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2 December 2020

And so it goes on. And on. And on. This week we come out of the second lockdown and go into Tier 2. But this will not make a big difference to daily lives, although obviously it will be nice to invite (masked) customers into the shop from 12-3. But the dailiness of our daily life will continue just as before: two walks a day, three meals, the Persephone Post, proofreading, orders (we are very busy at the moment), some gentle television, and an open fire every evening. The puppy goes to the shop once a week but he is still not a daily fixture. And how peculiar not to have had one’s hair cut since March and to live in boots (for anyone looking for waterproof boots, we are devoted to Josef Seibel’s Steffi 53 and will have to be prised out of them when lockdown is over).

Meanwhile we are proofreading The Rector’s Daughter by F M Mayor (with tremendous enjoyment and indeed awe), like everyone else we watch The Crown and are slightly horrified by its obvious tampering with the truth (but then ‘whatever truth means’) and last night allowed ourselves two hours of pure bliss by re-watching The Apartment: could this be the best film ever made? Inspired by it, the Post this week focuses on the five best films made between 1945 and 1965.

And, not in order to give pleasure to the people who write in and accuse us of political bias or anti-semitism or anti-Trumpism or really anything else they can think of, but out of a peculiar four-years-on and now long-evening-induced weariness, this Letter will only have one sentence about politics. Which is: that it is all too depressing. Obviously it’s marvellous about Biden and the (mostly) intelligent, kind, wise people he is gathering round him, but we remain wrecked in the UK (cf. Jonathan Freedland here about his literal jealousy of Americans because of Biden).

And how are you all doing with the cooking during lockdown? Utterly fed up or becoming quite creative? We skitter between both extremes but the one thing that keeps us going is a deeply-held belief in good food being a virus killer. So now the jacket potatoes for lunch are in the oven, they will be accompanied by butter and grated cheese and fried onions. Who knew that onions kill viruses? Well, we didn’t but now we do. Our other obsession, also on the health side of things, is to try and eat twenty-seven different things a day, which is what they do in Japan. Here it’s very difficult because so much of our food is wheat and dairy, which obviously only counts as two. And even today’s lunch, nourishing as it sounds, will only be four.  Well, plus an apple makes five. With such trivia, and yet perhaps it isn’t so trivial, we occupy ourselves.

And out in the world? The best books we read last month were Hermione Lee’s biography of Tom Stoppard: far too long but a tour de force and parts of it, for example the chapter about Arcadia, were extraordinary; and Endell Street by Wendy Moore, recommended by a Persephone reader in Australia (ironically, since it is set only fifteen minutes walk from Lambs Conduit Street), history at its best and highly recommended. A couple of years ago we saw an interactive play about the hospital, it was good but this book is almost better. Here are the nurses in August 1916. Notice the dog.

We were sent the first issue of a new magazine called Friends on the Shelf and enjoyed reading it very much, especially the two pieces by ‘Maud Silver’ who is a genius at drawing and lettering, her website is here. An exhibition has just ended of works by the painter Peter Brown. In normal times we would definitely have gone to see them. This is 9.30 a.m. The Studio 2020, available from Messum's here.  

Varsity, the undergraduate magazine in Cambridge, published a perceptive and very sweet interview with us by Esmee Wright. There was also the Bloomberg interview last week, this has now had over three hundred thousand views!

Recently there has been a movement to disinter, celebrate, revive publishers’ back lists, for example Simon and Schuster is placing far more emphasis than it used to on its dead and gone authors. Here is a salutary quote from Evelyn Waugh: in his Autobiography he noted that his first editor of The Time Machine had 16 pp of advertisements for popular novelists of 1895, much praised and ‘all, today, quite forgotten’. This is very sobering. But unsurprising. We have published 139 books. But must have read thousands. Which means that the 139 are a tiny, tiny proportion of the books we have read and that it is true the 16pp of books at the back of the HG Wells will most probably never be disinterred.

There was a delightful series on Radio 3 called Composers and their Dogs: it focused on Newfoundlands (Wagner); Old English Sheepdogs (Ethel Smyth); Poodles (Haydn and Chopin); Dachshunds (Britten and Bernstein); Cocker Spaniels (Elgar).

We do not want to get into the controversy over the Mary Wollstonecraft statue. Here, uncontroversially, is the beautiful portrait of her that, yes, we prefer. It’s in the National Portrait Gallery.

An exhibition has just opened at the Watta Gallery called Art & Action: Making Change in Victorian Britain. This is The Pinch of Poverty 1891 by Thomas Kennington (1856 – 1916), normally at the Foundling Museum. 

The House of Illustration is moving  – not far, just from King’s Cross to New River Head in Islington.

'The site is made up of four 18th and 19th-century industrial buildings that were instrumental in the history of London’s fresh drinking water supply.' It's a huge undertaking which will cost £8 million. But then illustration is a huge subject and it is excellent that so much money and effort is being put into displaying it;.

Finally, there is an exhibition at the Design Museum celebrating the work of Margaret Calvert (born 1936). Incredibly, she was only 22 when she was chosen to  design the signage for Gatwick Airport and only 24 when she was one of the designers for the motorway signs and for road signs (children crossing, workmen digging the road).

Nicola Beauman

59 Lamb's Conduit Street


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