Thursday, 2 August 2007

Birthplaces, books and bus shelters

I discovered recently that the place of my (protracted and difficult) birth, all those years ago, Battle Hospital, Reading (which closed for NHS business in 2005) is to be redeveloped as a large branch of Tesco and a drive-thru MacDonalds. This I find mildly depressing. Not because I feel the place should be marked with a blue plaque or anything on my account (necessarily), but because there is very little romance in taking one’s children (or perhaps, in years to come, grandchildren) to a fast-food outlet and proclaiming: ‘on this very spot, my dear ones, your [grand]mother was dragged, unwillingly and by a variety of increasingly desperate methods, into this world.'

Birthplaces hold a special fascination for a lot of people. They certainly do for me. I’ve never made a point of visiting blue-plaques in any particularly systematic way but, certainly, to gaze upon the building wherein some special person breathed their very first breath can be an overwhelmingly moving experience. And it can be quite an emotional moment to happen upon such a place unexpectedly and by chance. Thank heavens for those who take the trouble to locate and record these often perfectly ordinary-looking dwellings, so that future generations may see and understand their significance.

Following on from my musings the other day about Atget and his modern counterparts – it’s now unbelievably easy to turn such photographic records into a jolly nice-looking book, using, for example, or, in the UK (more expensive but you save on the shipping costs), (and I can personally vouch for the excellent service and quality of the latter – see ). You can print as many or as few as you want and – presto! – all your Christmas present problems solved at a stroke. Get a crateload delivered to your door, sign copies for all the Special People in your life, wrap them up in nice paper, and wait for the gasps of astonishment, admiration and gratitude to come flooding your way on 25 December. Far nicer (and cheaper!) than something less personal you’d otherwise have to trek round your local Department Store searching for (possibly in a state of some agitation on Christmas Eve or thereabouts).

I’m currently involved in planning something similar for David Britton ( – a selection of his paintings and poems, which he wants to have ready in time to celebrate his 70th birthday later this year.

Speaking of whom . . . . David popped round this morning, en route to Oxford, with a folder full of his poems, which he has asked me to publish online, so that they can be enjoyed by a wider audience. Most of them have been previously published in poetry magazines and elsewhere, and many of them relate in one way or another to painting and to art in general – both his own and that of artists he admires. So watch this space and over the coming month or so – it will take me a while to type them all in and make sure I havnt maid eny speling mishtakes.

I’ll certainly be featuring some of them as my ‘poems of the week’ during August, thus banishing the pesky Lute Poem from my site – at least for the time being. Someone contacted me to say that it is featured on a bus shelter [sic!] somewhere or other and was there attributed to Anne Barnard, so that clinches it then. Yeah, well, right, if it’s on a Bus Shelter – recognised down the ages as hallowed repositories of truth and wisdom - it must be true. Obviously.

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