eisenhower is unequivocal: “this great and noble undertaking”. It has been a powerful experience watching the veterans on the footage today. Even the youngest of them, 15 at the time according to some accounts, are nearing 90. They’re still standing up for the prayers.

Of course, the date in the book is intriguing. I will do my best to find out who W Beecham (?) is or was, and provide an update on them.

The choice of book is intriguing as well. It confirms a thought I was having earlier, that it is important also to have an understanding and respect for imagination and human creativity as ways of making sense out of a sometimes brutal world.

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Glorious summer sun in York, about 10.30am, as I arrived for day two of the book sale at St Edward the Confessor Church in Dringhouses.

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Regular readers of The Mortal Bath will have an idea of the extent of my bibliophilia, but to those dipping their toe in the waters here for the first time, my book lustings are extensive and entirely incorrigible. Nothing sets my nostrils twitching like a second hand book sale, and if you throw in a bit of church architecture as well… you had me at ‘book sale in a church’.

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St Edward’s is a building I have passed often enough but never made time to pop into as I’ve toiled along Tadcaster Road on cycle or in car. Taddy Road, the A1036, is not really conducive to passing trade. Often absurdly busy at rush hour, it turns into the A64 (river of death) shortly after the Askham Bar park and ride, which abuts one of York’s growing number of superTescos…

Yet there is a fair bit of green belt/garden suburb here as well. A lot of leafy and pleasant (Valley Sunday) residential streets vein off the slightly furred arterial road. Those on the south side, by St Edward’s, back on to the Knavesmire, York’s racecourse. Away from the main thoroughfare it is a delovely locale for a walk or jog, and there are cycle routes around and about the place, leading to Fulford, Bishopthorpe, Selby. And, to counter my passing trade mumbles, there is a Co-Op, a petrol station (both massively undercut by Tesco, of course) and two pubs here that seem to do quite well, in particular The Fox and Roman, for ale and food. I cannot speak for the The Cross Keys as I’ve not been in, but it is currently being refurbished.

The pubs form a triangle with St Edward’s, framing the junction of the A1036 and St Helen’s Road. The Church was built in 1850, all in one go, unusually, and under the watchful gaze of Frances Barlow, local dignitary and recent widow to Edward, one of the church’s namesakes. She then got remarried in 1851, which seems to be a sensible approach to the grieving process.

The building has been extended in more recent times, with an extra aisle space screened with a movable partition, for meetings, societies, band practices and so on. Apart from the primary school a short step up the road, Helen the book sale organiser told me, it is pretty much the only community resource in Dringhouses – not vending ale or BOGOFs, of course.

Today’s book sale was not in aid of the worthy cause church fund, however, but the worthy cause Feed the minds, a charity aimed at promoting education and literacy. I did say you had me at ‘book sale in a church’.

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My intention had been to bike to the book sale across Hob Moor and along one of the aforementioned cycle paths, but I got me bike out to discover an aggravating slow puncture. With such a lack of compunction it pains me, I drove across town, radio tootling Classic FM to amp up the ponce factor, and parked outside the church, thereby adding to the furring and, book fever’d, giving not two shites about it.

Hey, the roads are quiet at that time. And look! Books! In a church!

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Entering the cool of the building, I spent a few minutes getting some snaps before settling down to the serious business of splurging my daughter’s inheritance on inessential tomes.

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Purty! Being the second day, there was a feeling that one might have missed a few bargainous volumes, although I imagine that Saturday will see some new leaves turn up. There was a good selection of paperbacks. I was strictly budgeting, however, and I forced myself to forgo some Will Selfs with scarcely a whimper.

The pricing system was colour coded stickers, as seen on the large sign at the door, reproduced in miniature on pretty much every table, handily, for every time I looked up trying to keep a running total of the teetering pile in hand.

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The books were mostly yellow stickers, or the ones I picked were, anyway.

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Complete works of Saki, and a selection of pre-Shakespeare English plays (‘Ralph Roister-Doister’ ‘Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay’ &c) are the two hardbacks in the middle. Third title down is heading for J.C. Greenway at ten minutes hate, to make up for a previous second hand literature event, from which she enjoyed a complete absence of any booky goodness.

Any road up, as no one says here: Feed the Minds benefited to a moderate extent, and I had an edifying chat with the volunteers staffing the cash tubs, about books, buildings, bikes and balmy weather. Then it was out in the sun to tootle home, via a brief stop to procure a puncture repair kit in Tesco. Very well, I am a critical mass of contradictions. Blame it on the book fever.

The ‘Feed the Minds’ book sale continues at St Edward’s on Saturday 8th, and throughout the summer in York.
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May the days be as glorious, sunny and packed with reading as today.

To my considerable delight, a day off just coincided with a giant book sale beginning at York Library Explore.

We got there just after 11.00am and it was rammed with browsing bibliophiles, many heaping teetering piles of tomes into cardboard boxes. Librarians with belted satchels marshalled a brisk trade. What we might have missed, I groaned inwardly, although without much vehemence. There were still some great volumes on offer.

One shelf unit catching a number of bargain hunters’ eyes held an extensive collection of Loeb Classical Library editions of your big name Greeks and Latins, at an astonishing 50p each. I started chatting in a jocular manner with one guy about needing some sort of wheelbarrow, and we both had a mutter about the mark-up applied by second-hand booksellers to items in the same condition. The jocularity was partly a function of me having mistaken his ‘mine’ pile for still-available books, eagerly snatching the Juvenal out of it. He saw my crestfallen expression and offered me a choice if there was anything I really particularly wanted, magnanimously, which I wasn’t about to start disputing. He staggered off eventually with as much of a cheery wave as he could manage under the weight of 14 volumes of Livy plus the same again of assorted others.

I managed to restrain myself to the Juvenal and another of my favourite dirty dog Latins, Petronius, plus an Herodotus:

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…and an entertaining history of the British beat pop groups of 1962-67, which I was tickled to pick up having spent the morning reading about Robbie Williams’ intemperate musings on the Britpop beat-ish groups of 1990-1999. Ride indeed, Williams, you fanny. The set is made up with two “Oh, looky here!” last-minute Huxley spots. I do like a bit of Aldous…

An appealing little selection, I am sure you will concede. £4.00 the lot – you can’t say fairer than that.

I am a bit sad that no room in the library can be made to keep the books, when it is clear there is plenty of room for a cafe selling giant milky coffees and burning cheese toasties, but, yeah, at least it’s still open. Many localities are not so fortunate.

Here’s the York Library bookplate from the front of the Juvenal:

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…which is kind of completely sexy.

The Giant Booksale continues Saturday and Sunday, finishing on Monday 25th.

This morning I read with interest that today, 7th March 2013, is World Book Day in the UK and Ireland. This is a quaintly Britannic bit of individualism at odds with the rest of the World, who will be found Celebrating The Tome on 23rd April – Shakespeare’s deathday and Cervantes’ birthday. Anyway, here’s a bookish piece in celebration.

Last week I had a day off, and spent some of the afternoon reacquainting myself with the booksellers of York. I was looking for some volumes (copies of Paradise Lost, War Music and All My Sons) to help with a teaching placement what I’m doing, but really it was just an excuse to go and run my fingers along the spines.

It’s pleasing to see bookshops still functioning as the economic climate continues to be wintry. I was pulled up short in mid-march by the now defunct Army and Navy Stores at the top end of Fossgate, standing in need of attention and likely to get it only from international coffee vendors or bookmakers… or it’ll become one of York’s many gift shops selling extraneous London tat to geographically-confused tourists, such as those littering the Shambles.

Fortunately, the book vendors in our city remain in rude health. At the first stop, I picked up this leaflet with a map showing the booksellers of York:

The other side has notes and contact details for each shop. The design was by Amy McKay in 2012. The watercolour cover illustration, by Ron Wilson, appears to be a view of the public toilets at Bootham Bar.

That first stop was Ken Spelman Books. Ken Spelman has a nicely creaking feel and polished old wood – and his shop is delightfully appointed as well, boom boom. Antiquarian and modern volumes jostle on the shelves. Lots of quality fine arts and ephemera. The leaflet claims they have four floors, which is intriguing: a vertiginous – and pram-thwarting – staircase to an upper floor and more books, and a slight ramp into the downstairs back section only gives them three, if I squint a bit, as far as I can see. I shall ask next time I’m in.

Ken Spelman was followed by Oxfam, on Micklegate. Oxfam, about which I have kvetched previously regarding its pricing, does still have a pretty good stock, including a bookcase of classic orange Penguins (“I am Klassic Oranj”) and a leafable discarded comic section. Well-stocked as they were, they were yet unable to furnish me with that which I sought, so, onwards.

universus-alex-woodsWaterstones came next. Miller and Milton were in evidence, but no Logue. I did, however, get The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence, which had presented itself to me twice previously and would not be denied thrice. I know nothing of the author, but the bits I browsed tickled me Extencively. I shall provide a review when I have read the rest.

I ended up on Fossgate. Realising I was in a rush slightly, the clocks striking 17, I was going to hurry straight on up to Stone Trough Books on Walmgate, but I was stopped in mid-step by the clean lines and delicious looking volumes of Lucius Books, right next door to Fossgate Books. They are a new, to me, emporium, although they told me they have just moved down the road a few doors. The store looks spanky and clean and heartbreakingly chockful of delucius-looking books. Selling mostly modern first editions, many of them signed, it’s the sort of place one might easily spunk one’s family’s inheritance in an orgy of shame-faced indulgence. A slim, hard-to-get hardback volume of B.S. Johnson’s poetry for £250, that sort of thing. Inscribed James Bonds, Aldous Huxleys, delicious kids’ lit – see, the infants have not been forgotten. Resorting to my usual technique, I took a Get Out of Shop card from the proprietor, muttering something about coming back when I’d remortgaged the house, which, as it would mean first getting a mortgage, means 12th Never. Or 11th March, whichever’s nearest.

I stuck my head in the door and had a quick natter with the proprietor at Fossgate Books. We circled round a few titles, including a BS Johnson book, the title of which I failed to remember. He knew the one I meant, though, the one published in a box with no binding so the reader can put it together their own way, which I had seen in a shop in West London for £75 about five years ago. He said he had a cheaper copy in the stock room he could look out, which gave me an excuse to return after a quick trip up Walmgate.

Stone Trough Books has a front door with an traditional shoppe bell that clangs loudly just above ear level on entry, presumably to disorient potential thieves and alert the owner, who is to be found upstairs. It looks like a house that has over the years become a shop. The front room downstairs sets the scene. It is like walking into someone’s home moments after a massive box of books has exploded in the lounge. Ace. However, despite moving a series of piles of books to get at other piles of books, we were unable to find any of my literary requisites. Prop. was particularly miffed about the Logue not being in evidence, as he had worked on a bibliography for him at one point and ‘had a couple back at home…’ Fortunately, in the front room I had seen there was a copy of Areopagitica and other writings in a nice little hardback Everyman version. I was so taken by the fact that it used to belong to the Eastern Command Education Library, I was unable to prevent myself spending £2 on it.

Back up to Fossgate Books, then, where I peeked through a much-better-value-than-£75 (but-not-so-much-that-I-could-justify-buying-it) reprinted version of The Unfortunates – “THAT was it!” – and where I went for a copy of Paradise Lost, an illustrated one with Philip Pullman introductions. Virtually brand new too, although someone had got as far as starting to annotate the first 11 lines, writing OREB, SINAI, SION and SILOA in v e r y heavy lettering:

Seriously, though, that SILOA is on the next page! It looks like they were using a heated lance… but it was in otherwise pretty good (old) nick.

I got All My Sons at Waterstones on the way back through town. War Music remains to be ordered. It was a moderate success as a shopping expedition, then, and a soothing reminder of why I love yer actual texts-in-books. There’s something about the gravity or the waveform, or something, of books. It is a particular niche – tomes flogged by foxed but still slightly desirable vendors – yet it continues to be one in which I am happy to place pennies.

So, hurrah! for books. And hurrah for World Book Day, whenever you have it.

Previously in The Mortal Bath… ‘Fasten your lap-strap’.

Casino Royale (CR), the first James Bond novel, was published in 1953. Here, from the lavish ianfleming.com website, is the original Jonathan Cape jacket blurb:

The dry riffle of the cards and the soft whirr of the roulette wheel, the sharp call of the croupiers and the feverish mutter of a crowded casino hide the thick voice at Bond’s ear which says, ‘I will count up to ten.’

Anyone who has ever gambled will find this tense and sometimes horrifying story of espionage and high gambling irresistible. So will readers who have never entered a casino. Connoisseurs of realistic fiction will particularly note the careful documentation of the Secret Service background, the chilling portrait of Le Chiffre, the authentic menace of SMERSH, and the sensual appeal of the girl in ‘soie sauvage’.

These bumphtious references to conoisseurs and raw silk barely begin to gently stroke the surface of the sensual appeal of the Bond books. Post-war gastronauts, label Mabels and petrolheads would also find much worthy of note within the pages of this landmark novel.* Bond’s reputation as a bon viveur is a significant aspect of the series as a whole, and it’s in CR that many of his predilections and prejudices first surface. He is, to put it bluntly, an aggressive snob in matters of what to eat, drink, drive, smoke, hump.


The cover of the Pan paperback captures the green baize excitement, the essential appeal of Bond, with the cashier’s cheque for an astronomical sum in francs panting continental exoticism, never mind the p’tite wink from the graphics department with the handwritten ‘soixante neuf’…

This consumption with relish of what must have been mostly unattainable pleasures for rationing book Britain appears throughout the Bond canon. Let us take the infamous Vesper cocktail, the ‘vodka martini, shaken, not stirred’ immortalised in the flicks. This bland order does no justice to the thing of alcoholic wonder, ordered with colonial vigour, in the book:

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
“Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

Booze pedants will point out that Gordon’s has diluted its recipe since, and so on, that shaking ruins the drink, but Fleming is creating a man who is the measure of all things, knows what he wants and dam’ well gets it. Bond is comfortable adding an absurd proviso regarding grain over potato vodka, lessening the poncery with a ribald crack in the local lingo. He later names the drink after a girl, showing his romantic, perhaps even a sentimental side.

We shall return to Bond’s prodigious consumption in Thunderball, although it is worth noting now that as well as this cirrhotic excess, the gambling and the gorging, Bond smokes around 60 cigarettes a day. However, while there is a lot of this airplane magazine catalogue of ‘cool’ GQ How-To-Guide stuff in the books, Bond’s absurd intake highlights what JCG at Ten Minutes Hate refers to as ‘a… sometimes out-of-control human being.’ Bond is, without doubt, a vehicle for communicating Fleming’s fashionable tastes in the name of excitement and escapism, but he is also a complex character, a haunted one in many ways.

This makes perfect sense given Fleming’s intriguing life story (soon to be filmed again by super Duncan Jones, it says here at ScreenJabber) and the historical context of the book, released a few years after World War II with its own well-rehearsed litany of horrors. Bond is a soldier who, in the absence of a Great Cause, is really just a blunt instrument, a man apparently with a death wish being used to visit it on others, something deliberately worked with by Fleming throughout the novels.

As the first entry in the series, CR establishes some reasons for why this might be. There is the Freudian field day (Field Day is a good name for a Bond girl) start of the infamous series of “Bond babes”, with the dark, quixotic French waft of mystery that is Vesper Lynd. The lemony twist to the tale (such as it is) is of course that Bond’s sentimental attachment to Vesper nearly emasculates him, actually and figuratively. Again, this fallible Bond is far more brutal, and brutalised, than any of the films prior to the Craig reboots, or arguably Pierce Brosnan with a beard in North Korea, managed. The chilling carpet beater scene is convincing and terse.

It also introduces a first ‘new enemy’ for Bond, early Cold War political uncertainty represented in the wonky Cyrillic letter Щ carved into the back of his hand by a heavily-accented Soviet agent. (Check out the excellent Commander Bond website for some far more detailed research and exegesis.) This scene makes explicit Bond’s helplessness in the wider game of history, and the long coda to the novel, with Bond and Lynd’s doomed relationship playing out through convalescence, elaborate meals, empty sex and finally betrayal, is doubtless a metaphor for British involvement in wartime and post-war Europe in some way. The book begins and ends nihilistically; it is a damaged world, full of damaged people, including the protagonist. As Fleming perhaps saw it, life is about the way the cards fall, and how you play them… and the house usually wins.

It is a satisfyingly dark book. Bond has only some of the insouciance and confidence one associates with him, the Secret Agent Man, the suave and apparently indestructible force of justice. His uncertainties and flaws in CR are what make him such a compelling character for the rest of the series. That and the exciting drinks, card games and violence. As a scene setter, and as a standalone work, CR is indeed in many ways irresistible.

*Yes, it is a landmark novel.

Appropriately, for May Day, the stirrings (not shakings) of a James Bond-related project.

J.C. Greenway, currently bank holidaying writer of the excellent Ten Minutes Hate blog, wrote about Moonraker recently, a piece I heartily endorse. Somehow, a discussion of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels – see the comments section here – was suggested.

Something for everyone to look forward to there. So, some considerations on Bond. The notion set me musing on the continuing appeal of the James Bond books. I’ve been a devotee since a while back, probably since I was about 11 or 12. It was a family holiday, a memorable trip for cultural firsts, as part described in the Simon and Garfunkel section here in this music bit of the Mortal Bath. I also became a fan of Fleming, working my way through the series as quickly as I could find the books in various second-hand shops around town back home. Readers who have been to Harrogate may understand the urbane appeal.

I ended up with a full set, as well as two Kingsley Amis additions, Colonel Sun, which faithfully referred to the Casino Royale template of violence, girl and food but was a bit boring, and The Book of Bond, or Every Man His Own 007, which was hilarious. Crucially, it also provided context, a surrounding cosmos for the Bond solar system. Parodying a Playboy/How-To style, Amis used the simple device of quoting the original novels extensively, with dry observations skewering the contradictions, recurring tropes and brand snobbery. Also, Amis being a friend and fan of Fleming, it was clearly revelling in the pot boiler deluxe stylings of the best efforts in the series. This was probably the first time I realised that to parody something effectively you have to love it.

That’s where Bond ended for me, really, with the full set of Fleming and the Amis reductio. The first few John Gardner books I tried were interesting, but it seemed a dilution, somehow, not as compelling. I couldn’t get past the first chapter of Devil May Care more recently for the same reason. And, back in the day, prompted by the lurchings of the film franchise, I had begun to develop Bondsickness. The Book of Bond, at least, amplified self-reflexive, humorous subtexts already present in the books. Importantly, it managed this in a way that did not cheapen them, as Danjaq’s increasingly desperate efforts with the films sometimes did.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll watch an old Bond movie if it’s on, but some of them are pretty ropey.

Anyway, the books, the books. In a moment of teen fundamentalism, manifesting a disastrous decision to “move on”, thinking myself beyond Bond, I divested myself of all the books. I know, I know. If it’s any mitigation, the same period saw me ditching the Clive Cussler and Alistair Maclean collections as well, only one of which decisions is now vindicated. The folly of youth, etc. While having since found what I am convinced was my actual collection in an Oxfam in York, I still no longer have the Book of Bond. I had bought it for £1.00 out of Bell’s Bookshop (sadly defunct). I can’t find the paperback online for less than £15 now.

This reflects, I think it can be convincingly suggested, if not argued in any great detail, the cultural rehabilitation of the original series. The novels-as-objects are hot commodities, the pricing for even bog-standard paperbacks suggesting their desirability. Long since featuring introductions from, like, “proper” writers such as Anthony Burgess, they are also recognised for their contextual importance and lasting cultural impact. And of course, film tie-in, the novels are due for a re-re-release this year. This will no doubt further dent any hopes of ever recapturing my mis-streamlined youth without breaking the bank at Royale-les-Eaux.

It has always been ‘Bond-as-adapted-book’ for me. The films just aren’t as hard, funny, tasty, stupid and horrible as the books. The details and tone of the novels are unique. Still, as JCG notes, the return-to-canon approach of the last few outings has refreshed the movies, while providing new lights with which to re-examine the original texts. The Secret Service trope has been interrogated at length since the 1960s. Bond himself was always part of the deconstruction, at least in the books. One of the main points of appeal is his ambiguity, simultaneously the aspirational model man of tastes and the ‘blunt instrument’, post-war relic adrift intended by Fleming.

I look forward to an exploration of some of these ideas, as well as revisiting my favourite sections. Bondish events here in The Mortal Bath shall start at the very beginning, shortly, with Casino Royale. Fasten your lap-strap…