Saturday, 25 December 2010

A Wight Christmas

I will use up the time of waiting for Doctor Who to write a post.

I had rather a good haul in regards to Christmas presents this year. I didn’t ask for anything so it was a lovely surprise to get what I did, including some useful things from ‘Father Christmas’ (a cookie jar shaped like a cup cake, don’t know how it’s going to fit in my kitchen!) and some very pretty things from various family members, including a book journal from my brother (I’m thinking about recording books I have made as well as ones I have read, maybe print pictures off of them) and a Quarr Abbey teddy bear with a monk’s hood from my aunty and a lovely bag from my other aunty.
This year, books featured as a popular present. (In fact, we probably exchange books every year, though last year I didn’t get any, a point which saddened me a lot) From my Granny I got another couple of her old books, one in French, Odes D’Anacreon with fabulous marble end-papers.

Here is a rather gorgeously crumbly Scripture Characters Being a Practical Exposition or The Histories And Events Contained in the Holy Scriptures, For the Edification of Youth. Unfortunately neither have dates in but we can probably guess from the long title that the latter is quite old.

Aunty came up top trumps with the delightful Sybil’s Book from which I found this quote: “ ‘Well, Poppy, this was quite an adventure,’ her father declared. ‘ must have been the most romantic situation in the world. A haunted tree, no tea, and then to lose your way!’ ” my collection of old children’s books is steadily growing.

Not only did I receive old books, but I gave them, too – my parents are embarking on a cruise next summer on the boat and requested coastal cruising books. I picked up one of the Country Coast Series of The Norfolk and Suffolk Coast, which dates back to 1909, for my father, a few old medieveil history books for my brother (including a fabulous pop-up-shipwreck book, he loves it)

I made a book for my other aunty, one I couldn’t wait to post up on here, because I am so proud of it. And another book that Father Christmas hasn’t delivered to my friend yet.  


Just a note to Bayntuns to say thanks for the history books as the recently deceased Whitemans where I found the coastal book. I found the pop-up book in my local pub for 50p. Do you know who else likes pop-up books? Emerson Cod. He also loves knitting.

 ‘It's a pain in the ass, though. You know, I learned it, and I can stitch one stitch, which is great, so I can make a scarf that will reach from here to the moon. But that's the one thing about the strike — that knitting, man. It's not like riding a bike. It just doesn't come back.’

Friday, 17 December 2010


Rooke Books

Yesterday I completed my Christmas shopping so as a treat, I thought I’d go to Rooke Books to have a gander.

I was shocked and appalled when I found that it had changed into some craft shop. I actually had to do a double take when I saw instead of a beautiful display of crumbling covers there were some cushions and ribbons in the window. Let’s just say I was not amused.

I pressed my face up to the window and peered in. There was no-one in there, luckily, if there were I would have demanded why the hell had the bookshop disappeared. There was a half eaten baguette on the half completed countertop but no sign of people.
Let me tell you about Rooke Books. It was a delightful store, spanning four floors with friendly staff and old windy staircases that looks like they came straight from my grandparent’s old house. A bell jangled gaily over your head, and immediately in front of you, a book case full to the brim of old books, often with ‘recommended this week’ and other such handwritten, friendly signs. Down the windy staircase and you came upon history, America, war and religion. Several of the volumes were held together with elastic bands because the spines have deteriorated so much. At my fingertips lay words over a hundred years old, read by so many, loved by so many. Up the next flight of stairs your attention is caught by the huge white egg chair in the corner of the room, perfect for poor bored boyfriends of bibliofreaks or restless children.
On a round table in the centre some books, including Hornblower and the Atropos. This floor was dedicated to literary criticism and fiction. I drooled over a copy of Andrew Lang’s Red Book of Animal Stories but it was about £25 so maybe a little too much into my student purse. Up another flight of stairs (all characteristically uneven and generally amazing) and you are greeted with some modern flock wall paper, and hanging ‘bubble’ chairs, which make your voice go funny and swing around noisily if you’re too eager. On this floor they had travel, art, sport, science. All in all, it was an amazing shop.

I lamented the loss of such a fantastic shop. All those books, all that knowledge. But the shop was open merely last week – what the hell had happened?

So with an angry determination I strode into Bayntuns and took a customary look around the second-hand section in the basement (which is just equally as amazing, brought various Christmas presents there) and then began my investigatory work. I asked Jeremy Peters, the manager of the shop and bindery, what was going on. He said to me that he had only been there last week and there wasn’t any sign of the shop disappearing. Nothing. Not even a notice in the now-craft-shop window about it moving. He told me that booksellers usually talk to one another quite often but Rooke Books had kept quiet. He told me he had the strong suspicion that not even the staff knew that it was going to happen. I told him it was such a shame, and then talked to him about bookbinding, (just because I really want to work in Bayntuns) and the other shops that have closed down recently, which I will go on to now.

Whitemans Bookshop

Just around the corner from Bayntuns another bookshop is now empty. I only went in there a couple of times, the first time a few weeks ago, but I regret not going there more often. They had a lot of posters and other free literature on the counter (there was a poster of the Harry Potter series, I should have asked if I could nab it) and a whole variety of books, but mainly travel, and trains. So many books about trains, it was crazy. I found a 100 year old book for a Christmas present there and my brother found several editions of a marine-archaeology journal. The shelves were disorganised and mainly empty, it seemed like the management had just given up. I think a little digging would have produced even more delightful volumes for a cheap price. Alas, I only discovered it on the verge of it’s termination.

The Bath Book Exchange

This shop has been closed a while now but you can still walk by it and see tons of books stacked within it’s dark interior. I gleaned from  Jeremy Peters that ‘an old boy and his wife’ used to run the bookstore. When she died, he kept it going, and it kept him going. I must have been in there only once. The bookshop was really a mish-mash of  new books and old books, genres squashed together. It was just one small room. You were greeted by a great bell over the door and the smiling figure of the bent over ‘old boy’. ‘The only thing I have against him,’ Jeremy said, ‘is that he shouldn’t have painted the shop front that nasty colour.’ (Although Gerge Bayntun, however posh it is, is missing the 'orge' in the name on the front of the building) I wish I had gone there more often, there were probably several delights to be found.

So alas, there is now only two second hand bookshops in Bath, excluding all the charity shops, nd the great paperbacks shop in the guildhall. they don't have the crumbly books, that great, 'old' museum smell. The best charity shop for books is the one near the Yellow Shop, they have a vast collection of nearly everything, but nothing compares to the amazing atmosphere in a good old bookshop.

The shops have disappeared. So where are the books? Have they been confined to a rubbish heap? (When I worked as a volunteer at Dorothy House Care books had to be sent off to another country somewhere in Asia to be recylcled, here, they just throw them in the rubbish heap) I worry about the fate of those books.

EDIT: I emailed Rooke Books and here's thier reply:

Thank you for your e-mail. The shop closed down last week. 
It was quite sudden and happened very quickly. 
We hope to open another shop in the future when the economic
climate is more amiable. 
Some of the books should make their way onto our website, 
which is updated regularly with new stock. 
I am sorry that you did not have the opportunity to have 
a browse before the shop closed. 
I hope you have a nice Christmas and New Year.
Best wishes, 
For Rooke Books
I'm sorry Milly, but this is not satisfactory. 

Thursday, 18 November 2010

In Which I Meet Some Bookbinding Monks

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I know I haven’t updated in a long, long time, woe is me!

I haven’t actually done anything constructive today, save read the second chapter of Reading Animals, editing a story. Other than that I have been contemplating abandon and watching Dalmatian videos on YouTube –what a tragic life of just sitting in my room doing nothing, in doing so missing the Christmas Lights being switched on by some Royal lady and getting rather depressed about it.

My reading week was predictably full of not reading (I did finish Dog Boy which I can’t wait to talk about in class) hastily fixed Nick’s book (see below) and enjoyed Chinese for my aunt’s birthday. I’ve been waiting for ages to post up pictures of those books just in case she saw it but I’m really proud of them, especially because it’s a style I don’t usually go for. Oh and I printed labels for The Green Fairy Book, looks a little corny but never mind.

Oh when my brother was home we looked up the stuff that was on the spine of The Language of Flowers and it comes from a book of Napoleon’s life, written in the 1850’s, which dates Flowers back to that time, too. This is a seriously old book; it makes me ‘squee’ in excitement. As for Coleridge, we couldn’t quite interpret the spine, only that it was a series of letters, one addressed to the ‘Post Master General’ and another concerning a hospital patient, or something, maybe from a newspaper?

But the main news of the week (which I disclosed in the four postcards I sent out) was that my aunt (Sam) had hooked me up with some bookbinding monks of Quarr Abbey. So here is my account of that marvellous visit. I regret that I did not take any photos, but I have found a few online. 

“Are you religious at all?” Chris, the man who had arranged the meeting, asked me. I bit my lip and I wasn’t exactly sure what to say. Dare I say anything with the daunting red bricked Abbey behind me, a house of God, which would be ultimately blasphemous? I stared at Sam for some kind of support. 

     “It’s okay, you don’t have to be,” Chris said. I breathed a sigh of relief. When it comes to religion I can claim that I have been Christened but I don’t necessarily believe in the whole thing. In a way I am kind of God-fearing, Hell seems like a scary place. I dislike how religion can be  so  imposing. I have a huge amount of respect for my religious friends, I am almost jealous in a way of how much faith they can place in one thing, and they are the some of the best people I know. Anyway.

     “I would describe myself as a ‘lapsed’ Catholic,” Chris said. “I did all the stuff I needed to do for Him to let me in when I was at school,” he said proudly. We talked about some other trivialities whilst we waited in the car (the Monks were having a meeting). When we got out of the car I was both nervous and excited. I had never met a Monk before, what would it be like? And this would be the first time I’ve been in a bindery that’s bigger than a front room, too.

      We walked around the Abbey to the back. The bindery faces the Solent and on a clear day like that day you could see right over to Portsmouth and the Spinnaker Tower. It was beautiful. The bindery itself is almost a corridor at the back of the Abbey. It has huge, arched windows letting in a tremendous amount of light and inside the arches are repeated in the architecture (a common feature of the Abbey). We were greeted at the bindery door by Father Nicholas Spencer, who had been at the Abbey for something like thirty years. He greeted us with such kindness and warmth that it was just lovely. We then met Brother Blaine, a bumbly Monk who loves to make tiny ‘bespoke’ boxes big enough ‘to fit your nose stud in’.

     As we stepped through the door, immediately to our left were rolls and rolls of book cloth and buckram and leather, and I melted at the sight of it all. Father Nicholas briefly explained to us about the book cloth, which is ordered in from mainland suppliers. He pointed us to a guillotine. It wasn’t your average slicing blade, oh no, it was a modern distortion fitted into a plastic grey box, for health and safety reasons.

     “Health and safety insist we use this,” Father Nicholas said. “But we still use the old one, and if they ever ask, I just stay quiet about it!” (Bear in mind that the old guillotine does not meet health and safety standards, it’s a huge blade mounted on a table from France, quite a few centuries old)
      I was still unsure how to act with the Monks. Should I be careful of my words, with my hands behind my back, not asking too pertinent questions? Sam was still being herself so that persuaded me to relax a little bit more. I observed that Monks are actually quite grubby (several stains on their robes) and they put their hands in their pockets, so I put my hands in mine. In the morning I had been deliberating what to wear. I considered wearing a hoody, but wondered if this would be too casual, but then I remembered the Monks wore ‘hoodies’ anyway.
The bindery seemed to be set out in a way that made it perfect for giving tours. All the heavy bookbinding equipment was tucked into the walls, as well as some shelving and a cupboard full of papers. Father Nicholas showed my mother and I around the big machinery, explaining their use, and where they had come from. They had obtained quite a few bits from France, as I mentioned earlier, but also from the old County Press. In the centre of the long room (long and narrow, like I said, much like a corridor) were several work benches with on-going books, and also some frames set up. The bindery mainly deals with in-house binding, as books are handled in the Abbey at least five times a day, and so are subject to considerable wear, (not to mention they are quite old). I tried to display my knowledge. “Ah, a bone press!” I said. Father Nicholas quickly corrected me (“A bone folder,”) and scoffed when I said, “I use a teaspoon instead!”

     During our tour Father Nicholas was quick to lay out what he considered was ‘proper’ bookbinding. He basically condemned any ‘binding’ that wasn’t done with the correct materials all equipment. I was quite glad I hadn’t brought any of my books with me, least he scoff at it. While this was happening Sam had gone off with Brother Blaine, and as he was younger, he seemed much more enthusiastic than Father Nicholas. I caught glimmers of their interesting conversation, it seemed much more interesting than what was being said to mum and I. 

During the tour I got to handle some amazing things, including hand marbled paper (“A lot of this is no good, we should really throw it away,” to which I thought, “No give it to me!”) placing my hands precariously on a great handle, touching tiny letters used for making titles, seeing the incredibly delicate gold leaf, and these amazing bound books that the Monks had made previously. They proudly fetched them from a tall cupboard at the back of the bindery. There were A3 books so delicately crafted. The covers were made from leather but some of them had at least three different types and colours of leather I marvelled at how such a skill might be applied, Father Nicholas explained the process of making etches into the ‘base’ leather and then moulding the two types together. I got to touch a piece of sheep’s leather, which is apparently incredibly hard to work with, as it is the only other skin, apart from humans, that has seven layers. A bookbinder I had met before had given me a square scrap of leather but alas no such gifts came from this bindery. Brother Blaine showed us his tiny bespoke boxes made with beautiful papers that he was so proud of, in preparation for the Christmas sale that is held annually, unfortunately I will miss it. There was a display board of the Quarr Abbey Bindery including pictures and a poster for a day exploring the bindery, which happened a few years ago. I told them they should hold another such session. 

    Brother Blaine placed down a grand green box in front of us, and we huddled excitedly to see it. Inside it was lined with green velvet and sitting cushioned was a black leather book. Brother Blaine explained to us it was a copy for a client of Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol. “Well, Mr Wilde was a very eccentric man, so I wanted to do something to mimic that,” Brother Blaine said, and as he pulled the book out of the box we saw that he had meticulously crafted a leather hangman’s noose on the front cover.

     We made signs of leaving but the Monks seemed to like to talk. They clearly love their art and admitted that they could probably spend hours and hours in the bindery if they could, as well as talk about books all day. They had a shelf dedicated to books on bookbinding; I noted proudly that I had one of the books they had. They showed us a book of an immaculate craftsman whose name I’ve quite forgotten. Apparently his employers were obliged to give him a job in the bindery and he sat in the basement doing leather proofing for years. They never really minded (or noticed) what he was doing so he could do as much as he liked and he effectively became a master in that area. He produced hundreds of stunning books that were actually quite different from the norm. “The art has to develop,” Father Nicholas remarked, “Otherwise that chap would have been sitting in the basement doing the same thing over and over again,”
      When we finally did pull away I admonished them with my thanks at the amazing experience. As we left Sam suggested that we take a look into the Crypt, which was still open. She can remember when the Crypt was quite derelict before. It was quite a profound place, with an alter and low soft lights, the stunning architecture of the Abbey showing through. I can understand why people say Quarr is ‘ugly’ however – the walls are made from red brick and in a way are quite imposing. It turns out that my great grandfather was a bricky at the time the Abbey was built, and he sent postcards home whilst courting my great grandmother explaining he ‘would be back tomorrow’ and the like. The Crypt was a spiritual place indeed. (The photo is not actually the Crypt itself but it gives an idea of it)

As Father Nicholas walked us the car park he made a last bid to win us over religion wise. He explained that he had taken school trips from the mainland around the Abbey and some of the children were so ignorant as to say, ‘why do you believe in a swear word?’ at this information I was actually quite shocked. I felt incredibly lucky to be brought up the way I was. 

     We got back into the car after saying another hundred ‘thankyous’. I was absolutely buzzing. It had been an incredible experience. The Monks hadn’t been as stiff of back as I thought they would be, in fact, they were actually quite relaxed. As Father Nicholas said, they ‘lived a simple life’ but it was a life that in a way I craved for – no fuss over relationships and small trivialities. They greeted each other so warmly, so grandly, (“Salutations, Brother!”) and they spoke in a gentle, almost archaic way. It threw me a bit when we briefly met a Monk who said to Chris “I’ll send an email about it,” the word ‘email’ seemed so alien and strange among the grand arches and high windows. But I had noticed that the bindery was littered with printed material from the internet and emails. On discussing this point with mum and Sam later in the car, Sam said that if they did not keep up, or adapt, or evolve, with what was going on, it was likely that the Abbey would have to be closed down. It was, I reflected, like the man in the basement who worked so hard to make an imprint into the way we make books. Without that important step, the amazing craft I adore so much would crumble into history, like the bindery and the Abbey if they did not catch the current. It would be a shame, because it is a wonderful, inspiring place.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Bit of Bonaparte

Yesterday I went round to my Granny’s house. She read my ‘Toad in the Water-butt’ story and said it was ‘very unusual.’ We tried to remind her of the incident it refers to (when one of my father’s friends lost his eye) but she cannot remember the specific details (basically the group of boys in the 50s had a mini cannon used for starting yacht races and they tried to shoot a toad, however it didn’t go to plan and one boy got a led shot in his eye, you can imagine the rest!) Upon asking my dad whether he ever told granny the story he said, ‘Well of course we didn’t!’ So the truth has finally been revealed, 50 years later!

Anywho. My granny has many different books from when she was a child, and from her father and things. She got them all out of her cupboard and said I could take them home if I wished. For now I only took home two books. A crumbling copy of Coleridge’s Poetical and Dramatic Works from the war (note the ‘Message from the front’ pamphlet inside) and The Language and Poetry of Flowers .

Apart from the drool-inducing crumbling spines revealing the art of bookbinding, it’s interesting to consider what’s actually on the spine. Coleridge’s spine is covered with some sort of poem or verse, probably religious. But The Language of Flowers is even more interesting – it’s titled 'Napoleon Bonaparte' and details a wound, possible amputation, and ‘The other [wound?] was on the toe, and had been received at Eckmühl’

Isn’t that absolutely fascinating, the way that the book has been bound using what must be pages from a book of a newspaper? So much information can be gleaned from this. I would love to discover old binding techniques and why such materials have been used – other than to strengthen the spine, I mean. I do the same with my books, using mull, and then a scrap of paper covering the spine (usually some A4 plain paper, and I’d scrawl and obscure message on it, with a date and signature)

So here is a picture of my ‘old’ books that I have started collecting, including Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book and several books on English.

I am dramatically running out of shelf-space.

My granny also has a tatty copy of The Children of the New Forrest. Mum suggested to me that perhaps I should re-bind it as I did with The Green Fairy Book. But I feel a way something as old as that (granny had it when she was four, in 1922) I couldn’t dare touch; I would have to receive suitable training for something so delicate. No, it’s not something I’ll do now. I’ll make my own books and occasionally re-cover cheap charity shop paperbacks. But it’s certainly something I aspire to do.

P.S back home on the Island and I’ve insisted we go on walks every day. Yesterday, Fort Victoria and toadstools. You can imagine tiny fairies perching on top.

P.P.S - This is some darn creative and beautiful book art.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Green Fairy Book

I've been thinking about re-covering a book lately - I'm reading Lieutenant Hornblower at the moment and the cover is hideous.

At home I have a possible first eddition of Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book. So when I saw this one in Oxfam today, I really wanted to cover it to make it that bit more special. I actually really like the cover on the original paperback:

The book, re-covered with a hard-back cover, burgandy ribbon and end papers, red headers.

I do want to incorporate a title onto the cover and spine, but I have no idea where I would start. I would want to somehow include the illustration from the paperback.

In the end I decided to use the paper I already had to finish the other notebook - here it is!