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I was poking about in Tallaght Library last week, looking for a desk close enough to a socket that I could plug in my dead-batteried laptop without creating a sort of German-jumps-over-flex effect for other library users. I poked my way into a corner and found the appropriate socket near some books on Auld Dublin, so I abandoned checking my email in favour of a rifle through. I found there two or three beautiful folio-sized books of sketches by Liam C. Martin – Liam C. Martin’s Dublin Sketch Book with an introduction by Terence de Vere White, Liam C. Martin’s Dublin Shopfronts and Street Scenes with an introduction by Benedict Kiely, and In Dublin Again with Liam C. Martin, introduced by I can’t remember who.

Dublin Sketch Book

Liam C. Martin's Dublin Sketch Book

I’d never heard of Liam C. Martin before, but his drawings are gorgeous, and record the best bits of Dublin of the sixties and seventies, shortly before the city was munched up and spat out by bulldozers – and in fact Terence de Vere White writes in his introduction to the Sketch Book

“I recommend these drawings, therefore, not only for the pleasure they give the eye but on account of the stark necessity of preserving in line what the bull-dozer threatens. We need an army of Martins.”

Sadly, there was no such army, but what he has preserved in line is worth looking at: the Gasometer, Camden Street, the Old Gaol in Smithfield, the demolition work in Fitzwilliam Street, Horseman’s Row (no longer in existence), Winetavern Street. Some of the drawings are more finished than others, but it’s that sketchy feel that I like, the sense of the artist passing through the cityscape like the shoppers who flit out of the foreground of Camden Street. In fact the interiors – The Long Room, Trinity College, or the Interior of Marsh’s Library, are lovely too, but feel somehow more ordinary. The whole collection of sketches would be a richer representation of the city than the endless reproductions of the Custom House, Trinity and the Four Courts, graceful and well-proportioned as they are.

I Googled and Amazon’d and ABE’d and all the rest, naturally, and the books seem rare enough, fetching at least a hundred or a hundred and fifty euro each, some more, so if you’re near Tallaght, duck in and have a snoop. Liam C. Martin’s Legal Dublin, which I’d like for the lawyer in my life, I could only find for 175 dollars; I’d settle for the elusive Medical Dublin if I could get it at the right price. I did manage to get the Dublin Sketch Book, just 20 pages, an Irish Georgian Society special edition printed by The Dolmen Press, for 20-odd euro, and I’m ready to negotiate for any of the rest of Liam C. Martin’s work.

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My sister and I used to roller skate to our local library in Anglesea Road, intoxicated with the freedom of the pavements. The advantage of our clunky buckle-on skates over the cooler boot skates was that when you unbuckled them and slipped them off you were shod and library-ready, so you could just sling them over your shoulder and run upstairs to where the children’s section occupied one whole and glorious floor.  I think you were allowed to take two books out, for three weeks at a time, and it was the old system of a slip in the front of the book which was taken out and tucked into a special pocket on your ticket (green for children, blue for adults) which was then filed upright in a wooden tray behind the counter. You had to have a guarantor as a child borrower, and my father was guarantor for all of us. For someone who didn’t like lending his own books, he was a shocking late-returner of library books himself and stacked up some fat fines until he actually lost one of the borrowed books, which presumably was the last straw for the library because they blacklisted him and we had to get our tickets reissued with my mother as guarantor instead. That’s all nothing compared to George Washington, whose late fines on one book (221 years late) have been calculated at over 300,000 dollars; the book has finally been returned

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With This Hand

Letters of Note is a cracking blog publishing interesting letters from (usually) famous people. I’m talking about proper letters from your actual real-life-legends, not embarrassing texts from Ashley Cole, or overly intimate tweets by Katy Perry. Rummaging will be repaid: here are typed faxes with pen corrections from Hunter S T; stiff, rude notes from Hemingway; charming reproofs from Fred Astaire. The blog is updated every weekday – don’t know how he does it. Love it.

I’m not really that sniffy about email communication, or even text messaging, but everyone knows how direct the communication of an actual letter is – a couple of months ago I had a lovely long chatty letter from a friend travelling in New Zealand, and (apart from cards), to date it’s still the only handwritten letter I’ve received this year. While I was thinking about this, and the mark of a person’s hand, by coincidence I stumbled on the Urban Sketchers blog. Now that is some way to record the world.

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Hurrah! The prize for 1970 has finally been awarded, and to a wonderful writer. If Farrell had actually got the prize in 1970 for Troubles, he’d have been the first person to win it twice, because The Siege of Krishnapur got it in 1973. A spur to reread his novels, and the brilliant biography by Lavinia Greacen, who has also recently edited his letters

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Summerfest

Not only has church fete season kicked off, guaranteeing a glorious summer of fairy cakes, second-hand fondue sets and the smell of freshly mown brass bands, hurrah, but for the next couple of months there’s event-gorging aplenty.

My wishlist at the moment, with budget, work, childcare and dogcare out of the picture:

May 
Pat Boran reading from his memoir The Invisible Prison in Blanchardstown (tomorrow, 20th May)

June
La Traviata on 5th and 6th June

clashing partially with

1st – 6th June 2010
I want to be at Natasha Walter, Antony Beevor, the Gallery Press 40th, David Mitchell, Joe O’Connor and pretty much everything actually.

Dunlavin Arts Festival
18th – 20th June
Never been but is only an hour away and a few forebears farmed there.

July
5th – 10th July 2010
Anthony Horowitz, the Fish readings, Leanne O’Sullivan, Peter Sirr. Perhaps Michael Palin. 

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Secret Lives

I’m currently fascinated by The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings, as I was a Maugham fan in my teens, starting with the short stories, which I still enjoy, though it’s a long time since I read one of his novels or plays. Sometimes when I read a book and it drips through my mind like water, I wonder whether it’s my own lack of attention, these days, that’s the problem – I read with such greed and fascination as a teenager that the characters and plots spring right back into my memory as they’re dealt with in this biography. Maugham was such a prolific writer – perhaps too prolific at times, as he did rehash plots and characters endlessly – and so steely in his ambition to succeed, to be known, to make money, that he makes someone like me – who can barely prepare a shopping list – feel like a complete slattern. Such discipline and industry is needed to carry an idea through into a completed book or play, and to be able to complete again and again and again simply because one has decided to do it, is a trick worth learning. For all his well-earned wealth and celebrity, though, Maugham was unhappy and largely disliked, but he was ill set up for life by the loss of his much loved mother when he was only eight, followed by a swift rehousing to a dreary Kent vicarage, where he passed the rest of a pretty miserable childhood. 

I haven’t even finished the biography yet but I know another rereadathon awaits, of the novels at least. He’s not in vogue at the moment but The Gate had an enjoyable and beautiful production of The Constant Wife a couple of years ago – maybe there will be a little Maugham revival in the wake of this biography.

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Catching up online with so many newspapers I didn’t read in the flesh at the time, I saw a very interesting piece written by the great-granddaughter of Alice Liddell about the relationship between Lewis Carroll  and Alice as a girl, a necessary sale of souvenirs, etc. 
 
Alice wrote to her son Caryl (ooh, er, there you go): “But, oh, my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful? It is, only I do get tired.” It made me think about poor Christopher Robin Milne and the millstone of Pooh. Apparently the worst bit for CRM was not actually Pooh, but the poem Vespers (Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares. Christopher Robin is saying his prayers”) the Vera Lynn recording of which some of his contemporaries at Stowe played over and over again for pure torture, till Christopher eventually smashed the record into smithereens and scattered it over some playing field. 

Honestly, when you think about how people agonise over whether it’s acceptable to send a child to school in the wrong coat for fear of standing out, God love the poor blighter. He’d be a guaranteed no-pics-on-Facebooker.

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