Whatever else may be said about us, we are not a grasping family. None the less, perhaps he could ‘place’ my ‘Mary Plain Goes Bob-a-Jobbing’, extra coloured, with a certain smeary skill I have to say, by the young Lucy. Of course JohnF has a bookshop himself, ‘Old World Books’ it’s called, here in Venice, in the Ghetto of all places – but he never seems to sell anything, except the smart blue publications of the San Marco Press, naturally. Shelves of mouldering tomes bound in what appears to be cream rubber: ‘vellum’ says he, and I’ll take his word for it. He has been trying to pursuade me that what Daddy wants for his seventieth is one of these mouldy old off-white jobs: ‘Ordini di Cavalcare’ (1559), with 50 pictures of dressage bits at the back – a couple of them would have just done for Da’s rogue hunter, it’s true, but who wants six centuries of book dust all over their freshly manicured hands? And I’ll bet you can get as much Biggles as you like on a nice clean Kindle.
When a book is still a book
Now I have to say, to Lucy a book is a book, a convenient way of carrying words around, and not a fetish. But my brother Tom (‘Hamish’ to the family, for reasons lost in the Highland mists) has for many moons been what he is pleased to call an ‘antiquarian bookseller’, though actually he’s hardly more than a year or two older than one’s luscious self. A few months ago, I blush to relate, he sold an ‘original’ 1978 edition of our very own ‘Isole Abbandonate’ to gullible Chris – for twice the price of a nice new one! Boys and their follies. He’s currently engaged in flogging my friend Mike’s Biggles collection for ludicrous sums ‘on commission’ whatever that means. One can guess, but one averts one’s tawny eyes.