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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 )

2018
End of year thoughts Thanks for the Christmas Fair, Poetry Breakfast, 2019 Where does the time go? A return to normality? Autumn Brocante Back from Frankfurt, Brocante on Sunday, Winter Event Autumn returns Long time no blog Bank Holiday Monday - Vide Grenier hoorah! Vide Grenier on Monday, J L Carr Day on 1st September, H.Art opens on the 8th of September Art Books, Angelfest Kingsland, Vide Grenier, Carr Celebration, H.Art Brilliant Scarecrow Sunday, lots of books, looking forward to J L Carr, H.Art and Ludlow Food Festival, sad goodbye Scarecrow Sunday, Applications for Café position, Idle Thoughts of a musical & vinous bent Art Opening - Summer Sextet, Scarecrow Sunday, Radio Fame, Pop-Ups, lots and lots of books Meetings with Remarkable Books, Summer Sextet, Scarecrow Sunday So much has happened, and so much is coming up Fabulous May Brocante about to open ! Don't Forget - Bank Holiday Brocante Bank Holiday Weekend, Out of the Hills Art of the Print, Blue Haze Quartet, new cake selection, looking forward to the Brocante and beyond Bookfair books all stowed away, Art of the Print, Out of the Hills etc Aardvarks Back from Norfolk, Art of the Print, Point to Point, hard pounding What a week its been Busy week in the bookshop, 'Art of the Print', 'Out of the Hills' and Much More Big thanks to all who made Easter so fantastic! Snow again, busy week, April book bonanza, Easter and sculpture, Jazz amongst the bookshelves Snow no more, Borderlines Sponsored Film, even more books Opening Hours 3rd of March Closing Early 2nd March Valentine's event is finally here Spring Fair, Epic victory in Kingsland Quiz, 'The Bookshop' performance at Courtyard, Valentine's Event And so the new year turns Roadworks, new philosophy library and lots of CDs New Year and lots of books
2017
New Year Resolutions 2 New Year's resolutions 1 Nothings gives pleasure more than a good book, a beautiful music and a wonderful view Christmas Fair cancelled, Christmas opening etc Christmas Fair, Aardvark Christmas opening, 2017 Thanks Winter Event - Bill Sewell, Jobs at Aardvark Winter Event, False Lights Review, Aardvark in 2018 Employment at Aardvark Books October Brocante, Frankfurt update, Winter Event Back from Frankfurt, Brocante Sunday, much more to come Syrinx and Harp Arcadia at Aardvark, Frankfurt Bookfair, October Brocante, Weekend helper required 'Syrinx and Harp', October Brocante, new titles in store False Lights, Tickets for Arcadia Music, Stall bookings for October Brocante Ludlow Food Festival, False Lights Book Launch, Syrinx and Harp Why Buy Art? Health updates, Vide Grenier news, H.Art, Literary Ludlow, Book Launch: False Lights Only two days to the Vide Grenier Civil War Weekend continues, H.Art, Literary Ludlow, Launch of 'False Lights' Civil War Weekend Awaits Thank you for best wishes, Re-enactment, History books galore Aardvarks back in the saddle, Jazz Brunch and Sale, Forward to the Re-enactment and the autumn Aardvark is Cyclist heaven, Solstice Exhibition, Changes to Jazz Brunch line up Last weekend of Shropshire Hills Art Exhibition, and opening next week of 'The Solstice' And Humour Books, Music and Art: The answer to all life's problems Mad May Bank Holiday, Shropshire Hills Art Week, Even More Books Catch up, books and forthcoming exhibitions Map exhibition opening, Bank Holiday weekend Last weekend of Fire and Earth Ceramics exhibit, excitement ahead of 'Maps and Mansions', big house clearance An incredible 3 years CDs, Fire + Earth Ceramics exhibition Clwyd Art Fund, Shropshire Books, Map Exhibition, Fire and Earth, Stuart Davies London Book Fair, Building a Library-'Quartet for the End of Time', Books Books Books! In memoriam Paul Williams,London Bookfair Blow Up, Borderlines Film Festival, Blow-Up Part 1 Beautiful bright day, Peter May, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts Richard Strauss, Rodrigo on Building a Library, Valentine's Day, Peter Reynolds Musicologist, Art of France Valentine's Saturday Who would have known it - books are back in fashion Busy week at Aardvark Books! Hope Bright clear morning, and exciting events to come New Year 2017
2016
New Year's Eve 2016 Five reasons to be cheerful for 2017! Christmas Eve 2016 CHRISTMAS FAIR 2016 Xmas Fair on Sunday, Greg Lake, Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy Grey Sunday morning, but ice free Barbara Strozzi on Building a Library, nearly at the end of Frankfurt Books, plans for Christmas Fair Winter Event, plans for 2017 Wigmore Abbey, Poobahs, Leonard Cohen Summer sun, Wi-fi in Café, working through Frankfurt books, next year's programme Slight wi-fi delay Post Frankfurt, Show tunes, new staff member, the coming of wi-fi to Aardvark Café 9 days of problems, followed by a period of sanity Arcadia continues, Brocante next Sunday, yet more books Arcadia at Aardvark; Arcadia weekend; more book Last day of H.Art, that's it for exhibitions for 2016 Good news on Aardvark H.Art; new books in stock; October Brocante; Arcadia Music Jobs at Aardvark Books; H.Art, Autumn programme H.Art & Ludlow Food Fair Vide Grenier day and the weather is fantastic! Vide Grenier Excitement, David Evans, Jill Alford Sale, More changes Charity Sale Today, Vide Grenier on Monday History Weekend (Day 2) History Weekend; H.Art preparations The Poetry of Ted Hughes So pleased with our 'Take Five' Exhibition Fantastic opening for 'Take Five', wonderful summer sunshine Back from La Belle France to Scarecrows, Art and More Work Too Many Tears Books the ultimate consolation Geoffrey Hilll, Peter Florence,Marking Time, Food and Farming Day To Friedrich Schiller in profound gratitude from a poor bookseller An Artist's Life, tragedy in Yorkshire and France, Folio Society Books Shropshire Hills Art Week Exhibition well and truly open Brocante well underway! Opening times over Bank Holiday Weekend and Half Term Arcadia, Vivaldi, Flea Market, Bank Holidays Bliss was it in that Dawn to Be Alive Last day of the map exhibition; thinking about 'An Actor's Life' Shropshire Hills Art Week, May Brocante, Travel Books Non-Marches Interloper for last week of map exhibition Slow morning Wonderful Carlos Acosta Maps Exhibition Opened, Awful weather, Cozy Fire Maps, books, random thoughts LBF, New York Review of Books, Map Exhibition Yet more changes at Aardvark, H.Art already, more DVDs and loads of art books Busy week, peculiar nature of media, Lots going on in April Easter holidays at Aardvark Easter Saturday, Sad News - Jill Alford No claim to infallibility; lots new in Superb bright Sunday morning; changes to the bookshop Slow start, busy week coming up Stop Press - wonderful children's books Beautiful morning, exciting days and weeks ahead As You Like It, the return of the sun Saturday Morning, the wonder of David Sedaris, Carter Dickson More and more and more books, Lucie starting, 'The Garden' Stunning sunny day, thoughts on London and being a country mouse Death of Mary Campbell, CD Review and R3 Schizophrenia, Wes Montgomery and Milt Jackson, fantastic academic library purchase Great Valentine's Day, Cimarosa, Friday Night Lights, Exciting News of Aardvark Appointment Valentine's Day is upon us Any Questions, Valentines Day, Jacques Rivette, James Lee Burke Two good pieces of news, Valentine's Day, Changes to tax reporting for small businesses and the self-employed, Working at Aardvark, D is for Doyle, Davis, Dexter, Deaver, Carter Dickson, Dunant, Durbridge, Dodge and Dickens Extending deadline for job offer, 'The Garden', Sale Tent Wonderful Royal Ballet, less than wonderful politicians Last weekend of sale - but don't despair Quite a busy month Bookshop and Café Person required B is for Bludgeon, Beaton, Bentley, Berkeley, Martin Beck and Burke First day of aardvark sale, job applications, cold weather, thoughts on the year CVs, Sale and more and more books More books for 2016 A is for Alibi, Ames, Allingham and Ambler Change, Change, Change 2016
2015
Post Christmas Thoughts Japanese Single book bookshop Busy day Christmas 2015 Books and opening times update Flaxman the magnificent; Christmas idea; last chance to see Fantastic day, beautiful morning So many art books and all for sale at incredible prices Only one more Aardvark Event before Christmas! Winter Event arrives on time Paris, Culture, What we leave behind Busy Beavers A wet day ... Autumn alert Frankfurt, Culture and Fleamarkets Through the fog, poetry and much more beside Books take centre stage - but art has a last hurrah! Back to life, back to reality H.Art, Ludlow Food Fair, Craaaaazy! Art, Art and a little food too! Phil Rickman at St James', Wigmore The pleasures of selling a special book The pleasures of Spenser Vide Grenier, H.Art, Non-stop activity Phew! Re-enactment under - our biggest ever Extraordinary evening at Brecon Summer Lightning Great opening! Back from an unsettle France, to a summer of madcap Aardvark Activity Make Your Summer Count! Make Your Summer Count! One door closes ... Long days, the Food Fair Camaraderie History is not Bunk ( it's official) Fantastic Iceland; Countdown to Food Fair Iceland is up, and will open tomorrow! Last weekend of Shropshire Hills Art Week, Food Fair, New Books Food Fair, New Books, Iceland Exhibition Fantastic opening to Shropshire Hills Art Week Bank Holiday Brocante Underway! Non-stop Aardvark craziness Great Lecture, Last day of the map exhibition Quiet days are made for Aardvark Books The Art of the Personal Lest any -one should think that there should be any lowering of the cake quality First week without Catherine; Maps Exhibition bonus; Brocante Update Last day for Catherine; great trip to London Bookfair; New Books in Stock Exhibition; George Butterworth; random culture Sunny Easter Monday; crazy Easter Saturday You heard it here first The exhibition is up; fingers crossed for Saturday! New members of the team; Easter events; Map exhibition Book Buying, CD Buying, Fantastic Eclipse Things I forgot Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. RSC 'Much Ado', new books, Welsh and World Book Day February ending, can Spring be far behind One down ... New Books, New Books Science Fiction; change is afoot New Carpet, Change, the Year Ahead Out of the loop If only we were all Charlie 12 Steps to Moving to the Country
2014
2015 awaits And at last it is Christmas Eve An endless river of books, a dreck day, a warm hearth Christmas Fair 2015 Christmas is very much upon us Christmas in the bookshop Busy Sunday, Wenlock Books Christmas Tree Flea Market Heaven More Upbeat Frankfurt; planning for Brocante Antiquarian Sales, children's books, Frankfurt preparations A quiet weekend, but some great sales! H.art sales! H.art carries on for two weeks Our H.Art exhibition is now hung and ready to open H.art is nearly here Vide Grenier, H.Art and onwards DVDs and CD's at Aardvark Books Day two of the history weekend History Weekend Preparations Previously in Aardvark Books ... Huge library purchase; last copies anywhere of Jo Brand Memoir Food, Food, Food First purchase for next year's map exhibition Why does dealing with publishers need to be so frustrating (2) Why does dealing with publishers need to be so frustrating Culture Vulture HIstory and fun this summer A warm Saturday in June Great response to the inaugural South Shropshire Art Week June starts with a bang Nearly a month on Driving rain cannot stop us What a month it has been Saddest News Imaginable Busy, Busy, Busy Quiet before the storm Thinking about books and bookselling Age recommendations on children's books Sunshine and children's books Theology Books and sunny weather Under the Hammer Valentine's Market All roads lead to Aardvark & Flavours of Hereford Festival Water, water everywhere ... Sale expectations The changing faces of winter 2014 comes with a fast forward button On tenterhooks with V I Warshawski Online Bookshop up at last ; acquisition of major literature library New Year Resolutions