Wednesday, March 08, 2006

(101) Bookmarks

On January 26th 1994, I received the following letter from William Hartston:
24 January 94 Dear James, (Sorry about the writing paper. It’s the only unsullied parchment in my bag on this particular tube train.) Anyway, here’s a cheque for £200 for your Indep on Sunday contributions.

Here, by way of interest, is a coincidence for you:

Saturday night (22 Jan): had dream in which I met Kingsley Amis on a train. Before I could think of anything to say, he leaned towards me and said: "Excuse me, but aren’t you William Hartston?" He went on to mention that his son had frequently spoken of me.
Monday afternoon (24 Jan): Man sitting opposite me on tube train asked me to autograph the novel he was reading. I looked at the jacket before doing so. It was, of course, by Kingsley Amis.
Love, Bill.

The next day I showed the letter to a work colleague, Phillip Cook, who recognised Hartston’s name from the TV and said that he found the incident a bit freaky.

I also mentioned to him and others what an excellent book Jung Chang’s Wild Swans was. I produced my copy and pointed out where I had read up to; a chapter with the charming heading Sniffing after foreigners’ farts and pretending they smell sweet.

At 4 p.m. I began to play backgammon with Ken Leon. At one moment he offered me the doubling cube, explaining that he felt that his next roll would be a double one. I accepted with the comment that the ability to see the future would certainly be an advantage to a backgammon player.

That made me think of Hartston’s letter, and so I pulled it out and proffered it to our only spectator, Christian Stillmark.

He read it and observed that it is a quaint story but that we do not know if it is true.

At 6 p.m. we all left the office. I noticed that Christian was holding a large paperback in his hand. I wondered if it might be the very same book that had been at the top of the bestsellers list for weeks; Wild Swans. It was.
I noted that he had inserted a bookmark towards the end of it. The suspicion formed that it might be at exactly the same point as I had reached.
Purely to see if it were, I delved into my bag and produced my copy. Sure enough it was at precisely the same spot, between pages 624 to 625. The book is just short of seven hundred pages in length.

Stillmark later told me that Jung Chang had been his tutor when he had studied at the School of African and Oriental Studies.
Later that year I was to meet her at a party.

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