100 untimed books: missing


61. missing

One of these days I will get around to buying a hardback copy of Veronica at the Wells and ditching that horrible paperback anthology. The irony is that Veronica is probably my favourite of the whole series – either that or No Castanets – but every time I think about it I end up buying one of the later ones, which I haven’t read, instead. But they’re not nearly so good.

100 untimed books

100 untimed books: frames


77. frames

When we moved into this flat, I spent rather more money than I could properly afford on getting some pictures framed. They were an eclectic collection: a screen-printed poster from one of the artists in the Brighton arcades; a photograph of my godmother; a honeymoon Montmartre drawing and a watercolour landscape; three photographs that I’d taken myself. That morning at the picture framer’s, searching through all the frames and mounts to find the ones that made the pictures sing – a ridged wood frame to echo the back platform of the bus, a gold edge to bring out the warmth of the red crayon, three different mounts for my three different photographs, with identical silver frames to tie them together – was enjoyable and enlightening. I’d never realised how much there was to it.

It took me a while to get around to getting some picture hooks. The first chapter of Fair Play stuck in my mind:

Jonna had a happy habit of waking each morning as if to a new life, which stretched before her straight through to evening, clean, untouched, rarely shadowed by yesterday’s worries and mistakes.

Another habit – or rather a gift, equally surprising – was her flood of unexpected and spontaneous ideas. Each lived and blossomed powerfully for a time until suddenly swept away by a new impulse demanding its own undeniable space. Like now this business about the frames. Several months earlier, Jonna had decided she wanted to frame some of the pictures by fellow artists that Mari had on her walls. She made some very pretty frames, but when they were ready to hang, Jonna was seized by new ideas and the pictures were left standing around on the floor.

“For the time being,” Jonna said. “And for that matter, your whole collection needs rehanging, top to bottom. It’s hopelessly conventional.” Mari waited and said nothing. In fact, it felt good having things unfinished, a little as if she had just moved in and didn’t have to take the thing so seriously.

100 untimed books

100 untimed books: breathing


32. breathing

This is perhaps my favourite library discard of all time. In my teens I didn’t quite read it cover to cover (the last section is a catalogue of pretty much every opera ever written, and even I wasn’t quite that obsessed) but I spent many hours with it. It’s irreverent, gossipy, informative, and very funny.

Without a good supply of breath there can, of course, be no singing at all. As an example of the sort of supply that can be developed, there is the famous story by an eyewitness of the bass Lablache (1794-1858). At dinner one day he “sang a long note from piano to forte and back to piano; then drank a glass of wine without having breathed; then sang a chromatic scale up the octave in trills, still in the same breath; and finally blew out a candle with his mouth open.” Needless to say, few singers today can emulate the feat.

100 untimed books

100 untimed books: orange


14. orange

I don’t have nearly as many orange Penguin paperbacks as I’d imagined I did. The ones in my head come from my childhood; I’ve had to buy my own copies in newer editions. I did end up with most of the Agatha Christies, but those are green, of course. I’ve already used most of the orange Penguins I do have. So here’s the next best thing. And an orange.

100 untimed books