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5 October 2020

Apologies that this letter has not been written on the first day of the month, as is always the intention, but what with the new Biannually and the new puppy – who knew that having a puppy was so time consuming? This is Jane Carlyle's Nero who is a very distant ancestor since they are both Havanese –

– there hasn’t been time for anything else. Combined, of course, with cooking, washing, cleaning, gardening, as we have said several times before – lockdown, even partial lockdown, has turned us all into 1950s housewives/husbands straight out of How to Run Your Home without Help,

the crucial difference being that instead of sitting down with my mending after supper I am so exhausted (the puppy sleeps from 10-6 and then the entire household gets up) that it’s a fierce battle to spin out the minutes until it’s ‘respectable’ to have a bath and fall into bed. There is always a lot of debate about this aspect of respectability and a lot of sentences along the lines of, well no one will know if I go to bed at 8.30 so why does it matter? The reason it matters of course is because then one wakes up at 4.30 which is a grim time to get up; and somehow, when everything is crumbling around one, it seems incredibly important to keep the old habits going. We may not have been to the theatre or a restaurant or had a long supper with friends for many months (it’s been brief-is drinks in the open air and lunch ditto); but we need to pretend we lead a civilised life and going to bed before the accepted norm destroys that pretence. Or does it?

Since the last Letter two things have happened: the summer has announced itself well and truly over here in the UK and the shop is beginning to get back to some kind of normality in that we now have two of us working there every day and by the time the new books are published at the end of the month it may be open more than simply 12-3. May. But it's impossible to know how to proceed, there is no one saying anything sensible and no feeling of solidarity as they have in eg. New Zealand. We all just muddle along, trying not to sit in stuffy rooms or touch our eyes/nose/mouth, trying to eat well and walk in the fresh air, basically we hope for the best without really knowing what the best is (and that’s the extent of the anti-government rant on this Letter). In the shop we have the door wide open and ask customers to wear masks (we sell beautiful ones, handmade by Brenda Mayo, for £10); but what shall we do when it is really, really cold and we don’t have the door open? That is a difficulty we have not yet confronted.

Other news: the Biannually goes to the printer on Wednesday and will start arriving around the 20th in the UK, a few days later in Europe and North America. Sadly, we have decided not to send it anywhere else for the moment, £4.25 postage per Biannually was just too painful – so we are uploading it to our website as soon as it has been published and of course hope very much that people will print it out, in colour even, and read it as though it had been posted, by us, in Lamb’s Conduit Street. Maybe this is the future - that we all have efficient colour printers and take it for granted that we print out pdf’s (on recyclable paper) rather than assuming catalogues and magazines will be sent by post. Also, we shall have an option on our website whereby you can buy the Biannually for £5 (sent to anywhere in the world): not everyone has a printer and indeed some people want to have a complete set of quarterlies and then biannualies so this seems a good compromise.

In the last month we watched the television adaptation of Us by David Nicholls and enjoyed it very much indeed; it was a bit over-extended but of course with the long evenings that isn’t a problem. Tom Hollander was amazing and we have just listened to a programme on the radio about his grandparents escaping to London in 1939 because of the kindness of a BBC producer. Here is the link and please do listen, it was unmissable

Otherwise there has been very little television that has tempted us. So we have read a lot. Best book of the last month? Cry the Beloved Country. Of course this was a reread but it was still unputdownable. And even the 1995 film is good.

It’s Forster on the Post this week so maybe we deserve a reread of Where Angels Fear to Tread. Here he is painted by Roger Fry.

Finally: tomorrow is publication day for Francesca Beauman who works at Persephone one day a week (in normal circumstances) and  hosts Fran’s Book Shop on Instagram (where she often reads a Persephone short story or mentions a Persephone book). Her new book is called Matrimony, Inc.

It's a history of lonely hearts ads which follows on from her book about British lonely hearts ads called Shapely Ankle Preferred (which we naturally sell in the shop). Matrimony Inc was given a huge spread in both the New York Post and the New York Daily News.

Exciting! (And thanks to the kind person who put the pages on Twitter.) Here is a link to Rachel Lanen’s piece in the NY Post and here is the link to the NY Daily News.   

If you come to Lamb’s Conduit Street you will find that we have planted the window boxes with winter flowering pansies. These are very, very cheering!

Nicola Beauman

59 Lamb’s Conduit Street 


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