Last Friday, I spent another fascinating evening at Rickaro Books. I’d been looking forward to it with great anticipation since the Ian McMillan / Tony Husband event that took place several weeks ago. This time, the author was Gervase Phinn. I hadn’t met him before – though my husband is very familiar with his books – and he did not disappoint. The event was extremely well attended: I calculate that at least forty people managed to squeeze into this distinguished but pocket-sized bookshop.
He focused upon his latest book, Mangled English, which delights in highlighting the way we all misuse the language (I certainly do!), and touched upon such matters as mis-spellings, Spoonerisms, Malapropisms and howlingly bad verse (guilty!). He also told many amusing anecdotes about people he’d met. He now spends some of his time as a performing artist on cruise ships, so the tales he had to tell were varied. However, the one that I liked best – although it was also one of the most poignant – was the one about the old people in a care home. One of them was actually his mother-in-law. She was obviously out of the conversation (he was very sensitive in the way that he talked about her dementia), but he derived real humour from recounting the reaction of the old man who was sitting next to her when he was asked his name. He wouldn’t give it and, when asked whether he had played any part in ‘the war’, would only reply ‘I might have done’. Getting no other response from him, Gervase turned to his mother-in-law and asked her name. While she was struggling to remember it, the old man suddenly burst out: “Don’t tell him, Pikey!”
In a more serious vein, Gervase extolled the virtues of encouraging children to read at a young age – as he had himself been encouraged as a boy – and deplored the government’s ever-changing education strategy. As a former inspector of schools, he is better qualified than most to do so. He took an especial interest in the children at the event.
It was a privilege to meet him and I had two opportunities to talk to him. However, the best part of the evening for me was actually being at Rickaro Books itself, looking at the excellent rare books collection that is on sale there and drinking mulled wine – it was the gateway to Christmas for me, in fact. The experience was made even better by being invited to join Richard and Carole Knowles, the proprietors of the bookshop, for dinner afterwards in their local Italian restaurant . As I’ve said in a previous post, Richard and I go back a long way, and it was very good to have the opportunity to listen once more to his (sometimes elliptical, always amusing) take on life, the universe and bookselling… and to get to know Carole a little better.
Watch this space: I’m sure that there will be more posts about Rickaro Books in the future. Should you ever be in Horbury, I wholeheartedly recommend that you take a detour (it won’t be much of one, as the bookshop is in the very heart of the town) to pay a visit.
Ian McMillan, South Yorkshire’s own shrewd and very funny poet (the ‘bard of Barnsley’ and ‘poet in residence’ at Barnsley FC), gave a book launch and signing session at Rickaro Books in Horbury yesterday evening. It was an event that I’d been looking forward to for a long time, having heard Ian perform once before, at a school. He is a performance poet second to none.
I arrived early at the shop with my husband. Ian was already there, entertaining all the other early arrivals. Even Richard Knowles, the owner of Rickaro Books, seemed excited. Richard is professionally lugubrious: his catch-phrase when I worked with him a quarter of a century ago was ‘Life is Cricklewood, not Hollywood.’ Yet he’d invested in a big box of Cadbury’s Celebrations (only slightly dimming the gesture by explaining that they were left over from Trick or Treat night and also instructing his guests to take the Snickers chocolates first, as he doesn’t like them) and shared his special ‘bookseller’s provender’- malted milk chocolate biscuits – with Ian. He had even brought along his flat cap for the occasion.
At this point, I should perhaps explain that Ian’s new book, a collaboration with eminent cartoonist Tony Husband, is entitled 101 Uses for a Flat Cap. Published by Dalesman, whose account manager was also at the meeting – he’d kindly brought along copies of all Ian’s books – this latest offering from Ian and Tony does exactly what it says on the tin… er, sorry, book. It consists of 101 pieces about the trademark Yorkshire flat cap, inserted by its author into every possible historical and practical situation: ‘All made up! Every one of them!’ Ian kept on cheerfully insisting. He read several of these poems as well as, with passion, a more poignant extract from another recent title, The Tale of Walter the Pencil Man. Dedicated to his great uncle, Joseph Fletcher, who died at the Somme aged twenty-four, this is the reflective and touching tale of a Yorkshire pit village lad who tries with his pencil and paper to cope with what is happening around him as he fights on the First World War battlefields. It’s very topical, of course, and I’m sure will enjoy many sales this year and next, as we approach the centenary of the start of the Great War.
Tony Husband, Ian’s illustrator, accompanied him. It was a real thrill to meet him: he’s a very accomplished, not to say distinguished, artist, who draws for several famous publications, including Private Eye (Yobs), and has been Cartoonist of the Year several times. He told me that he and Ian Hislop arrived at the Eye at about the same time, twenty-five years ago (about the same time that Richard and I ceased to be colleagues!). Tony worked fast and incredibly hard all evening: he not only signed every book that was purchased, but drew a picture in it as well; he also drew a picture to accompany each of the poems, simultaneously with Ian’s recitation, and distributed them among members of the audience afterwards. The picture he gave to me, which I shall certainly have framed, illustrates the poem entitled ‘The Flat Cap Scene from King Lear (now lost)’. It’s my particular favourite, not least because it’s arch about Lincolnshire (my home county) and Norfolk (home of my publisher, Salt), though Ian did qualify his comments by saying that he loved South Lincolnshire and even recollected an event that he’d given at ‘one of the Gedneys’ – impressive, as the Gedneys are very small villages in the back of beyond.
Here’s a taster of the poem; the rest is hilarious, but you’ll need to buy the book to find out! (Plug, plug…)
Lear: Oh fool, what dost sport upon thy head?
It seems exceeding flat and dull, i’faith,
As Lincolnshire and Norfolk, two flat places in the East.
This occasion was everything that an event in a bookshop should be: convivial, hospitable (Richard’s wife Carole provided a delicious and warming mulled wine) and humorous, with a great deal of ad libbing from both Ian McMillan and Tony Husband, as well as from members of the audience. It was extremely well attended and I’m sure that, like us, everyone who was there went home happy and enriched by all the pleasures that it brought. Richard also used the occasion to promote BOOKS ARE MY BAG, an initiative that is close to my heart, as readers of this blog will know.
And there was no charge for attending: certain chain booksellers, please take note!
Very many thanks to Rickaro Books, Tony and Ian, for an evening to remember: