The Point of Publishing

The Anonymity of the Centre

John Lennon: 8 December 1980

I’m in the shower then and hear
Someone’s shot John Lennon dead.
I ask, as a New Yorker might, ‘you sure?’
‘Yes. That’s what they said.’

In Central Park a few days later, as they played
Imagine and I saw a generation stare
Into its own eyes, we were like a calm and stoic Easter Parade,
Proud of each other but beginning to despair.

Castro enjoys an Irish coffee in Shannon

There was a time when I used to pass through Shannon airport on a regular basis; so did Fidel Castro. In those days, the flight from Moscow to Havana would come down to refuel in the west of Ireland and the passengers would sometimes get off and have a stroll around the airport. Once the bar tender told me that Fidel had been there a few days previously and had enjoyed an Irish coffee made especially for him by the bartender himself. The great revolutionary leader had liked it so much that he had sent one of his companions directly to the duty free shop to buy a case of Powers. This was rapidly loaded onto the Aeroflot jet, which then sped off to Havana.

Memories of Bratislava

A visit to Bratislava in 1970 entailed a short bus ride from Vienna through barbed wire fences and past watchtowers. The walk up to the castle was a rough path covered with snails of many colours: brown, yellow, green. Up in the castle museum, my companion, a Welsh speaker, was intrigued to find that he could read some of the Slovak signs. We remarked about this evidence of a pan-European culture underlying the differences and conflicts of Cold War Europe. Back down the hill in what was then a sleepy town we enjoyed excellent ice cream before getting on the bus back to Austria.

German words and playful statues

In Bad Hersfeld there is a memorial to Konrad Duden who produced the 1880 Vollständiges Orthographisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache, a work that was to influence the standardised spelling of German throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Here he seems to be practising Tai Chi which may have helped him focus on this challenge, or he may be relaxing by dancing a playful jig.

Konrad Duden

12 weeks later

The last trip was just before the EU referendum; through France, Spain and Portugal, preoccupied with the possibility of a leave vote, but knowing somewhere deep inside that it would never, could never happen. So much for gut feelings.

Twelve weeks later and it’s across the channel for the first time since the shock of the leave majority. It feels different. Waiting on the dockside at Dover most of the cars nearby are German and Dutch, and I feel excluded from their confident comradeship. Bright young people look as if they have the world in front of them; they stand tall, chatter and smile; you want to know them, be in their future. Older travellers seem healthy and thoughtful, obviously returning to a comfortable life. In contrast, the occupants of the few British cars look sheepish, smile in a shamefaced way, are older, eat sandwiches, appear wistful.

Halfway across the channel, looking at the other side, the heart lifts. All is not lost. Europe is still there, and I still want to be there, still feel that I will belong. We soon arrive in Dunkerque, where the fences of Calais have been replicated, and images of Fortress Europe come forward. Although there is less police presence than in Calais, very soon we pass the exit that is signposted to Grande Synthe. It is closed off, and a police van is parked on the ramp with blue light flashing.

It gets hotter. A short while later, at the Belgian border, it’s 35C: it has been the hottest September day in the UK for 105 years – a scorcher. Things are hotting up, and the fear of climate change melds with news of other changes already coming as we speed on. Cameron is gone; GCHQ powers are to be increased; Guy Verhofstadt articulates a new two-part narrative for European solidarity; the European Parliament hears Junckers stress a Europe of security – he anticipates tighter borders and a new military collaboration; Luxemburg criticizes Hungary’s refugee policy. The British referendum is part of a broader distress across the continent. No one has any solution, even in the midst of so many glib promises and barefaced lies.

Much of the broader chaos is passing the London media by as Britain remains fixated – as so often in a country where education is closely tied to social class and cultural division – on the major concerns of where you go to school and whether you are good at games.

We overnight in the Netherlands in an area where Aachen, Liège and Maastricht make up a designated Euregio, where you move seamlessly from one country to another, from one language to another, as if it’s the very core of Europe: a bit bland, but hopeful, safe and positive about the future.

At the next stop in Germany, green tendrils in the swimming pond embrace arms and legs, attach but do not threaten. The sun shines. The steam room relaxes muscles. On buildings all around vast arrays of solar panels show a commitment to a communal future; food is produced with customary respect; beer is brewed by methods that take as much pride in producing beer without alcohol as with it. There is trust.

Now comes the news from the UK: Hinkley Point, a backward looking decision based on fear of offending foreign powers, trade unions, and industrial lobbies. My life has felt the impact of the Windscale disaster, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, so this is more bad news. More and more it feels that Britain has stepped back into the past just when it might have made the decision to move forward to a kinder future, and I do not like that one little bit.

It’s a country abandoning responsibility for its people, its environment, and forsaking any regard for its neighbours and the broader world. It’s a culture that gets fat while watching others perform great athletic feats, that treats baking sickly cakes as entertainment while demanding gastric bands; a country that has resurrected the television shows that rely on parochial concerns, class, race and gender based humour and has shunned the cosmopolitan or avant-garde.

Even as there are some small signs of recognition that it’s more complex than they were letting on, there’s not enough attention given to the reasoned arguments of lawyers, parliamentary committees, academic experts and research scientists. The three stooges running the operation for Theresa May seem committed to learning nothing, saying less, and blustering.

Britain crows over gold medals and Great British Bake-Off, but it doesn’t work for me. It won’t work for anyone in the long run. The bread is better in Europe.

The Long March to Freedom in Colombia

The first time I met Tom Hargrove he boasted, tongue in cheek, that he had published one of the world’s most successful titles: a rice disease identification manual that had been printed in millions of copies in many languages throughout Asia. At the time he was working for the International Rice Research Insitute (IRRI) in Manila and we met at various times and in various places over a period of more than a decade and talked about publishing, agricultural development and about life. He was one of those people who always felt like a friend.

I remember one conversation in the bar of a New Delhi hotel called The Claridges, when we talked about how often the people we met assumed, because we travelled the world and were often vague or jokey about what we did, that we were connected to the world of intelligence. We laughed, but if the truth be told, Tom’s background in Vietnam made me wonder.

A few years later Tom was working for another agricultural research centre in Colombia called Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical, and the similarity between the acronym CIAT and the CIA may have been a factor in his capture by FARC guerrillas. He was held captive for nearly a year, and the record of the experience – kept as a secret diary during his captivity – was published in 1995 in Long March to Freedom. A film based on Tom’s story, Proof of Life, appeared in 2000.

A few years ago I learnt that Tom had returned to his native Texas, continued his career in international agricultural development and given occasional courses on terrorism analysis for US Joint Services Special Operations University. He died in 2011, but on this day, when we are told the war in Colombia is over, I pause to think of Tom Hargrove, a very special publisher.

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