The Aardvark Blog
Random Thoughts from Lockdown
Random Thoughts from Lockdown
We are now coming to the end of week 8 of lockdown and it has now gone on long enough for certain inherent traits of our personalities - both as individuals, groups and countries - to make themselves manifest. Britain is a country of proud grumblers who are never happier then when finding a locus for our discontent. The nation has therefore taken great delight in complaining about the PM's Sunday night speech, with traditional supporters being amongst the most vocal. Although I am far from falling into that category I can't help but have some sympathy for a politician who is so ill-suited to the challenge that confronts him. I have now watched the short Matt Lucas parody on several occasions and it captures perfectly the feeling that power is slipping away through our rulers' fingers. A rare exception to this is the current chancellor who has done more than I would have believed possible to preserve at least some of our economy. I will be frankly amazed if all of the bookshops and publishers who went into lockdown come out unscathed on the other side, but the fact that any do will in large part be down to him.
Since the Sunday broadcast we have been wasting considerable energy thinking through how and when we can re-open the shop. We are certainly not aiming to be amongst the first to open, and at the moment are looking at a phased unlockdown in July. Even then the cafe will remain closed although we may be able to put together a takeaway offering. I remain unsure of how much of the Aardvark atmosphere will be possible at a time of social distancing and mask wearing. I am also unsure whether it is better to carry on as we are just selling online and on the phone or to risk our health and those of our customers to produce an environment that is so far from the relaxed meeting place that we have spent the last sixteen years creating. On the other hand none of us can stay in lockdown forever and the first tentative steps into our new Covid19 world are bound to feel strange.
Lockdown has seen Arthur return in part to his bachelor days, with seemingly endless time to read, think and listen. Since sleep has been both fugitive and uncontrollable (I have found myself falling asleep mid-evening more over the last few months than over the last decade), there are more and more minutes to fill. As a bookshop owner I wish I could say that I have filled my time with reading Joyce or Proust, but unfortunately that would be a lie. Instead I have read The New Yorker, New York Times and countless other papers and magazines, and have also been working through my art bookshelves obsessively re-reading and re-enjoying books that I have acquired over the last forty years. The catalogue from the great Pompidou Matisse exhibition. A book on Stuart Davis whose work I first saw at the Met in New York in the nineties. A wonderful book by Hugh Honour on Venice Sergeant, Whistler and Isabella Stewart Gardener. And lots of books on Japanese, Chinese and Korean art which speak to me more deeply and more profoundly than ever before.The beauty of Chinese silk paintings or furniture. The wonders of Hokusai, Hiroshige and Utamaro whether showing landscapes or documenting the denizens of the Floating World. It speaks to a world of order, and beauty far removed from our scarred Covid landscape where the only part of our psyche that is truly happy is our ‘lizard brain’ that can gorge to its heart’s content on the primary emotions of fear, hope and anger.
I have also been enjoying spending time in our house and looking again at the many works of art and decorative art that have been acquired over the years. The superb Phil Rogers Korean style vase on a windowsill, the wonderful late Andre Masson print, or the Gordon Crosby ‘tea bowl’ that sits next to a beautiful Sung dynasty box in the shape of a squash, and a lovely Kang Xi dynasty plate depicting tobacco leaves. It is saddening how little one looks at the things that surround us during our usual busy lives and how easy it is to become detached from the ideas and values that if asked we would claim to ascribe to. To say that art is a vital part of life is only true if one is prepared to give it the time that it needs to be part of everyday life. During the time of lockdown I have been able to give that time and it makes me realise how impoverished my life has been over the last decade when I have been unable to make that commitment.
Finally it has been such a pleasure to listen to music - not as aural wallpaper, but as a proper committed presence. But how weird it is to find one’s taste changing and being remodelled by our new distopian reality. I have found myself increasingly unable to listen to Chet, but really enjoying Miles. Becoming obsessive about Neil Young but unable to listen to The great Harry Nilsson or Stacey Kent. A mighty yes to Mozart and Handel but no to Beethoven, Elgar and almost any song cycle or choral music. This morning I have combined listening to Record Review with playing Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’, which I am finding sets up even more sympathetic reverberations than usual.
Some recent deaths of musicians who I first encountered in my youth have also made me listen to music that I haven’t played for years. Hearing it again now I cannot really understand what it was that first struck me so profoundly about the Stranglers' Rattus Norvegicus. To my middle aged self it seems to be a very uneven record with in truth only two really strong tracks - Peaches and the wonderful ‘Hanging Around’ - but strangely I can still remember the impact it made upon me even though I no longer know why it had that impact. And some of the music from that time: The Smiths, early Elvis Costello, Cabaret Voltaire, The The, Scritti Politti, Orange Juice, The Associates, The Cure, Bauhaus and much more truly was great and looking back I feel blessed to have lived through an era from 1970 to the late eighties that was so full of musical invention. The roughly 30 years since then seem to be extremely musically thin in comparison. And I realise that in writing this I am downplaying a number of talented groups and individuals such as Radiohead, Nirvana, The Killers, Amy Winehouse and many more, but I would simply ask whether anything they produced can truly hold a candle to Dylan from his electric period, or Bowie from his Berlin period, or the Stones of Exile on Main Street. And can modern soul music compare with Marvin Gaye or Al Green, or our modern neo-punk compare to The New York Dolls, or the Stooges or the Ramones. At every time in history there is always great art, writing and music, but at certain rare times there is an unprecedented storm of creativity.
Strangely one area in which that is happening at the moment is in children's illustrated publishing which has never been more creative and remarkable than at present. This week I have been finishing listing a large group of illustrated children’s books and I have been delayed by the need to look through each book before I list it. They are so clever, varied, imaginative and beautiful, in styles so diverse and yet so pleasing.
So tomorrow another week will start and I will go back to the work of packing books, answering customers' queries and working through the huge piles of books in the warehouse. It is a strange existence, but I am conscious always of how lucky I am to be able to have work that I can do and which constantly throws up ideas and memories that stimulate me. And we will have need of ideas when this great pandemic eventually retreats and we will walk once again into the sunlight, stunned by what we have been through and how different the world now looks.
Published by Aardvark Books Ltd on (modified )
When All The Fierce Passions Cease
All the Fun of the Fair, May Car Boot
Judge Not, That You Be Not Judged
Have a Heart