The Point of Publishing

The Anonymity of the Centre

Tick Tock Dada

As Dada’s centenary is celebrated, I remember my 1968 visit to Dada 1916-1966, a fiftieth anniversary exhibit, when it came to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. When a museum warden took the glass cover off Man Ray’s metronome and started to wind it up, there was the twanging sound of a spring breaking. I said something to the uniformed custodian to the effect that he would be in for it for breaking a priceless work of art. Not at all, he assured me. When the exhibit had arrived in Liverpool, he said, the metronome had been broken. The one on display was a replacement that they got from what was then Liverpool’s main music shop, Rushworth and Dreaper.

This was an unforgettable object lesson in the meaning of Dada, now made more poignant as I am reminded that Man Ray’s work is entitled Objet à détruire.

European publishing neighbours

Liebermann VillaSome years ago in Berlin, I visited the Liebermann-Villa on Lake Wannsee – just down the shore from the building where the notorious Wannsee Conference was held in 1942. I came to see the great artist’s pictures, but what made more of an impact was what happened to him in the 1930s, the death of his wife Martha, and the story of the house itself. As in so many places in Europe, the past emerges and disturbs at every turn: Max Liebermann’s disgrace, ruin and death in 1935; his wife’s hounding by the Nazis and her suicide; the house taken over by the state and subsequently used as a brothel, a hospital, a school and a diving club.

Langenscheidt Villa

The villa next door (then in the process of renovation) had been built by the publisher Carl Langenscheidt. I fell to wondering what the family knew of Max Liebermann’s life and death, his wife’s struggles, and the pressures they were put under.

I now learn that Ruth Langenscheidt sheltered a Jewish orphan, Berti Busch, in 1943 and her husband, Ernst Alex Flechtheim, was unable to serve as a lawyer after 1933, surviving the war only to be ‘disappeared’ when the Russians came to Berlin. I still do not know if they attempted to intervene on Liebermann’s behalf, but at least I am now aware that the Langenscheidt family showed courage in difficult times and suffered for their compassion.

A European Life

I was born shortly after the end of the Second World War in a nursing home that overlooked the Mersey, open to the world, “on the stream of trade” as my school song had it.

At primary school we drew Spitfires and Hurricanes in aerial dogfights with Junkers and Messerschmitts. There were bomb-sites in the towns and cities and there were Emergency Water Storage Tanks (marked EWS) everywhere. My first non-English words were Hände hoch and Achtung, closely followed by Frère Jacques. My parents had few foreign friends, although a Dutchman, a fellow chemist, had stayed with them in the early 1940s and he returned home with a broad Lancashire accent. “Reet bloody champion”, he would say.

At secondary school we learnt that Paris was full of réverbères and facteurs, and that in France they listened to the TSF. It was another world and one that was mightily attractive. European theatre was performed at the Liverpool Everyman, the Walker Art Gallery had a landmark show on Dada, and we knew that Hamburg was where the Beatles had really developed their style. I hitchhiked to Paris. Then I went to Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg on an exchange trip organised after the Queen’s visit to Germany in 1965. We saw the barbed wire border and watchtowers near the Baltic, the artists’ colony in Worpswede and a large war cemetery. I remember the visitors’ book was open at a page where someone had written: Nie wieder Krieg. At university it was Florence, Vienna, Budapest, Marseille and, briefly while waiting for a train in the middle of a cold March night – my twenty-first birthday – Venice.

This was the beginning of a life that has always been influenced by Europe. My reading, my travel, my food and drink, my music and art, my thoughts and emotions, my work and my pleasure have grown with this continent and been enriched by contacts in and from it. I have spent extended periods in Austria, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Belgium and France. I speak and read French and German, some Spanish and Norwegian, and a little Russian.

In the late 1960s I spent a year in Vienna where the second nationality choice on official forms was ‘stateless’. I saw bullet holes in city walls, felt the abiding fear of the Russian invaders and occupiers, echoing earlier memories of Turkish attacks. On visits to Hungary and Czechoslovakia we passed through the barbed wire, were followed, and were thrilled by the sight of military camps where Slavic youths fed pigs.

In the early 1970s home in London meant Swiss Cottage, then a haven of European exiles with exotic delicatessens and eclectic cultural life. Later in that decade, living in New York, home was the Lower East Side where you could still hear Ukrainian and Yiddish in equal measure, and where stores would ship a package back to relatives and friends in Kiev, Minsk, Riga or other Soviet cities.

And so it continued throughout the decades, affecting my personal and professional life: from a Polish family who had travelled with Anders from camps near Archangel, via Teheran and Beirut, to arrive in South London in the 1950s: to an Irish Count and his French wife who were my introduction to many years of involvement with African book people. Europe pervades a working life that extends from austere days at the Frankfurt Book Fair when the only thing to eat was Erbsensuppe mit Einwurf, to later projects that took me back to Paris and Vienna, and on to Strasburg, Leipzig, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Podgorica, Vilnius, Madrid, and Naples. Holidays meant many other beautiful and intriguing European cities, towns and, for several years, a small terraced house in a Vallespir village; astonishing beauty in seascapes and landscapes; an array of ways of living, loving and creating.

My whole life has been lived in the context of this complex and sometimes conflicted continent and whatever the result of the referendum tomorrow, I am just one of very many British people who are not about to leave Europe. We are Europe.

Ernest and El Mazuco

In Asturias we visit El Mazuco where a famous battle took place in September 1937. Republican forces were vastly outnumbered and eventually defeated by forces that included the German Condor Legion. Soon after this defeat the Nationalists were able to control all of Northern Spain.

Back at the hotel there is a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls in a Mexican edition. How did it come to be here, and who brought it with them to this haven beneath the Sierra de Cuera? Now the only sound of bells comes from those around the necks of peaceful cattle.

El Mazuco

Hoteles. Mil aventuras

In the hotel bedroom in northern Spain we find copies of Eñe: Revista para leer.  This issue – entitled Hotels. Mil aventuras – might be of great interest to the traveller, who cannot remember finding such a library of literary magazines in any British hotel room.


Magic Mountain

The hotel in the Serra da Estrela Natural Park is on the site of the first Portuguese tuberculosis treatment unit at altitude, dating from the late nineteenth century. The architect of this modern day Magic Mountain location was Pedro Brígida and there is, as might be expected, a book about it.

Pedro Brígida

Hotel reading

At a certain sort of hotel you will always find books about a certain sort of hotel.

Ecological Hotels

What was Michael Gove doing in 1995?

Still travelling but unavoidably drawn back to the potential horrors of a post-brexit Britain governed by the bullying bonkers end of the Tory party. I would not give a penny for any of Michael Gove’s thoughts, but searching around I see that he appears to have written this panegyric on Michael Portillo in 1995 – now available for no more than a shiny new penny.

It’s hard to find a good picture of the cover, just this expanded thumbnail.  Perhaps no one wants to be reminded of this publishing venture.

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 19.04.21


A for ‘awk

Encountered at the bookshop at the Centro de Arte Moderna da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, this title looks familiar but has moved forward in the alphabet.

A de Açor

Books among the news media

The News Museum in Sintra is brand new and bills itself as “the greatest Media and Communication experience in Europe”.  It provides a fantastic overview of news media in Portugal and worldwide, and it doesn’t avoid the political dimension. There’s lots of technology and history, and a look into the future of virtual reality news.


In amonst the spectacular array of press, radio, TV, multimedia and VR there is a full-size digital bookshelf where some of the books (like this one on censorship in Portugal) open up to be read.


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