Journal Entry, Monday 15 Dec 2003
During my lunchbreaks at work I amuse myself by reading tatty secondhand paperbacks. One of these is a 1975 printing (in English) of Gide’s ‘Counterfeiters’.
Now back in ’75 I don’t think I had ever heard of André Gide; if I saw his name in print I would probably have not known how it was pronounced. Just as in 1975, I started attending Thomas Telford High School and found myself working on a ‘Maths Card’ (a set of instructions and questions which kept a class busy without the teacher having to do any work).
Card number 1 was the Sieve of Eratosthenes (which I took to rhyme with ‘greens’, not knowing better). Now how much more enjoyable would maths have been if we were given tutorial sessions which included biography of Eratosthenes and a discussion of Alexandria and the use of prime numbers.
And of course the library at Alexandria was a good deal more impressive than mine at work: a 1934 edition of the Smithsonian Physical Tables, one of Steve Rose’s biochemistry books, and this 28-year old copy of ‘The Counterfeiters’.
Back in 1934 I ‘m sure the editors of the Physical Tables imagined themselves to be compiling a Grand Encyclopaedia of Science which would stand for three or four centuries with no significant new discoveries being made. (They do mention ‘Pluto’ as being a theoretical, but so far unseen, member of the Solar System.)
Journal Entry, 7 Oct 2016
Well, today I was on the number 67 bus, reading my second-hand paperback copy of ‘The Counterfeiters’ and listening to Dame Janet Baker (Ravel and Berlioz) on my Hitachi MP3 player.
I had forgotten how cynical and rude that book is. It wasn’t a popular popular novel – in the way that the Three Musketeers is. Dumas’ output was eagerly consumed by British schoolboys, and so had to be sanitised in the English translations. But Gide was free to let rip, with lurid innuendo, dissecting the oyster-bed slime of human nature and pulling out the gory strands of lust and shame.
Behind me on the bus, a bevy of teenagers were holding a vulgar conversation. ‘Oi, grandad!’ they yelled at an elderly gentleman who was sweeping the gravel from the centre of the road.
I was travelling to Antz Junction, a charity which provided career and personal guidance to long-term unemployed. The agency was housed in the old Chloride factory at Clifton, once a titanic warehouse at the heart of the electrical storage industry.
Our sessions at the charity centre involved detailed emotional discussion and role play exercises to identify our personality types and learning styles. I enjoyed the basic remedial maths lessons, and simple verbal reasoning tests that were going to help me decide which role I was going to fill in the shimmering world of corporate hospitality.
When I bought the copy of Gide’s novel I was employed as a paint technician, conjuring the viscosity and permeability of organic coatings.. Now I work as a jobseeker, an unemployed benefit scrounger, a worthless parasite who provides guidance to elderly folk enabling them to use personal computers to surf the web.
The web didn’t exist in 1975 when the book was printed; nothing existed in 1975. We had no CD players, no domestic VCR machines, no Take That or Culture Club or Frankie Goes to Hollywood; DNA had been discovered back in ‘fifty-nine but the idea of using it to identify the guilty (or innocent) parties in a crime case was some years away. We also had no gay people in 1975; there were a few isolated specimens on television, mainly to supply a strand of embarrassing comedy that could be woven into every drama, ripe for derision, so very limp and ineffectual.