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2 September 2020

We have had a month’s ‘holiday' but of course for many of us August didn’t feel like a holiday, just the same old, same old…Yet many Persephone readers have actually been away – to Cornwall or Scotland or even France or Greece, indeed, we are going to Whitstable in three weeks time. Here we plan to sit on a terrace on the beach (probably wrapped in a rug with the umbrella up) eating fish, reading Georgette Heyer and doing practically nothing else.

But today, September 2nd, means the return to normality. We are now open to customers from 12-3 (weekdays only for the moment, the plan is 10-6 in October), we have caught up on the backlog, and now is the time to return to the tasks which we abandoned for a while. The most important of  these is writing the new Biannually but also we need to start uploading pictures and comments to Instagram and Twitter (’tis the modern way) and sending our loyal customers the occasional email. 

For the last few weeks we have been slackers, although in our defence (and we are no different from every other business the world over) it has been tough only having one person in the shop at a time (no one to bounce ideas off or chat to) as well as being logistically difficult. But today we shall be two people in the shop. And we shall have Saturday’s article by Tim Harford in the Financial Times at the forefront of our brain, in which he said that in the UK on average 44 people out of a million get Covid every day, two people out of a million have it seriously and one in two million dies – which is ‘similar to taking a bath, going skiing, or a short motorbike ride, and considerably less risky than a scuba dive or a skydive…  Covid19 therefore currently presents a background risk of a one in a million chance of death or lasting harm every day. The risk of death alone is one in 2m.’ Which is why we feel it is okay to start having two of us at a time in the shop. And with masks and the door open the risk must diminish to one in 4m. (And who knew that the risk of death from Covid was basically the same as the risk of having a bath, the dangerous bit presumably being falling and hitting one’s head rather than actually lying in warm water reading Georgette Heyer.)

One of the things that has kept us going during lockdown as we confront the iniquities of our government is ‘Other Lives’ in the Guardian – all these good, high-achieving but modest, admirable people who are deemed not famous enough for an actual obituary but are written about by their friends or relations. Last week there was a short piece about Jean Kerlogue who was a friend of Rosalind Franklin’s at school (St Paul’s Girls’ School) and university (Newnham College, Cambridge) and then worked at Bletchley Park. Read about her here.

When we go to Whitstable our books of choice, apart from the above mentioned GH, will be Lissa Evans’s new book V for Victory and Tim Spector’s Spoon-Fed about the evidence for what we should and shouldn’t eat, most of which is a fallacy eg. ‘eating unpasteurised cheese is unlikely to cause problems during pregnancy’. The extraordinary thing about the food police is how they change their tune every ten years or so. If I think of my poor father denying himself eggs! And now egg yolks are considered incredibly healthy. 

There is an exhibition of wood engravings at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It proposes that ‘wood engraving is the only art form widely considered to have been invented in England’. Yet in the twentieth century ‘a marvel was how wood engraving broke free of its romanticist origin to co-opt modernist abstract patterning.’


We shall try and go to the new David Hare play Beat the Devil, which is a rant about the government delivered by Ralph Fiennes  – it will be rather wonderful to hear someone else ranting since for months we have ranted either inside our head or to Gilbert (below) or occasionally to long-suffering family (but they have heard it all before and get a please-shut-up expression on their face).

We shall also try and listen to Ben Wishaw reading Maurice (on Audible here). Since all us Persephone girls are Forsterians through and through this will be no hardship for any of us.

 Finally, the novelist Felicity Hayes-McCoy has given us a starring role in her (very good) new novel The Heart of Summer. On page 293 the heroine wants to buy a present for a friend and decides to go to Persephone Books 'where in her days as a Londoner, Hanna had been a frequent customer… Bloomsbury was one of her favourite parts of London, low on chain stores and high on bookshops, Georgian squares, public gardens, and Victorian terraces backed by mews…Entering the little shop, Hanna was charmed, as always, by its shelves and stacks of paperbacks uniformly bound in silver-grey. The books’ setting was equally attractive. There were bentwood chairs and wooden tables, and framed posters on the walls, and towards the back a woman worked at a computer while another gift-wrapped orders in pink paper and grey ribbon…she paid for her purchases and left, enjoying the sound of the tinkling bell that rang when the door was opened.’ How proud we are to be the setting for someone’s novel!

Nicola Beauman

59 Lamb’s Conduit Street 

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