Sunday, April 10, 2011

A plank of the past

I first read The Moving Toyshop in my teens. In fact, I may have been swotting for my Highers, or maybe the few O Grades I was compelled to sit in case I didn't make Higher (Science, Maths - that kind of thing). Be that as it may, I have a strong recollection of sitting in the small park in Marlborough Avenue, in the leafy environs of Glasgow's Broomhill, laughing aloud in the sunshine, to the distress  - and I think this is in itself a Crispinism - of all animate nature. And it was The Moving Toyshop that was so entertaining me that irregular French verbs didn't get a look in, though why I would be reading in the park instead of the garden I can't think - unless I knew I would be caught not swotting if I stayed at home.

I didn't read the book again - you tend to remember the plot of a 'tec if you re-read it too soon - and found that the intervening decades had in fact wiped all memory of plot clean from my slate, and left me with only the quotations that have become part of my daily discourse. I can only give a flavour here: this moment comes so near the beginning of the novel that my delight at having begun a re-read was unbounded. Cadogan, a poet, has missed the last train and hitched a late-night lift from a lorry driver. As he climbs into the cab of the lorry, this conversation ensues:

 "The Ancient Mariner did this better than me," said Cadogan cheerfully as they started off. "He at least managed to stop one of three."
"I read abaht 'im at school," the driver replied after a considerable pause for thought. "'A thahsand, thahsand slimy things lived on and so did I.' And they call that poetry." He spat deprecatingly out of the window.

I will leave the present reader to deduce what kind of life has allowed me to quote that bit of Ancient Mariner in that particular accent. Frequently.

Oh all right - I know it's a specialised sort of amusement, but it is so beautifully written - and I'd just love to replicate the moment when a bell-boy wanders through the bar of a hotel calling "telephone call for Mr T.S. Eliot" and Fen, the amateur sleuth who is also Oxford Professor of Eng. Lit., says "that's me" and leaves the room. (Oh all right again - I'd have to be Sylvia Plath or somesuch...). And it was in this very book, before I'd ever darkened the door of an Anglican church, that I learned that the Lord's Prayer at Evensong is curtailed before  "...for thine is the Kingdom..."

So there you have it. An education in itself, beautifully written, extremely silly, utterly dated - and completely hilarious. I'm going to go back to another Crispin soon ...

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite books, I can recall the moment I picked it up from the remainders table at the University of Oregon Bookstore some decades ago. I had already discovered Crispin's final Fen book, and was carried away into hysterical laughter, and was determined to complete my collection.

    I picked up a lot of Crispinisms too; when traveling by train in the UK, I tend to repine briefly at delays.