Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Most Disappointing Book I Ever Bought

The most disappointing book I ever bought was a collection of short stories produced by the Arts Council of England many years ago. At that time they used to publish an anthology of new writing annually in a thick paperback edition. I would buy it as soon as it came out, keen to see what was happening at the cutting edge of literature.

In those days I was at the start of my career, married with two small children, and struggling to pay the rent on our flat in a fairly insalubrious part of South-East London. We couldn’t afford a washing machine so once a week I would make a pilgrimage to the laundrette with my washing in a black plastic sack and sit there reading while it tumbled round and round in one of the huge old machines that looked like they had been designed and built in the Soviet Union a decade earlier. It was not a chore I enjoyed. The place had an air of ingrained poverty and was frequented mostly by misfits and oddballs of one kind or another

On this occasion I set off as usual with my washing and my box of detergent, feeling a little less reluctant for I had my brand new anthology with me. When I got to the laundrette I saw with considerable pleasure that the place was empty. For a brief interval the daily struggle to feed, entertain, bath and put to bed two impossibly lively children could be forgotten, or at least exchanged for an hour’s uninterrupted reading. Bliss! Whistling to myself, I emptied the clothes into the washing machine, selected the wash I wanted, put in my coins and sat down to begin – only to discover that somehow I seemed to have forgotten my book. I was so cross I could have kicked myself, and the ensuing hour passed unbearably slowly.

At last, however, the washing cycle was finished. I opened the door of the machine and began to take out the clothes. But what on earth had happened to them? They all seemed to be covered in a slimy grey film. It took me a surprisingly long time to work out that I had not, after all, left my book behind. Instead I had impregnated all my clothes with the most exciting new writing that England had to offer.


Jarucia said...

I know this story. I had it happen with receipts, lipstick (that was the worst) candy, business cards and tissue, but never a book.

I admit, I had a hunch what insalubrious meant by its usage and the 'salu' part, but I'd never seen that word before.

I'll have to use it at least 10 times in the next 10 days to cement it in my brain.

Paul Lamb said...

That's a wonderful story. I once worked with a Chicago Manual of Style that looked as though someone had given it a bath, but not laundered.

Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Paul Lamb said...

Warm wishes, coming your way!

Brian Keaney said...

Thanks Paul. Happy Christmas! And the same to my other readers.