Very first things first...happy 4th of July America. No taxation without representation...too right, you done good.
Now to books.
The arrival of The Charleston Bulletin Supplements by Virginia Woolf and Quentin Bell so soon after my pilgrimage to Charleston was a truly serendipitous moment, and thank you to The British Library for sending it, along with a catalogue of other books they publish. Having looked at books in their shop often enough I'm not actually sure I had realised that they self-published so many of them.
The Charleston Bulletin Supplements are a brilliant collaboration between aunt Virginia and nephew Quentin, the supplements to the family newspaper produced between 1923 and 1927 for the residents of Charleston. They are subversive and funny, sometimes gently teasing often mocking of those who happened to be staying, and in a vein that can perhaps only be entertained between people who knew each other well, and had the confidence to understand that no harm was meant.
Charleston, a haven of 'messy creativity' is portrayed as 'a slapstick realm of hilarious upheavals, sudden explosions, zany mishaps and paint-bespattered foggy-mindedness,' and it's a picture I can most definitely envisage having visited the house.
That pond for starters, full of eels and carp and mud. ..who can imagine what larks went on in there.
Imagine no more, the book tells us plenty about 'aquatic adventures, battles, attempts at landscape and water engineering, or pyrotechnical experiments.' I am also relieved to learn that the Charleston garden we see today was once a battleground of weeds with many hopeless attempts at eradication.
At the age of thirteen, 'twixt childhood and adolescence, Quentin and his older brother Julian were perfectly placed to cast an eye over this odd collection of people who milled around their home, often arriving uninvited and frequently outstaying their welcome. Utilising that child's skill for unfettered observation mixed with an honesty that takes no prisoners with its revelations, Quentin found in his aunt one who may seem to us a suprising accomplice, yet as editor Claudia Olk elaborates in her introduction, we shouldn't be in the least surprised...
'... even the most cursory reading of her diaries and letters reveals a woman with a sharp lampoonist's eye and an almost adolescent relish for scabrous and scatological titbits; a writer who took the greatest delight in monkey business and the sheer absurdity of life.'
It seems easy to forget, amongst all the information and misinformation about Virginia Woolf together with the frequent focus on illness, that there were times when she was clearly ready for a laugh and joke, and that in her own childless world she nevertheless possessed a gift for relating to children on their level (though perhaps being able to give them back helped.). Between them Quentin and Virginia
'dislike seriousness and boredom and mercilessly target shallowness and hypocrisy,'
which all makes for very entertaining reading. Some of the jokes and 'moments' are clearly those that remain within a family, part of the mystique of belonging; those ' you had to be there' times which remain an enigma to others, and doubtless not the least bit funny if deciphered outside the family citadel, which all adds to the intrigue and interest of this book. In my family it would be something like the day the Tinker fell through a canvas deckchair which ripped from top to bottom, and which oddly he didn't find in the least bit amusing. I can only have been about seven but I still crack a huge smile when I think about it; that would have gone in my daily bulletin, with illustrations, had I written one.
Quentin would get up at 5.30am to type the bulletin ready for presentation to the family at breakfast, chronicling daily events, a weather report and general happenings around the household. The supplements would appear at Christmas creating a record, a sort of family album and a child's sketchbook, and the book has a wonderful range of facsimiles of the actual editions.
The manuscripts are held in the British Library collection and this book marks the last known and previously unpublished work of Virginia Woolf, and for anyone in the vicinity of Sussex and Charleston there is a signing on July 9 with editor Claudi Olk at one of the loveliest bookshops I have ever been in.
In fact I'll take you there quickly, and we've just time time for cake along the way...
After Fran and I had tramped all over the Long Man of Wilmington and been blown to smithereens up here...
We repaired to the delightful Sussex village of Alfriston for lunch and a mooch...
The welsh rarebit and cake at Badger's Tea House are, in my humble opinion non pareil...
and I think we'd all agree with the sentiments expressed within...
Yes, tea and buns do make the world a better place, and as if this wasn't enough joy and delight for one day there was still Much Ado Books around the corner, run by an American couple from Boston.
I am not sure I have been to a more welcoming and innovative bookshop in a very long time. Maybe browse their website and get to know the ethos of the shop, and note the care and consideration they take about placing a book in your hand. It makes fine reading in these days of failing indies, and if any Virginia Woolf completists out there are planning to buy The Charleston Bulletin Supplements, well I can't think of a happier, more special place to do so, and be sure to get it gift-wrapped.